Commentary Magazine


Topic: Libya consulate attack

Will Benghazi Haunt Hillary in 2016?

The three State Department officials who resigned today in the wake of the release of a scathing report on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya will probably be the only ones held accountable for that disaster. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is conveniently laid up due to a concussion and won’t testify before a congressional committee on the issue, just as she avoided being called to account in the aftermath of the murders even though she issued a statement saying she took “full responsibility” for what happened.

As Seth wrote earlier today, Clinton, who is resigning soon anyway, has managed to maintain a reputation as a successful secretary of state despite a record that can only be characterized as unremarkable at best. A more harsh assessment would say that she has failed on virtually every major issue, whether it was relations with Russia, the Middle East peace process, or stopping Iran’s nuclear program. The Benghazi debacle is just the frosting on the cake on four years in which Clinton skated by on her reputation and a press corps determined to flatter her. She was unable to achieve any real successes, but also was clearly subordinate to the White House rather than being the person calling the shots on policy.

While it’s clear that in the short run Clinton will escape the public opprobrium she deserves for presiding over the Benghazi fiasco, it would be wrong to assume that this is the last we will hear of it. If, as many expect, she runs for president in 2016, Democratic opponents will clobber her with the account of how her department ignored pleas for more security in Benghazi and then spread misleading stories about a terrorist attack being nothing more than film criticism run amok.

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The three State Department officials who resigned today in the wake of the release of a scathing report on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya will probably be the only ones held accountable for that disaster. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is conveniently laid up due to a concussion and won’t testify before a congressional committee on the issue, just as she avoided being called to account in the aftermath of the murders even though she issued a statement saying she took “full responsibility” for what happened.

As Seth wrote earlier today, Clinton, who is resigning soon anyway, has managed to maintain a reputation as a successful secretary of state despite a record that can only be characterized as unremarkable at best. A more harsh assessment would say that she has failed on virtually every major issue, whether it was relations with Russia, the Middle East peace process, or stopping Iran’s nuclear program. The Benghazi debacle is just the frosting on the cake on four years in which Clinton skated by on her reputation and a press corps determined to flatter her. She was unable to achieve any real successes, but also was clearly subordinate to the White House rather than being the person calling the shots on policy.

While it’s clear that in the short run Clinton will escape the public opprobrium she deserves for presiding over the Benghazi fiasco, it would be wrong to assume that this is the last we will hear of it. If, as many expect, she runs for president in 2016, Democratic opponents will clobber her with the account of how her department ignored pleas for more security in Benghazi and then spread misleading stories about a terrorist attack being nothing more than film criticism run amok.

Though she was the runner up in the 2008 Democratic presidential contest, that was a case more of Barack Obama winning than Clinton losing. Clinton entered that race as the overwhelming favorite in part because of her last name but also because she had no real personal liabilities as a candidate other than the idea among many in the party that it was time to move on from the Clinton era. Many Democrats who are unlikely to think critically about the Obama administration will ignore the facts about the dismal record of the State Department under her leadership. But in four years, when Obama is on his way out of the White House, it is entirely possible that by then some will be willing to hold Benghazi against his first secretary of state. In 2008, Clinton’s campaign attempted to exploit Obama’s lack of experience by talking about 3 a.m. crisis phone calls. But in 2016, it will be Clinton’s opponents who will be talking about how she flubbed just such a crisis and the result was lost American lives.

Despite the blithe confidence of her fans, the assumption that Hillary will have a cakewalk to the Democratic nomination in 2016 may turn out to be just as wrong as similar predictions in the years leading up to 2008. A bright new face may crowd her out just as one did during her first presidential try. But Clinton remains a formidable contender; the Benghazi blame that she is currently dodging may turn out to be one more reason why she will never be president.

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Will it Take an Affair to Get the Media Interested in Benghazi?

For a military hero and able public servant such as David Petraeus to have to end his service to the country on the sort of disturbing note that his letter of resignation sounded is nothing short of a tragedy. For anyone in charge of U.S. intelligence to behave as he said did shows poor judgment that rightly required the president to accept his resignation. But that ought not to detract from a career that deserves to be remembered with honor by a grateful country.

But the avalanche of press coverage that Petraeus attracted in the hours after his announcement ought to bring into focus a far more important story that most of the same media has ignored: the Benghazi fiasco. It speaks volumes about the current state of contemporary American journalism that  a sex scandal generated far more interest from broadcast networks and the press than the questions of whether the administration failed to aid Americans besieged in Libya or why the government stuck to a bogus story about a video instead of admitting that terrorists were responsible.

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For a military hero and able public servant such as David Petraeus to have to end his service to the country on the sort of disturbing note that his letter of resignation sounded is nothing short of a tragedy. For anyone in charge of U.S. intelligence to behave as he said did shows poor judgment that rightly required the president to accept his resignation. But that ought not to detract from a career that deserves to be remembered with honor by a grateful country.

But the avalanche of press coverage that Petraeus attracted in the hours after his announcement ought to bring into focus a far more important story that most of the same media has ignored: the Benghazi fiasco. It speaks volumes about the current state of contemporary American journalism that  a sex scandal generated far more interest from broadcast networks and the press than the questions of whether the administration failed to aid Americans besieged in Libya or why the government stuck to a bogus story about a video instead of admitting that terrorists were responsible.

The juxtaposition of Petraeus’s fall with the ongoing investigation of who knew what and when about what happened in Benghazi is bound to attract more interest than the scandal has generated in the past two months. The refusal of many in the media to push hard on this story has understandably generated accusations of liberal media bias, since the relative silence on the issue from many important outlets was extremely helpful to President Obama’s re-election campaign.

But now that the president’s cheerleaders in the press box no longer need to worry about endangering his chances of a second term, there are signs that the contradictions about the administration’s Benghazi story are beginning to elicit some attention from news organizations. One imagines that the Petraeus angle and a resignation letter that seems to have raised more questions than it answered will only feed their curiosity.

While there is little doubt that Petraeus’s affair will be the most famous Washington indiscretion since l’affaire Lewinsky, perhaps some of that 24/7 news cycle attention will also be devoted to what the intelligence apparatus was doing in the last months. That is especially true since senior administration figures have thrown the intelligence community under the bus in their effort to divert attention from their own shortcomings. At any rate, let us hope that the hype about Petraeus’ personal life won’t divert anyone from a more important story with far reaching implications for American security.

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Benghazi and Obama’s Unfinished Business

As Max wrote on Friday, the explanations for the Pentagon to act in time to save the Americans trapped in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on 9/11/12 are unraveling the more we learn about what happened and the real-time information that was available to decision makers. But though the facts about the incident continue to dribble out, the response from most of the mainstream media to this scandal remains one of indifference. Indeed, to listen to many liberal pundits, once President Obama put the issue to sleep in the second presidential debate with a significant assist from CNN’s Candy Crowley, the only people who continue to think about the issue are right-wing nutcases. That the president responded by “taking offense” to a question on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” about the information he and other senior officials might have known about the situation shows he thinks he can get away with the same sort of grandstanding he exhibited at that debate.

If the president’s campaign was counting on their cheerleaders in the mainstream media having their back on Libya, they were right. The latest developments in the story have gotten little or no play in major newspapers or networks other than Fox. Though foreign policy was never going to be a decisive factor in the presidential election, the relative silence about Benghazi has ensured that although the president says he “takes responsibility” for what happened, there is little chance he will be held accountable in any meaningful way about it before the presidential election. But like some other scandals that have been percolating below the radar, this is one more that will hang over the administration in the months and years to come. The best that can be said for the president is that if he wins next week, Benghazi will be added to the list that already contains items like the cyber-war security leaks and the “Fast and Furious” scandal that will haunt his second term. If he loses, it ensures the GOP will be able to continue to haul administration figures over the coals over these failures with impunity.

