All of the back and forth over whether the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi was or was not a “terrorist” attack (can there be any doubt that it was?) has obscured attention from the real issue: Why wasn’t the consulate in Benghazi afforded better protection? There was obviously a grave breach of security. The Washington Post reveals the depth of unpreparedness:
U.S. officials appear to have underestimated the threat facing both the ambassador and other Americans. They had not reinforced the U.S. diplomatic outpost there to meet strict safety standards for government buildings overseas. Nor had they posted a U.S. Marine detachment, as at other diplomatic sites in high-threat regions.
A U.S. military team assigned to establish security at the new embassy in Tripoli, in a previously undisclosed detail, was never instructed to fortify the temporary hub in the east. Instead, a small local guard force was hired by a British private security firm as part of a contract worth less than half of what it costs to deploy a single U.S. service member in a war zone for a year.
Now that the Obama administration’s initial narrative that the Benghazi assault was a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam film has collapsed, the new spin from the White House is that President Obama has actually called it a terrorist attack all along.
“Well, first of all, Candy, as you know, the President called it an act of terror the day after it happened,” David Axelrod told CNN’s Candy Crowley this morning, referring to a speech Obama made in the Rose Garden on Sept. 12.
Axelrod’s claim has been pushed by journalists over the past few days, most notably Josh Gerstein at Politico, in a blog post headlined “Obama talked of Libya attack as ‘terror’ 2 weeks ago”:
Despite a drumbeat from the right and even independent fact-checkers that President Barack Obama has been unwilling to label as terrorism the attack on a United States diplomatic mission in Libya, the president indicated just a day after the killing of the American ambassador there that the assault was part of a series of “acts of terror” the U.S. has faced.
Mark Landler made the same claim in an otherwise solid article at the New York Times:
The White House maintains that its account changed as intelligence agencies gathered more details about the attack, not from any desire to diminish its gravity. Mr. Obama, his aides point out, labeled the assault an “act of terror” in his first public response, in the Rose Garden, a day after it happened.
Gerstein and Landler are simply wrong on this.
Sure sign that President Obama’s media cheerleaders are worried about his upcoming debate performance? Four days before the first debate, Gwen Ifill of PBS has an op-ed in The Washington Post downplaying the importance of . . . debates. Or, as she puts it, “debunk[ing] five myths about presidential debates.”
Myth Number One: “Voters use debates to decide.”
As Ms. Ifill explains, “Gallup polls going back decades show precious little shift in established voter trends before and after debates.”
Many Republicans are not buying the numbers produced by national polls in the last few weeks that show President Obama padding his lead over Mitt Romney. Some of this sentiment can be put down to wishful thinking by conservatives who can’t fathom why so many Americans want to re-elect Obama. It is only human nature that we tend to think polls that verify our views of the way things should be are credible while dismissing those that contradict as bogus. Indeed, with the president taking the lead in so many national as well as swing state polls recently it is difficult to argue that the race hasn’t shifted in his direction. However, there are those, such as former Bill Clinton advisor/pollster and current pundit Dick Morris, who have consistently argued that the polls are wrong because their turnout model is incorrect. Morris believes that all of their numbers reflect a belief that the Democrats will be able to match their historic turnout they achieved in 2008, something he argues is not remotely likely to happen.
Morris’s argument was widely dismissed as mere spin by a conservative-leaning analyst, but recent reports showing a huge decline in Democratic registration when compared to four years ago should give even the most sanguine liberals some food for thought. As Fox News reports, several studies have shown that the number of voters declaring themselves to be Democrats has dipped precipitately in swing states, particularly in Ohio. The same is true, as I noted back in July, in Pennsylvania. That leaves us with a conundrum. If, as even left-wing think tanks agree, Democratic voter registration is in decline, why are pollsters assuming that the electorate will largely resemble the messianic “hope and change” outpouring that elected Barack Obama? And if they are wrong about the turnout model, does that mean their forecasts showing the president cruising to re-election are also incorrect?
Meanwhile, on the lighter side, back in Academe . . .
The Eagle, American University’s student newspaper, was about to create a “hostile work environment” for Assistant Anthropology Professor Adrienne Pine by running a story about her breastfeeding her baby during the opening lecture of her intro “Sex, Gender, and Culture” class. It seems the baby woke up sick that day and couldn’t be sent to daycare. So, rather than cancel the class, Ms. Pine brought her daughter to the lecture room, where she crawled around on the floor, tried to eat a paper clip, made a beeline for an electrical outlet, and ultimately needed to be breastfed.
With only three days to go before the first presidential debate, each campaign is, as Politico points out, already busy trying to depress expectations for their candidate and inflate those for their opponent. That means Democrats are hyping Mitt Romney’s extensive experience and preparation while Republicans are pointing to the president’s reputation as an eloquent orator even if they don’t really believe him to be all that great. But the really interesting items leaking out of the two rival camps is not so much their spin about who should be the favorite or the underdog but the candor about their approaches to the contest.
If the sources for the New York Times’s front-page debate preview story are to be trusted, President Obama seems to be preparing to play it safe on Wednesday night while Romney is going to be trying to win it outright. This may reflect their current standing in the polls, but if the president really is approaching the debate in this manner, it’s a mistake. If he really thinks that he merely needs to show Americans he feels their pain, rather than defend his record, it will allow Romney to seize the initiative. One Democrat quoted in the story says that “the sale has been made … He just needs to reaffirm it. He just needs to not get in the way.” But that approach will set him up as a standing target when what he needs to do is to try demonize Romney.