(CBS News) Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., was skeptical that violent attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya were not preplanned.
“Most people don’t bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to demonstrations. That was an act of terror,” McCain said on “Face the Nation” Sunday. “For anyone to disagree with that fundamental fact I think is really ignoring the facts.”
McCain disputed U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s statement, made earlier on “Face the Nation,” that the U.S. has information that attacks on American consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans were premeditated.
“[T]here was no doubt there were extremists and there’s no doubt they were using heavy weapons and they used pretty good tactics – indirect fire, direct fire – and obviously they were successful,” McCain added.
McCain said the United States has adopted a policy of “disengagement” under President Obama, which, he said, has “weakened” America’s standing in the world.
Pointing to the violent protests this week in Benghazi, Libya and Cairo, Egypt, McCain said, “The fact is the United States is weakened.
“It was Osama bin Laden that said, ‘When people see the strong horse and the weak horse, people like the strong horse.’ Right now the United States is the weak horse.”
McCain also disputed the opinion that the consulate attack was prompted by the release on the Internet of a blasphemous film mocking the Prophet Muhammad.
“Let’s point out, this wasn’t a video that caused this. It’s a fight, a struggle in the Arab world between the Islamists and the forces of moderation,” the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations committee said. “Look, one of our fundamentals [is] freedom of speech, and that’s what the Arab Spring was about – to bring about an end to the censorship by their government.”
He also defended Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s rapid criticism of a statement put out by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo – before the protests turned violent – condemning the anti-Islam film.
“It was a semi-apology,” McCain said of the Embassy’s statement. “We shouldn’t be apologizing for freedom of speech. We should be saying we demand freedom of speech for these people,” he said.
McCain also said the U.S. “need[s] to assist these people” in a post-Arab Spring transition.
Pointing to another country in turmoil, Syria, McCain said the United States has not done enough for Syrians living under the brutal regime of President Bashar al-Assad. A reported 20,000 Syrians have been killed since the insurrection began.
“The President of the United States will not speak up for them, much less provide them with the arms and the equipment for a fair fight,” McCain said.
McCain pointed to increased violence – and increased Iranian presence – in Iraq; attacks on Americans in Afghanistan; and the killing of 20,000 Syrians as signs of America’s “disengagement.”
“Prior to 9-11, we had a policy of containment. Then after 9-11, it was confrontation…. Now it’s disengagement,” McCain said. “We’re leaving Iraq. We’re leaving Afghanistan.
“They believe the United States is weak and they are taking appropriate action,” said McCain, who has opposed an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, adding that the U.S. needs to “reassert American leadership in the region.”
McCain also said President Obama is failing Israel by telling Israeli leadership not to attack Iran. Instead, the senator said that the U.S. “should be in agreement” with Israel on when Iran has gone too far in its quest for a nuclear weapon, instead of “being in a public dispute” with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The Iranians don’t believe we are doing to do anything about their effort,” McCain added.