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As Max wrote on Friday, the explanations for the Pentagon to act in time to save the Americans trapped in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on 9/11/12 are unraveling the more we learn about what happened and the real-time information that was available to decision makers. But though the facts about the incident continue to dribble out, the response from most of the mainstream media to this scandal remains one of indifference. Indeed, to listen to many liberal pundits, once President Obama put the issue to sleep in the second presidential debate with a significant assist from CNN’s Candy Crowley, the only people who continue to think about the issue are right-wing nutcases. That the president responded by “taking offense” to a question on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” about the information he and other senior officials might have known about the situation shows he thinks he can get away with the same sort of grandstanding he exhibited at that debate.

If the president’s campaign was counting on their cheerleaders in the mainstream media having their back on Libya, they were right. The latest developments in the story have gotten little or no play in major newspapers or networks other than Fox. Though foreign policy was never going to be a decisive factor in the presidential election, the relative silence about Benghazi has ensured that although the president says he “takes responsibility” for what happened, there is little chance he will be held accountable in any meaningful way about it before the presidential election. But like some other scandals that have been percolating below the radar, this is one more that will hang over the administration in the months and years to come. The best that can be said for the president is that if he wins next week, Benghazi will be added to the list that already contains items like the cyber-war security leaks and the “Fast and Furious” scandal that will haunt his second term. If he loses, it ensures the GOP will be able to continue to haul administration figures over the coals over these failures with impunity.

As a political strategy, the president’s continuing outrage about questions about Libya has been successful. But it is one with a limited shelf life. Once the election is over, the stalling tactics won’t work. Sooner or later, answers must be forthcoming. If there is to be a scapegoat for the apparent decision to have U.S. forces “stand down” rather than rescue Ambassador Stevens and the other besieged Americans, you can bet it won’t be the man who says he “takes responsibility” for what happened.

It is possible a Romney administration will decide to pass on further investigations of Obama’s scandals in order to avoid being accused of petty partisanship or pointless recriminations. But if Obama wins but is still, as is likely, is faced with at least one branch of Congress in the hands of the Republicans, the accounting for Libya will become a major problem for the president. At that point, fake anger won’t be enough to derail serious investigations that could prove both embarrassing and damaging. Senator John McCain’s pointed comments about Libya yesterday on CBS constitute not so much a partisan talking point as a harbinger of what the president and his team will face in the future as Congress digs into the issue.

Presidents ardently desire second terms, but most find that the scandals, failures and fatigue that inevitably crop up turn those four years into a nightmare. President Obama may have dodged the bullet on Libya prior to the election, but if he wins, Benghazi will be one more bit of unfinished business that will come back to bite him.

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Ex-SEAL’s Father: Hillary Blamed the Movie

The father of Tyrone Woods, the ex-Navy SEAL who died while trying to defend Ambassador Chris Stevens in the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, made the rounds of some radio shows yesterday, and the tale he told of his meetings with top administration officials doesn’t put any of them in a flattering light. Speaking to radio talkers Glenn Beck and Lars Larson, Charles Woods expressed his belief that, given the revelations about real-time intelligence about the attack being funneled to Washington, it’s clear that someone gave an order not to save those trapped in the consulate by the terrorists.

But as upset as he is about the failure of the administration to come clean about what happened, his account of his personal contacts with them is just as bad. He described President Obama’s condolences as insincere, said Vice President Joe Biden made a wildly inappropriate remark about his son and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised that, “we’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video.”

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The father of Tyrone Woods, the ex-Navy SEAL who died while trying to defend Ambassador Chris Stevens in the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, made the rounds of some radio shows yesterday, and the tale he told of his meetings with top administration officials doesn’t put any of them in a flattering light. Speaking to radio talkers Glenn Beck and Lars Larson, Charles Woods expressed his belief that, given the revelations about real-time intelligence about the attack being funneled to Washington, it’s clear that someone gave an order not to save those trapped in the consulate by the terrorists.

But as upset as he is about the failure of the administration to come clean about what happened, his account of his personal contacts with them is just as bad. He described President Obama’s condolences as insincere, said Vice President Joe Biden made a wildly inappropriate remark about his son and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised that, “we’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video.”

Woods’ account of the president’s attempt to condole him may be put down as the angry reflections of a grieving father, but it does dovetail with much of what we know about the president’s personality.

On Beck’s show, Woods described the encounter in this manner:

“When he finally came over to where we were, I could tell that he was rather conflicted, a person who was not at peace with himself,” Woods said. “Shaking hands with him, quite frankly, was like shaking hands with a dead fish. His face was pointed towards me but he would not look me in the eye, his eyes were over my shoulder.”

“I could tell that he was not sorry,” he added. “He had no remorse.”

As for Biden, the blundering veep’s attempt to praise the slain ex-SEAL did not go over very well:

Woods said Biden came over to his family and asked in a “loud and boisterous” voice, “Did your son always have balls the size of cue balls?”

“Are these the words of someone who is sorry?” said Woods.

But perhaps most damning of all were the words of Clinton, who not only attempted to promote the story of the video being the cause of the attack, but went so far as to promise to have the man who produced it jailed. While the White House has been furiously trying to persuade the country that it always knew that what happened was a terrorist attack, Clinton’s comments are another reminder of the administration’s effort to falsely blame it all on the video. That Clinton would go so far as to push for the man’s arrest for exercising his free speech rights is chilling, especially given the State Department’s prior and subsequent efforts to appease radical Islamists.

Woods’s complaint is especially heart-rending because he knows that his son was not at the consulate at the time of the attack, but rather a mile away in a safe house, yet responded to calls for help. As Alana reported yesterday, the latest revelations about real-time information coming in about the attack makes the failure to respond adequately even more puzzling. Woods is demanding answers that have not been forthcoming:

I want to honor my son, Ty Woods, who responded to the cries for help and voluntarily sacrificed his life to protect the lives of other Americans. In the last few days it has become public knowledge that within minutes of the first bullet being fired the White House knew these heroes would be slaughtered if immediate air support was denied. Apparently, C-130s were ready to respond immediately. In less than an hour, the perimeters could have been secured and American lives could have been saved. After seven hours fighting numerically superior forces, my son’s life was sacrificed because of the White House’s decision. This has nothing to do with politics, this has to do with integrity and honor. My son was a true American hero. We need more heroes today. My son showed moral courage. This is an opportunity for the person or persons who made the decision to sacrifice my son’s life to stand up.

The administration’s apologists have told us that it is too soon for us to expect answers about a complicated matter. It is true that the fog of war made it difficult for the president and his team to respond effectively. But we also know that they seized upon a lie about the video and promoted it relentlessly for as long as they could get away with it. They were determined to do anything to suppress the facts about the revival of al-Qaeda-related groups in Libya. Rather than Woods or Republican critics speaking out of turn, it was an administration that was campaigning on the idea that the death of Osama bin Laden ended the war on terror that was playing politics. Charles Woods’ testimony only adds to the justified anger that many Americans feel about the president’s handling of the tragedy in Benghazi.

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White House Keeps Muddying Benghazi

According to the latest White House-advancing spin, the CIA thought there was a protest outside the Benghazi consulate for 11 entire days after the attack. This is amazing. Apparently the media has access to better intelligence than the CIA, since the general public found out the protest didn’t exist just two days after the attack, via McClatchy.

Sources tell the Wall Street Journal that our intelligence officials are so clueless that they clung to the idea that there were protests outside the consulate, even after savvier Obama advisors became skeptical and started raising questions:

President Barack Obama was told in his daily intelligence briefing for more than a week after the consulate siege in Benghazi that the assault grew out of a spontaneous protest, despite conflicting reports from witnesses and other sources that began to cast doubt on the accuracy of that assessment almost from the start.

New details about the contents of the President’s Daily Brief, which haven’t been reported previously, show that the Central Intelligence Agency didn’t adjust the classified assessment until Sept. 22, fueling tensions between the administration and the agency. …

That weekend, officials at the office of the Director of National Intelligence began to seriously question the accuracy of the assessment after receiving new information Sept. 15 and Sept. 16 from sources that suggested the consulate attack wasn’t preceded by a protest.

