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WALLACE: And, hello, again from Fox News in Washington.
With just 16 days until the election, President Obama and Governor Romney meet one last time Monday night for a debate on foreign policy.
We want to preview the issues with a debate of our own, Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, joins us from his home state of Illinois, and a top Republican on foreign policy, Senator Lindsey Graham, is in his home state, of South Carolina.
Senators, let's start with breaking news, a report in today's New York Times that Iran and the U.S. have agreed in principle to one on one talks about Iran's nuclear programs. But the White House said late last night that they had not agreed to talks, but that U.S., the administration, is open to the idea.
Senator Graham, let me start with you.
What do you think of one-on-one talks with Iran? And what do you make of the timing of this coming out two weeks before the election?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: Well, I think the Iranians are trying to take advantage of our election cycle, to continue to talk. As we talk with the Iranians, whether it is bilaterally or unilaterally, they continue to enrich. And the vice president and the president said we will do nothing without coordinating with Israel. So we've talked with them in Moscow, we've talked with them in Baghdad, they continue to enrich, enrich.
I think the time for talking is over. We should be demanding transparency and access to the nuclear program. They doubled their centrifuges.
So, I think this is a ploy by the Iranians. I hope we are talking to the Israelis. And, as we continue to talk, they continue to enrich and they are trying to break apart the coalition.
WALLACE: What do you think of the timing of the story coming out, one assumes from U.S. sources, not Iranian, just two weeks before the election?
GRAHAM: Well, I think it is pretty obvious, they are trying to continue a dialogue using our election cycle, and, in a pretty clever way and I hope we don't take the bait. And we had a chance in 2009 to speak up during the Iranian revolution and we did nothing, it was a huge mistake.
And I would like to talk with Israel before we make any major decisions with Iran.
WALLACE: Well, Senator Durbin, Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, says in The New York Times article that Israel should not be rewarded with one-on-one talks with the U.S. What they should get instead are even tougher sanctions.
SEN. DICK DURBIN, D-ILL.: I can tell you, Chris, the president put together a strong global coalition imposing sanctions on the Iranians, including not only Europe, obviously, which is -- made a dramatic impact on the Iranian economy but Russia as well. And it's had its month.
This month of October, the currency in Iran has declined 40 percent in value. There is unrest in the streets of Tehran, and the leaders in Iran are feeling it. That's exactly what we wanted the sanctions program to do.
And this is an indication, I think it's a clear indication, the sanctions regime that President Obama has put together with Israel and many nations around the world, is putting pressure on Iran to sit down and finally acknowledge that they cannot have a nuclear weapon. I think it is a positive step forward.
WALLACE: And, briefly, why, if we have this international coalition, why not continue talks in the P5-plus-1, as it is called? Why do it one-on-one instead?
DURBIN: Well, I think that there are many options. I'm not going to say one is better than the other. If direct negotiations are a path toward a peaceful resolution with Iran giving up on the notion of nuclear weapons pursue it. If meeting collectively is better, pursuit that as well.
But as Nicholas Burns said, who was the negotiator for President George W. Bush, in Tehran, it would be unconscionable for us not to meet and talk. He said we don't want to drive into the brick wall of war in 2013, without sitting down and speaking to the Iranians.
WALLACE: All right. Gentlemen, let's turn to Libya and whether --
WALLACE: OK, go ahead sir.
GRAHAM: If I could say, the effort -- the purpose of sanctions is to top the Iranians of building a nuclear program and enriching Iran. It's been a miserable failure. During the four years we've talked to them, they've quadrupled the amount of 20 percent enriched uranium to produce a bomb.
There is a pattern here -- we talk, they enrich, it needs to stop, we need to have redlines coordinated with Israel and end this before it gets out of hand.
WALLACE: All right, gentlemen, let's turn to Libya if we can. And the question is to whether or not the president and his administration could have done more beforehand to protect those four Americans who were killed in Benghazi on the anniversary of September 11th. We now know there were eight attacks, eight attacks against Western interests in Benghazi, in the six months before the attack and we now know that U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens sent repeated memos to Washington, even on the day he was killed, asking for more security.
Senator Graham, is it conceivable that President Obama didn't know how dangerous Benghazi was for Americans?
GRAHAM: No. No administration is going to send the president of the United States out into the public arena not telling him about an attack in April and June. What if the president were asked by reporters in June, tell me about the consulate attack in Benghazi, "What do you think about it," and he said, "I don't know"? So, I find that inconceivable.
This is going to be a case study, studied for years of a breakdown of national security at every level, failed presidential leadership, senior members of the Obama administration failed miserably. The Benghazi, Libya consulate was becoming a death trap. The British left. The Red Cross left because of the deteriorating security environment. We were requesting additional security, it was denied because we wanted to normalize relationships with a nonexistent government.
