Congressional leaders swiftly condemned the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, but defense hawks in particular said now is not the time to back away from supporting democratic efforts in the Middle East.
"We are anguished and outraged," said a joint statement from three of the Senate's top defense leaders, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut. They called the slain U.S. ambassador, Chris Stevens, a friend.
"Despite this horrific attack, we cannot give in to the temptation to believe that our support for the democratic aspirations of people in Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere in the broader Middle East is naive or mistaken," said the three senators, who were among the most supportive of U.S. involvement in last year's Arab Spring movement and the armed uprising in Libya.
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"We cannot resign ourselves to the false belief that the Arab Spring is doomed to be defined not by the desire for democracy and freedom that has inspired millions of people to peaceful action, but by the dark fanaticism of terrorists."
The ambassador and three other U.S. government employees were killed Tuesday in an attack by a group of armed men on the small consulate in Benghazi, which was a key city during the rebellion that toppled longtime Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi last year.
A separate protest occurred earlier Tuesday at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, where protests last spring led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
Rep. Howard Berman, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called Stevens one of the "best and brightest," a veteran envoy who led U.S. diplomatic efforts during the Libyan revolution.
"I am horrified by the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other U.S. officials. Absolutely nothing justifies this despicable act,” Berman said in a statement. “I am particularly angry that this sickening attack occurred in a country that the U.S. did so much to liberate."
House Speaker John A. Boehner ordered flags to be flown at half-staff Wednesday over the Capitol.
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