Despite the building doubts at the office of the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA stuck by its assessment during a deputies-level meeting at the White House on Sept. 17.

Even after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reportedly began to question the CIA’s account on September 15, the CIA allegedly refused to back down on the “spontaneous protest” claim until September 22. Question: The DNI compiles the presidential daily briefings from CIA intel, so how could it conclude the “spontaneous protest” line was wrong before the CIA did? And why would the CIA cling to a narrative if it had a preponderance of evidence contradicting it?

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According to the latest White House-advancing spin, the CIA thought there was a protest outside the Benghazi consulate for 11 entire days after the attack. This is amazing. Apparently the media has access to better intelligence than the CIA, since the general public found out the protest didn’t exist just two days after the attack, via McClatchy.

Sources tell the Wall Street Journal that our intelligence officials are so clueless that they clung to the idea that there were protests outside the consulate, even after savvier Obama advisors became skeptical and started raising questions:

President Barack Obama was told in his daily intelligence briefing for more than a week after the consulate siege in Benghazi that the assault grew out of a spontaneous protest, despite conflicting reports from witnesses and other sources that began to cast doubt on the accuracy of that assessment almost from the start.

New details about the contents of the President’s Daily Brief, which haven’t been reported previously, show that the Central Intelligence Agency didn’t adjust the classified assessment until Sept. 22, fueling tensions between the administration and the agency. …

That weekend, officials at the office of the Director of National Intelligence began to seriously question the accuracy of the assessment after receiving new information Sept. 15 and Sept. 16 from sources that suggested the consulate attack wasn’t preceded by a protest.

Despite the building doubts at the office of the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA stuck by its assessment during a deputies-level meeting at the White House on Sept. 17.

Even after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reportedly began to question the CIA’s account on September 15, the CIA allegedly refused to back down on the “spontaneous protest” claim until September 22. Question: The DNI compiles the presidential daily briefings from CIA intel, so how could it conclude the “spontaneous protest” line was wrong before the CIA did? And why would the CIA cling to a narrative if it had a preponderance of evidence contradicting it?

Plus — 11 days? The CIA had agents based in Benghazi. State Department officials in Washington said they were able to watch the attack unfolding in real time. The U.S. had at least one predator drone sending back footage from the onslaught. You would think eyewitnesses would have mentioned this afterward during debriefings. Are we supposed to believe the CIA questioned nobody?

Apparently. But sources assure the Wall Street Journal that the intelligence community isn’t completely incompetent. No, it just didn’t realize the existence (or nonexistence) of a protest was an important element to focus on:

CIA analysis was focused more on whether there was forewarning of the attack and who was behind it, a senior U.S. official said, adding that the question of a protest preceding the attack is the least important component of the analysis.

“What’s getting lost is how small this change actually was. … It doesn’t matter whether there were protests ongoing at the time,” the senior U.S. official said, adding that the analysis reflected from the beginning that “the attack was conducted by terrorists and most likely inspired by events in Cairo.”

If it was so trivial, you wonder why the White House spokesperson spent entire press briefings trying to convince reporters that the protest story was true. And if the DNI was allegedly so skeptical of the story the CIA was supposedly telling, why didn’t the Obama administration just keep its collective mouth shut on the protest narrative? They were the ones publicly hyping it for nearly two weeks, not the CIA.

It sounds like the White House has no good defense for its bungled response to the Benghazi attack, so it’s trying to muddy the waters before tonight’s debate. Yes, they’re probably throwing the CIA under the bus in one of the most classless and damaging ways possible. But by the time intelligence officials start anonymously refuting the charges, it will be after the debate and won’t matter (at least not politically).

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Obama’s Bad Luck: Last Debate on Foreign Policy Won’t Shift Race

Both parties agreed upon the terms and rules for the presidential debates. But right now, the Obama campaign has to be kicking itself for going along with a schedule that devoted the last of the three encounters between President Obama and Mitt Romney to foreign policy. The Democrats have acted as if security and defense issues were a strength for them throughout the year, but it’s doubtful that the president thinks a foreign policy pitch is his best closing argument for the American people with only a couple of weeks left before the election.

That’s not just because the Benghazi terror attack has compromised the president’s stance as the man with an impeccable security record, but also because a debate that doesn’t allow him to deploy his class warfare and “war on women” themes is one that isn’t likely to help him pick up the votes he needs to secure re-election. Even worse, it gives Romney an opportunity to recoup his losses from the last debate in which he flubbed a question on Libya that he should have been able to use to hammer the president. While Democrats may hope the president repeats his aggressive performance from the second debate rather than his lackluster first debate, Monday night’s topic is a handicap that comes at just the moment when he needs a game changing victory to reverse Romney’s momentum.

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Both parties agreed upon the terms and rules for the presidential debates. But right now, the Obama campaign has to be kicking itself for going along with a schedule that devoted the last of the three encounters between President Obama and Mitt Romney to foreign policy. The Democrats have acted as if security and defense issues were a strength for them throughout the year, but it’s doubtful that the president thinks a foreign policy pitch is his best closing argument for the American people with only a couple of weeks left before the election.

That’s not just because the Benghazi terror attack has compromised the president’s stance as the man with an impeccable security record, but also because a debate that doesn’t allow him to deploy his class warfare and “war on women” themes is one that isn’t likely to help him pick up the votes he needs to secure re-election. Even worse, it gives Romney an opportunity to recoup his losses from the last debate in which he flubbed a question on Libya that he should have been able to use to hammer the president. While Democrats may hope the president repeats his aggressive performance from the second debate rather than his lackluster first debate, Monday night’s topic is a handicap that comes at just the moment when he needs a game changing victory to reverse Romney’s momentum.

The Obama camp is acting as if the president’s bout of righteous indignation during the Hofstra University debate at the notion that he and his foreign policy team would “play politics or mislead” the public about Libya closed the topic for future discussion. It was a powerful rhetorical moment, but it won’t shut off discussion about the fact that that is exactly what he and his associates did. Having the third debate devoted to foreign policy helps Romney re-open the issue. It will allow him to argue that the weeks the administration devoted to claiming the murder of the ambassador was merely film criticism run amuck were closely linked to the president’s campaign theme in which Osama bin Laden’s death has been represented as a conclusive victory over al-Qaeda. Even if, due to Romney’s inept grasp of the narrative and moderator Candy Crowley’s intervention, Obama won the point on Tuesday night, he’s not likely to be able to squirm off the hook next week. The Libya incident’s political importance is that it dishes the president’s main foreign policy theme because it shows that the war on terror (a Bush-era phrase banned from use by the White House) is not over.

The foreign policy debate works for the president in one respect in that it will allow the president to continue running against his predecessor. Obama has spent most of this year running as much against George W. Bush as he has against Romney, and his pose as the man who ended the war in Iraq and will do the same in Afghanistan is a potential strength. This will force Romney to walk the same fine line on Afghanistan that Paul Ryan had some trouble with in the vice presidential debate. The GOP is right to argue that the pullout deadline set by Obama will hand Afghanistan over to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But Romney can’t speak as if he wants U.S. troops to remain there indefinitely since few Americans are happy about that prospect.

However, the next debate will also expose Obama to more criticism of his record on the Iranian nuclear threat. Romney should be ready to pounce if the president repeats anything resembling Vice President Biden’s wildly inaccurate claim that the Iranians are not enriching uranium for a nuclear weapon. This will also help Romney differentiate his position on the alliance with Israel, which the president has sought to downgrade by putting more daylight between the two countries’ positions on the peace process than on the Iran threat.

Yet while both sides will have opportunities to score points on Monday night, the topic will still deprive the president of issues on which he has a clear advantage over Romney. Without the ability to raise social issues or to take cheap shots at Romney’s wealth, Obama will find himself on equal ground with his challenger. Given the way the race has shift toward Romney in the last weeks and with no other major opportunity to alter the course of events before Election Day, that is very bad luck indeed for the Democrats.

