(CBS News) Amid an ongoing investigation surrounding the recent violence in Libya and Egypt that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, a new poll from Gallup suggests that voters, for the first time since 2008, trust Democrats and Republicans equally on the matter of protecting the U.S. from international terrorism and military threats.
According to the poll, which was conducted September 6-9 - before Tuesday's attacks - 45 percent of voters believe Democrats will do a better job of protecting Americans from those threats; 45 percent said the same of Republicans.
The last time Democrats and Republicans were on equal footing on this question was in 2008, aside from moments in 2006 and 2007, Republicans have otherwise led on the question since 2002, when Gallup started asking the question.
In addition to ending the war in Iraq and setting a timeline to do the same in Afghanistan, President Obama has throughout his presidency focused heavily on veteran issues, and isthis fall. On the campaign trail, he and his surrogates have trumpeted the death of Osama bin Laden as a primary foreign policy achievement, and the campaign has continually pushed back against the notion that the president is soft on foreign policy.
The events in Libya, however, and the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, have provided Republicans with the opportunity to renew that debate and call the president's foreign policy credentials into question. Addressing the tragedy in a press conference yesterday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused Mr. Obama of sending "mixed signals" to the world and standing "in apology" of American values.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and current ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, broadened that critique in a round of television appearances on Thursday morning.
Unlike Romney, McCain said Mr. Obama's response to the attacks in Libya and Egypt was "fine" -- but his Middle Eastern policy in general, he argued, is "feckless."
Questioned about the Egyptian embassy statement for which Romney targeted the Obama administration - which was in fact released before the protests which resulted in American deaths had begun, McCain told NBC News the statement was "weak" but, in a separate interview with ABC, he said he thought "it was fine."
"The statement as I understand it was issued before the news of Libya came out. It was a very weak statement entirely on the part of the embassy that does speak for the United States," McCain told NBC.
But of the president's foreign policy, McCain was more direct in his criticism.
''I'd like to see the president of the United States speak up once for the 20,000 people that are being massacred in Syria,'' he said on NBC, blasting the president for what he described as "a feckless foreign policy."
Despite some criticism of how Romney chose to address the violence, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, continued to level similar attacks at the Obama administration on the campaign trail Wednesday.
"The administration sent mixed signals to those who attacked our embassy in Egypt, and mixed signals to the world," Ryan. "I want to be clear; it is never too early for the United States to condemn attacks on Americans, on our properties, and to defend our values. That's what leadership is all about."
"Undercutting allies like Israel, outreach to enemies like Iran, national security leaks and devastating defense cuts," he said. "A weak America breeds insecurity and chaos around the world. The best guarantee of peace is American strength. And peace through strength will be the Romney/Ryan foreign policy of this country."