We should have closed the consulate long before September 11th, or heavily reinforced it, and I put that on the president of the United States. This was a national security breakdown before, during and after the attack.
WALLACE: Now, Senator Durbin, I think we would all agree the president doesn't get down into the weeds and decide the actual security level in Benghazi. But given all of these warnings, why didn't he and his administration do more? Whether it was to beef up security or to close the consulate, why didn't it do more to protect those four Americans who were killed?
DURBIN: Well, Chris, I can tell you that Senator Graham and I were in a closed briefing, classified briefing just I guess two weeks ago in Washington, when we came together with Secretary Clinton, the CIA and others. They are engaged in a comprehensive investigation of what occurred here, and that's what we've got to have.
Think back in history. It hasn't been that long ago. We lost over 230 Marines in the barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, under President Ronald Reagan. These acts of terrorism, as horrific as they are, have to be understood as being part of living in a dangerous world.
Now, let's ask the honest questions, let's gather the evidence, let's make sure that we understand exactly what did occur. But jumping to conclusions, I think, Darrell Issa does a documentary dump on his Web site of sensitive information about those in Libya who were helping keep America safe, it shows the lengths many will go to, to try to politicize this tragic situation.
WALLACE: Senator Graham, is that what you are doing -- politicizing the situation?
GRAHAM: Well, thank God for a media that will ask questions. Thank God for some Republican control of one branch of the government. If you left it up to this administration to inform the American people, we'd still be believing it was a spontaneous riot spurred by video. There was no mob, there was no riot.
So, no, I am totally convinced this is going to go down in history as one of the most major breakdowns of national security in a very long time. It's exhibit A of a failed national security strategy.
This conflict was under siege for months. It had been attacked twice. Everybody else has left Benghazi but us. We were refused additional security request because we wanted to normalize relationships.
For over seven hours on September the 11th, the day of heightened concern throughout the world for America, the anniversary of our September 11th attack, this consulate was attacked for over seven hours and there were no land forces available to reinforce the consulate, no Air Force -- no air power sent over to help these people for over seven hours.
WALLACE: Let me --
GRAHAM: And after the attack, you had one convoluted, distorted, deceiving explanation --
WALLACE: We're going to -- Senator Graham, we're going to get to the accounts, the shifting accounts in a moment.
But I want to press my question with you, again, Senator Durbin, because you didn't really answer it. Why didn't -- with all of the warnings, I mean, we had repeated memos from the ambassador, and repeated requests from the security team on the ground, why didn't the administration do more to protect these people in Benghazi?
DURBIN: You know, that question is going to be answered, Chris, when we gather the information together. But let me also --
WALLACE: But, Senator, a skeptic would say, yes, and guess when the investigation is going to end? Sometime after Election Day.
DURBIN: Well -- and shouldn't this investigation be done in a thorough, professional and complete way? As Senator Graham can tell you, when we sat down for this classified briefing, they said it was days, literally days, before we can put our investigative on the ground in Benghazi.
WALLACE: Well, doesn't that tell you an indication of how dangerous Benghazi was then beforehand, if we couldn't get the FBI there for a couple of weeks?
DURBIN: Of course, it was dangerous. Of course, it was dangerous. And we lost three Americans -- four Americans.
But look at the situation on the ground, immediately afterwards, when the Libyans were demonstrating in the streets in support of the United States. It is a volatile situation. It is always easier the day after to say how you could have won the football game. But what it boils down to is let's get the facts together.
This idea of Chairman Issa that he's going to dump the names in public of Libyans who are risking their lives to support America and keep us safe in an effort to get a political toehold in this election is unconscionable. It is unacceptable. I'm sure that Senator Graham doesn't support that.
WALLACE: Well, let's move on to the question of the shifting story after the fact. The president said in the debate this week that on the day after the attack, on September 12th, that he called it an act of terror. Here's what actually happened in the Rose Garden.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Yesterday, four of these extraordinary Americans were killed on an attack in our diplomatic post in Benghazi.
We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.
Of course, yesterday was already a painful day for our nation as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks.
No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Senator Graham, we did it that way to show that there was quite a gap between various things that he was discussing in the Rose Garden.
Did the president, did his team, call this an act of terror from the start? And do you really believe that they were playing politics with the way they were spinning out the story?
GRAHAM: Well, I believe this administration has a history of playing politics, with foreign policy.
This is the very administration that leaked every detail of our bin Laden raid, to make themselves look good. This is the administration that leaked details of cyber attacks against Iran. The underwear bomber plot was foiled. And, they leaked the details of the double agent we had that put our allies at risk and operatives at risk.