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Yes, They Played Politics on Libya

President Obama went ballistic during the presidential debate at Hofstra University when Mitt Romney questioned the conduct of the administration in its reaction to the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya:

And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president. That’s not what I do as commander in chief.

It was potentially a strong moment for the president as he was able, at least for the moment, to deflect concern about the administration’s failure in Libya and turn into a question of whether Romney overstepped the mark in his criticism. But a dispassionate look at the question on which the president made his grandstand play shows that his administration stands guilty of doing exactly what he denied.

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President Obama went ballistic during the presidential debate at Hofstra University when Mitt Romney questioned the conduct of the administration in its reaction to the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya:

And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president. That’s not what I do as commander in chief.

It was potentially a strong moment for the president as he was able, at least for the moment, to deflect concern about the administration’s failure in Libya and turn into a question of whether Romney overstepped the mark in his criticism. But a dispassionate look at the question on which the president made his grandstand play shows that his administration stands guilty of doing exactly what he denied.

The whole point about the administration spending more than two weeks trying to claim that the assassination of the U.S. ambassador to Libya was merely the result of an overheated reaction to an offensive film is that it dovetails with the political needs of the Obama re-election campaign.

We have yet to discover exactly what President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice knew about Libya and when they knew it as well as why the consulate’s requests for security were denied and who made that decision. The president was asked a direct question about that at Hofstra and chose not to answer it.

Though this issue was diverted into one largely about whether the president called the incident a terror attack the next day, what is being ignored is the fact that even though Obama uttered the word “terror” the following day, his administration spent the following days and weeks shouting down those who spoke of it as terrorism.

Their motivation wasn’t just the product of confusion about the available intelligence. It was the product of a desire to silence any speculation about the revival of al-Qaeda affiliates in Libya.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 anniversary, U.S. diplomatic facilities were attacked throughout the Middle East with American flags being torn down and replaced by al-Qaeda banners. Throughout the region, Islamist terrorism continues to fester and even gain strength in certain countries.

That’s a grim fact that not only needs to be acknowledged but understood as a major cause of the Libya disaster. But it is not something that the administration is comfortable saying because the keynote to the president’s foreign policy and security re-election platform is the notion that al-Qaeda is as dead as Osama bin Laden.

Having staked so much on the “bin Laden is dead” theme, the administration dragged its feet when it came to telling the truth about Islamist terrorism in Libya. They repeatedly claimed that the ambassador died as the result of film criticism run amuck. While they claim this was the result of faulty intelligence, there’s no mystery about why they embraced this false narrative so enthusiastically. Talking about an offensive anti-Muslim video (albeit one that virtually no one has actually seen) allowed the president’s foreign policy team to avoid saying the words “terror” and “al-Qaeda.” Instead, they talked about a movie for which they endlessly apologized. The president’s faux outrage notwithstanding, if that isn’t playing politics with security issues and misleading the American public, I don’t know what is.

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GOP: Buck Stops With Obama on Benghazi

If the Obama administration thought the questions over the Benghazi attack would die down after Hillary Clinton took full responsibility for it, they were wrong. Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte released the following statement in response to Clinton’s comment:

“We have just learned that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has claimed full responsibility for any failure to secure our people and our Consulate in Benghazi prior to the attack of September 11, 2012. This is a laudable gesture, especially when the White House is trying to avoid any responsibility whatsoever.

“However, we must remember that the events of September 11 were preceded by an escalating pattern of attacks this year in Benghazi, including a bomb that was thrown into our Consulate in April, another explosive device that was detonated outside of our Consulate in June, and an assassination attempt on the British Ambassador. If the President was truly not aware of this rising threat level in Benghazi, then we have lost confidence in his national security team, whose responsibility it is to keep the President informed. But if the President was aware of these earlier attacks in Benghazi prior to the events of September 11, 2012, then he bears full responsibility for any security failures that occurred. The security of Americans serving our nation everywhere in the world is ultimately the job of the Commander-in-Chief. The buck stops there.

At Time, Michael Crowley wonders why Republicans are still calling for Obama to take responsibility, instead of just accepting Clinton’s mea culpa:

The Secretary of State has been an archvillain of Republican campaigns for decades now. And when it comes to the debate over security in Benghazi, it would seem that the buck should stop with her. But suddenly it doesn’t suit the GOP to attack Clinton. Her approval ratings are sky-high. Romney already has a problem with female voters. And Hillary’s not on the ballot this November. The GOP wants to concentrate its political attacks on Obama, even at the cost of sounding nonsensical.

How is that nonsensical?

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If the Obama administration thought the questions over the Benghazi attack would die down after Hillary Clinton took full responsibility for it, they were wrong. Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte released the following statement in response to Clinton’s comment:

“We have just learned that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has claimed full responsibility for any failure to secure our people and our Consulate in Benghazi prior to the attack of September 11, 2012. This is a laudable gesture, especially when the White House is trying to avoid any responsibility whatsoever.

“However, we must remember that the events of September 11 were preceded by an escalating pattern of attacks this year in Benghazi, including a bomb that was thrown into our Consulate in April, another explosive device that was detonated outside of our Consulate in June, and an assassination attempt on the British Ambassador. If the President was truly not aware of this rising threat level in Benghazi, then we have lost confidence in his national security team, whose responsibility it is to keep the President informed. But if the President was aware of these earlier attacks in Benghazi prior to the events of September 11, 2012, then he bears full responsibility for any security failures that occurred. The security of Americans serving our nation everywhere in the world is ultimately the job of the Commander-in-Chief. The buck stops there.

At Time, Michael Crowley wonders why Republicans are still calling for Obama to take responsibility, instead of just accepting Clinton’s mea culpa:

The Secretary of State has been an archvillain of Republican campaigns for decades now. And when it comes to the debate over security in Benghazi, it would seem that the buck should stop with her. But suddenly it doesn’t suit the GOP to attack Clinton. Her approval ratings are sky-high. Romney already has a problem with female voters. And Hillary’s not on the ballot this November. The GOP wants to concentrate its political attacks on Obama, even at the cost of sounding nonsensical.

How is that nonsensical?

It’s likely Obama wasn’t aware of the diplomatic security failures in Benghazi before the attack. But he is responsible for how the aftermath of the attack was handled. There was initial intelligence indicating that it was an act of terror carried out by a group linked to al Qaeda. But for nearly two weeks after the attack, the Obama administration misled the public on the intelligence.

Imagine waking up on Sept. 12 and hearing the White House announce what it knew at the time: that a terrorist group affiliated with al Qaeda had attacked our consulate in Benghazi, killing our ambassador and three other Americans on the 9/11 anniversary. Not only would this have sent shockwaves through the world, it would have had major political ramifications for a president running for reelection on an “Al Qaeda’s dead, GE’s alive” platform.

They didn’t tell us that. Instead we were told that Ambassador Chris Stevens had been killed by a mob of extremist protesters. It took nearly two weeks for the White House to publicly acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack, and another month before the State Department admitted there was no protest. And the administration has yet to clarify al Qaeda’s involvement.

The administration hit the slow-motion button. The length of time between the official revelations cushioned some of the shock. And since much of the information we know was unearthed by the media, the administration could choose what it wanted to confirm on its own timeline, through lower-level officials and spokespersons. Notice that President Obama, who never turns down a chance to give a speech, still hasn’t formally addressed the public about the fact that this was a terrorist attack. That’s not what leadership looks like.

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Hillary Apologizes for Benghazi, But Where’s Obama?

This is nothing short of disastrous for President Obama. After dodging responsibility for the Benghazi attack for over a month, pointing fingers at everything from the State Department to the intelligence community, the White House is outclassed by…Hillary Clinton. By taking the blame now, Hillary effectively 1.) Undermined Obama’s leadership, 2.) Put pressure on him right before a major debate to take the heat:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday tried to douse a political firestorm around the deadly assault on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, saying she is responsible for the security of American diplomatic outposts.

