Udall: get over Benghazi, focus on Syria

Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, faces reelection in 2014.

Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, faces reelection in 2014.

DENVER — Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told FOX31 Denver Tuesday that Americans should shift their focus from the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi that killed four Americans to the deadly civil war in Syria in which 37,000 people have been killed.

After congressional hearings on the Benghazi attack last week, nearly 100 House Republicans have pledged to oppose the nomination of United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice as Secretary of State because she followed incomplete talking points and wrongly attributed the attack to a spontaneous demonstration, not terrorism.

Udall says it’s time to turn the page.

“Ambassador Rice has been scapegoated. This situation’s been politicized. This is a tragedy in search of a scandal,” Udall told FOX31 Denver Tuesday. “That being said, we ought to get to the bottom of it, and find out why embassy security wasn’t as robust as it should have been.

“But there are a lot of significant challenges in the Middle East that we ought to be focused on, instead of demanding that our intelligence community spend the bulk of its time on what happened in Benghazi. I want to turn our focus back to what’s happening in Israel, what’s happening in Syria, how we can work with Egypt.

“To spend all this time on Benghazi, it doesn’t serve our national security interests well.”

After listening to former CIA Director David Petraeus testify last Friday about the administration’s unsteady response to the Benghazi attacks, Udall flew to Canada for the Halifax International Security Forum, where he first called for the Obama Administration to consider a no-fly zone over Syria.

“What concerns me about Syria is that the war there could spread into the region, which is unstable already,” Udall told FOX31 Denver Tuesday. “That could cause significant challenges for the United States and for the entire world.”

More than 37,000 people have been killed in Syria since March 2011 and the advent of the Arab Spring, when rebels began efforts to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has controlled the country for 40 years.

Rebels believe the Assad regime is responsible for killing thousands of innocent people in an effort to quell the uprising, although the president has blamed the violence on “terrorists.”

“It isn’t a fair fight in Syria,” Udall said. “The Assad government is using air power now to terrorize and kill its own citizens. I think we ought to take a look at all of the options we might have, including no-fly zones, including corridors where refugees could leave Syria to other countries.

“We could be drawn further in to the war in Syria if we don’t handle this carefully. But I don’t think we can stand idly by and just let this civil war continue to grow and affect the entire region.”

The ongoing violence in Syria, coupled with recent violence in Israel and the wider unrest across the Arab world, is straining President Barack Obama’s foreign policy approach, focused on having a lighter military footprint in the region after a decade of war and relying more on targeted strikes and diplomacy.

But Udall wouldn’t go as far as to say the White House has been slow to act in Syria.

“I think the administration’s been appropriately cautious,” Udall told FOX31 Denver. “We don’t have a good idea of who makes up the rebel forces. There are clearly jihadists and terrorists in Syria that are drawn to that conflict. The new Syrian coalition gives us an opportunity to work with those wide-ranging groups, but if we arm the rebels, we have to be careful, who are we arming?”

On Monday, France and the United Kingdom announced its support for the rebels, which could propel the United States to join the coalition against Assad.