So the question is, would an administration who leaks detailed classified information over a series of weeks to create a narrative that they are strong on foreign policy, would they deceive and deny? The reason they do not want to admit it was an Al Qaeda-inspired militia attack that could have been seen coming for months, in a deteriorated security environment where the British and Red Cross and everybody left but us, it undercuts the narrative that by killing bin Laden, Al Qaeda was dismantled, on the run and the wars are receding.
This is exhibit A of a failed foreign policy. Al Qaeda is alive and well in Libya, Iraq, Syria and the wars are not receding. And what happened in Benghazi is a case study in failure at every phase, before, during, and after.
And what they did after the attack, I think is just absolutely unacceptable. They tried to confuse, delay and deny, create a narrative this was a spontaneous event when it was not, because the truth of the matter is -- the Benghazi, Libya conflict was a death trap long in the making. And this is failed presidential leadership at its worst.
WALLACE: Let me bring in Senator Durbin. Despite what the president said, his team clearly refuses to call it an act of terror for at least a week. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is not case of protests directed United States, writ large or at U.S. policy. This is in response to a video that is offensive.
AMBASSADOR SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: It was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo, as a consequence of the video.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
WALLACE: Now, during the second debate, the president said that he is offended by any suggestions, Senator Durbin, that he or his administration was playing politics with this. How do you explain, then, the continued refusal to call it terrorism, even as the evidence proved that it was?
DURBIN: Take a look at the article by David Ignatius. He puts on the record the CIA's posting, the information they sent to Washington after our ambassador and the others were killed. And they said, they believed it had something to do with the video. But they were going to gather the evidence to be sure.
And, then, of course over the next few days, more information came in. That was an indication that the fog of war, as they say, was operative in this situation.
What I find really hard to accept, I have to disagree with my friend, Senator Graham, is this notion about the president's foreign policy. The president has been a strong and steady leader.
We have responsibly ended the war in Iraq, we are going to end the war in Afghanistan, and, Al Qaeda as a shadow of its former self, Osama bin Laden is moldering in some watery grave somewhere, and we've now put enough pressure on Iran with the sanctions regime so they won't develop a nuclear weapon that they want to sit down and talk. These are all positive developments, moving us toward a more stable nation, a more stable world, and, when we faced threats of terrorism at every direction.
WALLACE: Senator Durbin, I --
DURBIN: This president has been a strong leader.
WALLACE: Senator Durbin -- I hate to interrupt, but we are running out of time. I have just one question -- and you are quite right, there is a report that the CIA put out talking points that said that it was a spontaneous demonstration. But, if that was what the CIA's best intelligence was, then why does Obama -- then why does President Obama claim that he called it terror the day after?
DURBIN: Well, of course it involves an act of terror whether the result of a spontaneous demonstration or something that was planned. You know, this is unacceptable that you would attack another embassy and kill the ambassador. It is terrorism in any form, whatever --
WALLACE: But his administration refused to say it for the first week. They were asked repeatedly.
DURBIN: No, of course not. Let me try to channel Candy Crowley for a minute here. This president said acts of terror and you can play the tape on FOX any way you wish, but he said it and it was an act of terror.
And we were waiting to find out what the real motivation and driving force was behind it. We did a thorough investigation to get to the bottom of it. And as the president said hold those accountable who did it.
WALLACE: Senator Graham, you get the last word.
GRAHAM: Chris, Chris, this was not a spontaneous riot. There was never a mob. There is a video of the conflict. Nobody was there.
Ambassador Stevens met the Turkish ambassador. There was an assault around the compound. There were 125 people using heavy mortars. It was a seven-hour planned attack, preplanned in the making.
The intel was Al Qaeda is on the rise in Benghazi, Libya. Everybody else left but us, the CIA chief said this was a militia attack within 24 hours. The president of Libya said it was an Al Qaeda attack. There was no mob, there was no riot.
Iraq is falling apart.
Bin Laden may be dead. Al Qaeda is on the rise. If you don't believe me, go to the training camps in Iraq that have come up after we have left.
Syria is a contagion affecting the region -- 32,000 people have been killed while we are doing nothing. Islamic extremists are beginning to infiltrate Syria.
And as to Iran, they've got quadruple the amount of enriched uranium to make a bomb they had before Obama got into office.
Nothing is working. The whole region is falling apart.
WALLACE: Senator --
GRAHAM: Leading from behind is a failure and overselling the death of bin Laden finally caught up with him in Libya.
WALLACE: Now I really do feel like one of the moderators, because you both ran over me, Senator Graham, Senator Durbin, I want to tank you both. Thanks for joining us today. We'll see if the candidates do as well as you guys did tomorrow night.
DURBIN: Thanks, Chris.
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