“I take responsibility” for the protection of U.S. diplomats Clinton said during a visit to Peru. But she said an investigation now under way will ultimately determine what happened in the attack that left four Americans dead. …

Clinton said President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are not involved in security decisions.

“I want to avoid some kind of political gotcha,” she added, noting that it is close to the election.

This puts Obama in an incredibly uncomfortable position.

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This is nothing short of disastrous for President Obama. After dodging responsibility for the Benghazi attack for over a month, pointing fingers at everything from the State Department to the intelligence community, the White House is outclassed by…Hillary Clinton. By taking the blame now, Hillary effectively 1.) Undermined Obama’s leadership, 2.) Put pressure on him right before a major debate to take the heat:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday tried to douse a political firestorm around the deadly assault on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, saying she is responsible for the security of American diplomatic outposts.

“I take responsibility” for the protection of U.S. diplomats Clinton said during a visit to Peru. But she said an investigation now under way will ultimately determine what happened in the attack that left four Americans dead. …

Clinton said President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are not involved in security decisions.

“I want to avoid some kind of political gotcha,” she added, noting that it is close to the election.

This puts Obama in an incredibly uncomfortable position.

If he let’s an underling like Hillary accept responsibility, he’s going to look even weaker than he has over the past few weeks. But even if Obama does step up and take the blame for the Benghazi attack today, it might be too late. Not only will it look like he did it under political pressure, but Hillary falling on her sword just highlights the politically-craven blame-game the White House has been playing for the past month.

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Did Intelligence Tell WH There Were Protests in Benghazi?

The White House has clarified Vice President Biden’s comment that he wasn’t aware of security requests, saying he was speaking for himself and President Obama, not the State Department. But they still haven’t explained Biden’s even more troubling claim that the intelligence community told the White House there were protesters outside the Benghazi embassy:

MS. RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on for weeks?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because that’s exactly what we were told —

MS. RADDATZ: By who?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: — by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment.

When the Obama administration rolled out its initial “blame the video” storyline in the days after the attack, they strongly implied that there was a protest outside the Benghazi consulate, but usually avoided stating it explicitly. If you listen to Jay Carney, Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, they tended to use vague words like “spontaneous reaction” and “unrest.” When they did use the word “protests,” it was usually in reference to the demonstrations across the Muslim world, not Benghazi specifically.

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The White House has clarified Vice President Biden’s comment that he wasn’t aware of security requests, saying he was speaking for himself and President Obama, not the State Department. But they still haven’t explained Biden’s even more troubling claim that the intelligence community told the White House there were protesters outside the Benghazi embassy:

MS. RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on for weeks?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because that’s exactly what we were told —

MS. RADDATZ: By who?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: — by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment.

When the Obama administration rolled out its initial “blame the video” storyline in the days after the attack, they strongly implied that there was a protest outside the Benghazi consulate, but usually avoided stating it explicitly. If you listen to Jay Carney, Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, they tended to use vague words like “spontaneous reaction” and “unrest.” When they did use the word “protests,” it was usually in reference to the demonstrations across the Muslim world, not Benghazi specifically.

This is because the CIA intelligence at the time didn’t support the idea that there was a protest outside the consulate. By cherry-picking the initial intelligence report, the administration could provide some flimsy cover for its claim that the terrorist attack was a “spontaneous reaction” to the Cairo demonstrations over the video. But no amount of intelligence manipulation can create a protest where none existed.

Biden’s unequivocal claim that the intelligence community told the White House there were protesters is simply not credible, and, worse, it glues the administration to its failed initial narrative. White House spokesperson Jay Carney had spent weeks slowly backing away from the protest story, and Biden has now made that impossible.

There are also risks to scapegoating the intelligence community, as FP’s Peter Feaver writes:

Second, the IC can fight back. Frustration has been mounting for years within the IC over the way the administration has politicized intelligence. At some point, that frustration could bubble over into retaliatory leaks and damaging revelations.

So far, the Obama campaign has been careful not to finger a specific person as the scapegoat. Last night, Biden kept it vague. But the talking points Biden was hiding behind were CIA talking points and the head of the CIA is David Petraeus, undoubtedly the person in the administration the American people trust most on national security — and yet, paradoxically, perhaps the person the hardened partisans in the Obama White House trust the least. I have been surprised that Petraeus has not personally been drawn into the fight thus far, but I wonder if he heard Biden calling him out last night.

Benghazi was reportedly teeming with CIA operatives; a top State Department official has testified that she monitored the entire attack in real time; and there were survivors who were able to piece together a tick-tock of the attack for the media. The CIA should would have easily known if there was or a protest outside or not, so Biden’s comment is a blatant accusation of incompetence.

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Biden Throws Intel Community Under Bus

The vice presidential debate opened with a question about the Libyan consulate attack. While that section of the evening probably didn’t figure heavily in forming opinions about whether Vice President Biden or Paul Ryan prevailed, it did provide an interesting twist in the unfolding tale of administration prevarications about the murders in Benghazi.

In response to a pointed question from moderator Martha Raddatz about what he and the president knew about the Benghazi attack, Biden threw the intelligence community and the State Department under the bus. The vice president claimed that the story the administration put out about the terrorist attack on the consulate and the murder of the U.S. ambassador being part of the fallout from a controversial anti-Muslim video was the fault of the intelligence they were given. But rather than put the issue to bed, it raises even more troubling questions not only about the security disaster but also about the lack of leadership shown by senior administration officials, including the president. It also contradicts State Department testimony and other comments from intelligence officials that they knew it was a terror attack within 24 hours of it happening.

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The vice presidential debate opened with a question about the Libyan consulate attack. While that section of the evening probably didn’t figure heavily in forming opinions about whether Vice President Biden or Paul Ryan prevailed, it did provide an interesting twist in the unfolding tale of administration prevarications about the murders in Benghazi.

In response to a pointed question from moderator Martha Raddatz about what he and the president knew about the Benghazi attack, Biden threw the intelligence community and the State Department under the bus. The vice president claimed that the story the administration put out about the terrorist attack on the consulate and the murder of the U.S. ambassador being part of the fallout from a controversial anti-Muslim video was the fault of the intelligence they were given. But rather than put the issue to bed, it raises even more troubling questions not only about the security disaster but also about the lack of leadership shown by senior administration officials, including the president. It also contradicts State Department testimony and other comments from intelligence officials that they knew it was a terror attack within 24 hours of it happening.

For Biden to put all of the blame for the lies about the video and the denial of terrorism on intelligence officials says a lot about the complete breakdown of administration counter-terror policy. His denial that anyone in Washington knew that the story put forward by Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, wasn’t true seems implausible. Even if true, it speaks to administration incompetence. The narrative here is still confused and Biden’s contribution only furthers muddies the waters.

It also demonstrates how absurd and hypocritical Democratic attacks are on Mitt Romney for his criticism of the initial reactions from Washington to both the Libya attack and the assault on the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt. Efforts such as those of Biden to deflect blame for a disaster that unfolded without any leadership from the top onto the Republicans are clearly not going to work.

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Admin Libya Lies Take Mitt Off the Hook

As he has done many times in recent years, ABC’s Jake Tapper hit the nail on the head when he asked White House spokesman Jay Carney yesterday whether President Obama hadn’t done exactly what he and other Democrats and liberals accused Mitt Romney of doing:

TAPPER: President Obama, shortly after the attack told “60 Minutes” that regarding Mitt Romney’s response to the attacks, specifically in Egypt, the president said that Romney has a tendency to “shoot first and aim later.” Given the fact that so much was made out of the video that apparently had absolutely nothing to do with the attack in Benghazi, that there wasn’t even a protest outside the Benghazi post, didn’t President Obama shoot first and aim later?

