Commentary Magazine


Obama Admin Leaks Lead Libya Response

There is an obvious danger lurking for Republicans in the Benghazi affair: The more they attack President Obama for alleged weakness in allowing the U.S. consulate to be attacked and the ambassador killed, the more vulnerable they make themselves to a backlash should Obama act decisively to capture or kill the perpetrators of the attack. This New York Times article suggests such a response may be in the works: It reports the not-terribly-surprising news that the Joint Special Operations Command, home of Delta Force, SEAL Team Six, and other top-tier operators, is preparing “target packages” on those believed to be responsible for this brazen assault. It is not hard to imagine that Obama could well go on TV sometime in the next month to announce that justice has been delivered to Ambassador Stevens’s killers by the U.S. military’s elite forces, thus reinforcing the impression fostered by the Osama bin Laden raid that this is one commander-in-chief who is not afraid to use lethal force against our enemies.

Republicans have been trying to turn Benghazi into another Iranian Hostage Crisis but with such a tough response Obama could turn the analogy on its head. Just imagine what the political fallout would have been if the mission to rescue Iranian hostages had succeeded, rather than ending in a fireball in the Iranian desert. Jimmy Carter could have dispelled in an instant the impression that he was weak and might well have defeated Ronald Reagan.

Of course, to reap such political benefit, Obama will actually have to carry out an operation–not just have his aides leak word that such an operation may be in the offing. And indeed, by leaking to the New York Times, someone inside the government may well be putting the Libyan suspects on their guard and endangering the potential success of any future mission. There is really no justification for the whole world–including the segment of the world composed of jihadists–to learn that JSOC planners “are putting together information on where these individuals live, who their family members and their associates are, and their entire pattern of life”–information that the Times attributes to “one American official who has been briefed on the target planning now under way.”

This would appear to be of a piece with the other leaks–including details of the bin Laden operation and the revelation that a double agent had been working inside al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula–that redound to the president’s political benefit but that endanger highly classified operations.