CARNEY: First of all, Jake, I think your assessment of what we know now is not complete, but I would simply say that the –

TAPPER: I’m just going by what the State Department said yesterday.

CARNEY: Look, there is no question that in the region, including in Cairo, there were demonstrations reacting to the release of that video, and I will leave it to those who are testifying on the hill to –

TAPPER: You said yesterday there was no protest? I’m talking about in Benghazi.

This was yet another cringe-inducing moment from a White House that is allergic to the truth. But Tapper’s question hits an important political point that has been ignored, as the country seeks answers to the questions about the Benghazi attack that the Obama foreign policy team still finds itself incapable of answering honestly. Mitt Romney is still taking abuse from those who claim he was wrong to criticize the administration’s behavior in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi disaster as well as the assault on the U.S. embassy in Cairo. The Republican spoke out before all the information about both incidents was aired. In retrospect, that was a mistake. But it pales in comparison to the many deceptive statements from the president, the secretary of state and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations that were not only wrong but part of what appears to have been a campaign of deception aimed at distracting the American people from a major security breakdown.

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As he has done many times in recent years, ABC’s Jake Tapper hit the nail on the head when he asked White House spokesman Jay Carney yesterday whether President Obama hadn’t done exactly what he and other Democrats and liberals accused Mitt Romney of doing:

TAPPER: President Obama, shortly after the attack told “60 Minutes” that regarding Mitt Romney’s response to the attacks, specifically in Egypt, the president said that Romney has a tendency to “shoot first and aim later.” Given the fact that so much was made out of the video that apparently had absolutely nothing to do with the attack in Benghazi, that there wasn’t even a protest outside the Benghazi post, didn’t President Obama shoot first and aim later?

CARNEY: First of all, Jake, I think your assessment of what we know now is not complete, but I would simply say that the –

TAPPER: I’m just going by what the State Department said yesterday.

CARNEY: Look, there is no question that in the region, including in Cairo, there were demonstrations reacting to the release of that video, and I will leave it to those who are testifying on the hill to –

TAPPER: You said yesterday there was no protest? I’m talking about in Benghazi.

This was yet another cringe-inducing moment from a White House that is allergic to the truth. But Tapper’s question hits an important political point that has been ignored, as the country seeks answers to the questions about the Benghazi attack that the Obama foreign policy team still finds itself incapable of answering honestly. Mitt Romney is still taking abuse from those who claim he was wrong to criticize the administration’s behavior in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi disaster as well as the assault on the U.S. embassy in Cairo. The Republican spoke out before all the information about both incidents was aired. In retrospect, that was a mistake. But it pales in comparison to the many deceptive statements from the president, the secretary of state and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations that were not only wrong but part of what appears to have been a campaign of deception aimed at distracting the American people from a major security breakdown.

As Alana wrote yesterday, the first day of hearings of the House Oversight Committee began to unravel the layers of misinformation with which this administration has sought to cover up its failures. But beyond the specifics of this disaster, and the dishonest way it was represented to the American people by officials, is the distinct impression we are getting that the attempt to put the focus on the video was in line with the general philosophy of this administration about America’s role in the world.

In that sense, it is becoming increasingly clear that Romney’s fundamental criticism of the administration’s penchant for apologizing for America is on target.

Romney’s initial statement about the attacks last month was not entirely correct, but it was not based on a lie, as it appears the president’s efforts to obfuscate the issue have been. It was, as Jake Tapper said yesterday, Obama who decided to “shoot first and aim later.” Those establishment figures that spent so much time attacking Romney owe him an apology. So does Obama.

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When Will Obama Respond to Benghazi Attack?

Libya’s prime minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur — who was voted in on Sept. 12 — was removed in a no-confidence vote on Sunday. As the Washington Post reports, this could mean further delays for the FBI investigation into the Benghazi attack:

The decision by Libya’s legislature means that the government may remain without permanent, democratically-elected leadership for many weeks. But without a government in place, the investigation into the attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans may be a low priority for Libyans. The extent to which the U.S. part of the investigation can operate freely in Libya also may be hampered by the domestic political chaos.

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Libya’s prime minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur — who was voted in on Sept. 12 — was removed in a no-confidence vote on Sunday. As the Washington Post reports, this could mean further delays for the FBI investigation into the Benghazi attack:

The decision by Libya’s legislature means that the government may remain without permanent, democratically-elected leadership for many weeks. But without a government in place, the investigation into the attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans may be a low priority for Libyans. The extent to which the U.S. part of the investigation can operate freely in Libya also may be hampered by the domestic political chaos.

Some Libyan officials have raised sovereignty concerns about extensive FBI operations in Benghazi, the eastern coastal city where the Americans were killed at two U.S. government outposts. Safety concerns also have kept the FBI away from the city,although it visited Thursday for an extensive sweep of the U.S. mission there.

This may actually be welcome news to the State Department, which didn’t seem particularly interested in helping the investigation along in the first place. But we’re now almost a month out from the attack, and the Obama administration still hasn’t said whether it will deal with the terrorists behind it. Will it treat it as a criminal act or a military incident? The ouster of the Libyan PM makes both options more difficult.

If they go the criminal route, with the FBI working with the Libyan government to capture and prosecute the perpetrators, they could run across multiple problems. As WaPo points out, this may not be a priority for the Libyan government at the moment. There’s also the question of where to prosecute the terrorists — can the U.S. risk allowing them to go to trial in Libya? Or trust the prison system in a country that’s still undergoing a tumultuous transition? Trying the terrorists in the U.S. brings its own batch of problems. Even if the FBI is able to build a strong case from its late investigation, there will be controversy over giving terrorists a court platform, and debates over where to put them if they are convicted.

Responding with military force is clearly the better option, but the removal of the PM also makes it more complicated. The leadership vacuum could provide bad actors with an opening to demagogue U.S. intervention in the region. WaPo reports that Libyan officials have already criticized the FBI investigation as an infringement on Libyan sovereignty, and military operations could exacerbate that. The Obama administration has touted the U.S. relationship with Libya as one of its Arab Spring successes, and may be concerned about putting the U.S. at odds with the new government. In terms of U.S. politics, a drone strike or other military operation could also anger Obama’s left-wing base before the election.

None of these options are without risk. But the riskiest one of all would be to do nothing. The Obama administration may want to wait until after the election to respond, but each day of inaction makes him look weaker to the American public and our allies and enemies abroad. Thursday, the day Vice President Biden debates Paul Ryan, will mark one month since the consulate attack. Obama won’t be able to put off a response — or at least an explanation for the delay — for much longer.

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Libya Attack Still an Inexplicable Failure

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.

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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.

This lapse is all the more shocking given the fact that the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security is known for taking an ultra-cautious approach to protecting America’s representatives abroad. Heads should roll over this failure. (They should also roll over the Anglo-American military failure to protect Harrier jump jets at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.) And senior officials in the Obama administration, starting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, must explain how this inexplicable failure took place.

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No, Obama Didn’t Call Benghazi “Act of Terror” in Speech

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.

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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.

Obama said during the speech that “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation” — but at no point was it clear that he was using that term to describe the attack in Benghazi. He’d also spent the previous two paragraphs discussing the 9/11 attacks and the aftermath. “Acts of terror” could have just as easily been a reference to that. Or maybe it wasn’t a direct reference to anything, just a generic, reassuring line he’d added into a speech which did take place, after all, the day after the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Here’s the line with some additional context:

Of course, yesterday was already a painful day for our nation as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks.  We mourned with the families who were lost on that day.  I visited the graves of troops who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery, and had the opportunity to say thank you and visit some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed.  And then last night, we learned the news of this attack in Benghazi.

As Americans, let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it, and in some cases, lay down their lives for it.  Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those both civilian and military who represent us around the globe.

No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.  Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America.  We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act.  And make no mistake, justice will be done.

If Obama wanted to call the Benghazi assault a terrorist attack in that speech, he had plenty of opportunities to do so. Instead, he described it as a “terrible act,” a “brutal” act, “senseless violence,” and called the attackers “killers,” not terrorists. It’s also important to consider the context. For a week after this speech, the White House would not call it a terrorist attack. The official position was that Libya was a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam film, not a premeditated or preplanned act.

Some may wonder why it even matters. Maybe Obama really was referring to Benghazi as an “act of terror” in the speech, and he just failed to make that clear enough — so what?

Actually, this is much more than an issue of semantics. Calling it a terrorist attack would have given Obama powers under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) to use military action, including drone warfare, against the perpetrators. If he were serious about “bring[ing] to justice the killers,” which he vowed to do in the speech, then labeling this incident a terrorist attack (if he believed that’s what it was) would have been critical. Instead, we now have the FBI sitting with its hands bound in Tripoli, unable to move forward with a serious investigation.

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Obama Played Politics On Libya, Not Mitt

A tipping point in the ongoing efforts by the Obama administration to downplay the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya may have been reached this weekend. After weeks of placidly regurgitating the White House spin on the Libya attack, the headlines on the front page of the New York Times showed that even the leading liberal cheerleader for the president understood the game was over: “Shifting Reports on Libya Killings May Cost Obama; An Opening for Romney; Intelligence Aides Say Attack on Compound Was ‘Organized.’”

That sums the situation up nicely, but the Times has it slightly wrong about the “Opening for Romney” it references. A proper understanding of what we have learned in the last 18 days is not that Mitt Romney’s campaign may have been given an opportunity to exploit the president’s shortcomings, but that the poor conduct of the administration in the aftermath of the Libya attack may have been motivated by their cynical political efforts to cover up a disaster of their own making. The refusal to talk about terror comes from a strategy in which the president’s re-election rests in part on promoting the idea that Obama won the war on al-Qaeda the day Osama bin Laden died. It isn’t Romney who has been playing politics on Libya but the president and his handlers.

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A tipping point in the ongoing efforts by the Obama administration to downplay the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya may have been reached this weekend. After weeks of placidly regurgitating the White House spin on the Libya attack, the headlines on the front page of the New York Times showed that even the leading liberal cheerleader for the president understood the game was over: “Shifting Reports on Libya Killings May Cost Obama; An Opening for Romney; Intelligence Aides Say Attack on Compound Was ‘Organized.’”

That sums the situation up nicely, but the Times has it slightly wrong about the “Opening for Romney” it references. A proper understanding of what we have learned in the last 18 days is not that Mitt Romney’s campaign may have been given an opportunity to exploit the president’s shortcomings, but that the poor conduct of the administration in the aftermath of the Libya attack may have been motivated by their cynical political efforts to cover up a disaster of their own making. The refusal to talk about terror comes from a strategy in which the president’s re-election rests in part on promoting the idea that Obama won the war on al-Qaeda the day Osama bin Laden died. It isn’t Romney who has been playing politics on Libya but the president and his handlers.

On Friday, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, issued a statement saying that American intelligence agencies have “revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists.”

But after two weeks of confusion and misinformation from Washington following the attack that came on the 9/11 anniversary, this belated clarity does not undo the damage done by the often-contradictory attempts by the administration to evade responsibility for the intelligence failure that resulted in the assassination of Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Nor does it erase the clear impression that the White House and various leading officials such as Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, have been either deceiving the nation or themselves about what is going on in the Middle East. Clapper’s statement came on the same day that the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake reported that while White House mouthpiece Jay Carney and Rice were insisting that the attacks were merely a case of film criticism that got out of hand, U.S intelligence was intercepting messages from the group that pulled off the Libya attack bragging about the deed to an al-Qaeda affiliate that may well be their masters.

The implication of this information not only undercuts the false characterizations of the attacks by the administration, but raises questions about the fact that it did not adequately communicate the truth about the danger from al-Qaeda and its allies to Ambassador Stevens. As Lake writes:

Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador who was killed at the Benghazi consulate, also expressed concerns about the rise of al Qaeda in Libya. CNN first reported Stevens had concerns that he was on a Qaeda hit list, something Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denied publicly. But CNN had access to the slain ambassador’s personal journal, which supported this reporting on his concerns about security in the country where he served.

As the Times headline makes clear, this is no small scandal. What’s really troubling here is not so much that U.S. intelligence failed to prevent the attack but the sense, reinforced by the weeks of deceptive statements about these events, that no one in the Obama administration was prepared to talk about terrorism because doing so undercuts the Democratic campaign narrative about bin Laden’s death and victory over al Qaeda. It was bad enough that this message was being conveyed to the country before the Libya attack, but the stubborn persistence with which the president’s foreign policy team and spokespersons continued to claim that the trouble was an Internet video critical of Islam rather than an al-Qaeda offensive fatally undermines their credibility.

Romney was widely lambasted for his criticisms of the administration’s behavior in the first days after the event even though what he said was correct. Since then, he has been wary of doing anything that would allow his critics to claim he was trying to exploit a tragedy. But what we have learned in the last few days makes it imperative that someone should try to hold the president accountable for what has happened as well as a mindset that makes it clear his aides are more worried about potential political damage than they are about the security of our diplomats or what al-Qaeda is doing.

Indeed, even in the conclusion of the Times article the same sort of complacence can be heard. Colin Kahl, “a former Pentagon official who is an advisor to the Obama campaign,” bragged that the death of bin Laden would overshadow the impact of the revelations about the Libya attack. But Libya proves that killing bin Laden is no substitute for a coherent foreign policy. What recent events have shown is that Obama’s weak leadership and politicized judgment is leading to disaster in the Middle East. If even the New York Times understands this, one suspects that the American public may be starting to think about it too.

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Will Obama’s “Bumps in the Road” Hurt?

The Romney campaign spent Tuesday criticizing Obama for referring to the riots and embassy attacks across the Muslim world as “bumps in the road.” But now the mother of one of the former Navy SEALs killing in Libya said she agrees with the road-bump characterization, and is sad to see the incident politicized, according to the Boston Herald:

The mother of a former Navy SEAL from Winchester killed in Libya said it is “very sad” that her son’s death was being used as political theater yesterday — and she agreed with President Obama’s controversial assessment that the latest round of deadly troubles in the region constitute “bumps in the road.”

She said every day, men like her son are making a difference for those who live in that region.

“Those people, not only there, but other places, are under horrid dictatorships,” Barbara Doherty told the Herald yesterday. “They’re very angry. They’re poor. It is a little bump in the road. They are making progress. You can’t expect it to happen in one night. Progress is slow.”

That will probably settle it for the media, which, as John wrote in his New York Post column, was already trying to ignore Obama’s indelicate comment anyway. How long do you think it will take for the press to turn this into a Romney-gaffe story? Maybe we can look forward to another round of breathless “did Romney jump the gun?” headlines.

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The Romney campaign spent Tuesday criticizing Obama for referring to the riots and embassy attacks across the Muslim world as “bumps in the road.” But now the mother of one of the former Navy SEALs killing in Libya said she agrees with the road-bump characterization, and is sad to see the incident politicized, according to the Boston Herald:

The mother of a former Navy SEAL from Winchester killed in Libya said it is “very sad” that her son’s death was being used as political theater yesterday — and she agreed with President Obama’s controversial assessment that the latest round of deadly troubles in the region constitute “bumps in the road.”

She said every day, men like her son are making a difference for those who live in that region.

“Those people, not only there, but other places, are under horrid dictatorships,” Barbara Doherty told the Herald yesterday. “They’re very angry. They’re poor. It is a little bump in the road. They are making progress. You can’t expect it to happen in one night. Progress is slow.”

That will probably settle it for the media, which, as John wrote in his New York Post column, was already trying to ignore Obama’s indelicate comment anyway. How long do you think it will take for the press to turn this into a Romney-gaffe story? Maybe we can look forward to another round of breathless “did Romney jump the gun?” headlines.

Nobody is arguing that the attack in Benghazi is an insurmountable setback in the country or the region. But when the Commander-in-Chief describes it as “a bump in the road,” he’s suggesting that it was minor, unavoidable and inconsequential. That’s not what we’ve seen so far. This was the first assassination of a U.S. ambassador in over thirty years. For most Americans, that’s not a minor concern. There is evidence that we lost a massive amount of intelligence in the raid — again, not impossible to overcome, but something that will have consequences in the region. As for whether the attack could have been avoided, there are serious concerns about why the State Department failed to secure the consulate and the ambassador.

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Is the Libya Debacle Already Forgotten?

Such is the nature of the 24/7 news cycle that you might think last week’s attack on the U.S. embassies in Libya, Egypt and Yemen had occurred sometime during the Eisenhower administration. The overwhelming attention devoted to Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” video story in the mainstream media has seemed to relegate the impact of the unraveling of American foreign policy in the Middle East to sidebar status. The disproportionate attention the liberal media has given Romney’s video may damage his campaign, but let’s not be deceived into thinking that this week’s story trumps last week’s or at least consigns it to be merely dropped down the memory hole.

The widespread attacks on American outposts in the region are a sign of what had already been obvious to serious observers: President Obama’s four-year effort to ingratiate the Arab and Muslim world has been a dismal failure. It’s not just that the president’s hubristic belief that his personal iconic status could change views about the United States have proven to be so much more self-delusion. It’s also that the White House’s unwillingness to accept that al-Qaeda is alive and well and planning terror attacks on vital U.S. targets — warnings about which have been ignored — in countries like Libya illustrates that the “Bin Laden is dead” mantra asserting the triumph of Obama’s foreign and defense policies is largely fiction. Last week’s attacks were emblematic of a catastrophic chapter in the history of American foreign policy. By comparison, Romney’s gaffe is a mere footnote to the story of this year’s presidential campaign.

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Such is the nature of the 24/7 news cycle that you might think last week’s attack on the U.S. embassies in Libya, Egypt and Yemen had occurred sometime during the Eisenhower administration. The overwhelming attention devoted to Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” video story in the mainstream media has seemed to relegate the impact of the unraveling of American foreign policy in the Middle East to sidebar status. The disproportionate attention the liberal media has given Romney’s video may damage his campaign, but let’s not be deceived into thinking that this week’s story trumps last week’s or at least consigns it to be merely dropped down the memory hole.

The widespread attacks on American outposts in the region are a sign of what had already been obvious to serious observers: President Obama’s four-year effort to ingratiate the Arab and Muslim world has been a dismal failure. It’s not just that the president’s hubristic belief that his personal iconic status could change views about the United States have proven to be so much more self-delusion. It’s also that the White House’s unwillingness to accept that al-Qaeda is alive and well and planning terror attacks on vital U.S. targets — warnings about which have been ignored — in countries like Libya illustrates that the “Bin Laden is dead” mantra asserting the triumph of Obama’s foreign and defense policies is largely fiction. Last week’s attacks were emblematic of a catastrophic chapter in the history of American foreign policy. By comparison, Romney’s gaffe is a mere footnote to the story of this year’s presidential campaign.

But the media’s appetite for digesting this tragedy seems to have been limited. Indeed, were it not for their desire to slap down Romney’s attack on the initial apology for an anti-Muslim film that was issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, many of the chattering classes would have had no interest in talking about it at all.

While serious questions remain unanswered about the sequence of events in Libya that led to the murder of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, the story was pretty much dropped once the Romney video was released. That the White House continued to promote the myth that the attack was not a planned terrorist attack, but only a result of the protests about the film, is more of a scandal than anything Romney said. But they got away with it and only slightly changed their tune once the nation’s attention was diverted by the Romney video.

The repudiation by the Arab street of Obama’s policies is nearly complete. He had hoped to win their hearts and minds by distancing the U.S. from Israel and by outreach that was epitomized by the president’s June 2009 Cairo speech in which he paid obeisance to Muslim sensitivities. But his exercise in false moral equivalence has only bred contempt for U.S. power and damaged U.S. interests. His ambiguous response to the Arab Spring managed to gain the worst of both worlds for his country as friendly regimes fell and were replaced by dangerous Islamists without the U.S. gaining credit for sandbagging former allies.

Just as bad is the fact that these attacks have shown that the administration’s boasts about the killing of Osama bin Laden is a thin cover for a counter-terror strategy that has seen al-Qaeda gain strength on the president’s watch. That an article on this crucial issue only merited placement on page 13 of today’s New York Times rather than the front page treatment that is still being given to the Romney video three days after that story broke tells you all you need to know about the skewed priorities of that newspaper and other liberal outlets.

But in this case, the common sense of the American people may be prevailing over the herd instinct of the chattering classes. Much of the journalistic world spent last week promoting the assumption that Romney’s sharp response to the apology would sink him. But, as liberal Times blogger and political analyst Nate Silver admitted today:

Mr. Romney’s comments about Libya last week, for instance, were supposed to be very damaging to him, but if anything the numbers have moved toward him since then.

It could be that the voters understand that rather than being a negative for Romney, recent events have shown the bankruptcy of Obama’s policies. Though it is arguable whether the Republican can overcome the handicap that a hostile media has placed on his already challenged campaign, the polls may reveal that the American people believe that the president’s policy failures are of greater moment than Romney’s loose talk.

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Obama’s Terror Touchdown Dance is Over

Yesterday, when most of the mainstream media busied themselves pounding Mitt Romney for having the chutzpah to denounce the initial apology for American freedom of speech issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, they were missing a much more important story. As Islamist attacks on the U.S. escalated throughout the Middle East, it became apparent that the Obama administration’s recent bout of back slapping celebration over its foreign and defense policy was completely unjustified. Not only were the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department sleeping while terrorist forces plotted a full-scale assault on our mission in Benghazi, Libya but other al Qaeda operatives were at work throughout the region plotting mischief.

As the New York Times reports today, the assault on the U.S. embassy in Sana, Yemen was apparently fomented by one Abdul Majid al-Zandani, whom they describe as, “a onetime mentor to Osama bin Laden” and someone who, “was named a ‘specially designated global terrorist’ by the United States Treasury Department in 2004.” Would it be considered in bad taste to ask why, if the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism policy is such a raging success, such a person is still on the loose? Equally interesting is the answer to the question of how it is that in Libya, a country where American influence is supposed to be currently strong, this administration found itself surprised by the appearance of armed foes. Though Democrats spent the last week furiously patting themselves on the back for having such a tough and successful leader at the helm, it appears that not only is the country just as unpopular in the Middle East as it was when George W. Bush was president, but that the security situation there may be rapidly unraveling. Though no one in Washington is allowed to say the phrase “war on terror” anymore, it appears that Islamists have no trouble in continuing their war on America.

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Yesterday, when most of the mainstream media busied themselves pounding Mitt Romney for having the chutzpah to denounce the initial apology for American freedom of speech issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, they were missing a much more important story. As Islamist attacks on the U.S. escalated throughout the Middle East, it became apparent that the Obama administration’s recent bout of back slapping celebration over its foreign and defense policy was completely unjustified. Not only were the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department sleeping while terrorist forces plotted a full-scale assault on our mission in Benghazi, Libya but other al Qaeda operatives were at work throughout the region plotting mischief.

As the New York Times reports today, the assault on the U.S. embassy in Sana, Yemen was apparently fomented by one Abdul Majid al-Zandani, whom they describe as, “a onetime mentor to Osama bin Laden” and someone who, “was named a ‘specially designated global terrorist’ by the United States Treasury Department in 2004.” Would it be considered in bad taste to ask why, if the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism policy is such a raging success, such a person is still on the loose? Equally interesting is the answer to the question of how it is that in Libya, a country where American influence is supposed to be currently strong, this administration found itself surprised by the appearance of armed foes. Though Democrats spent the last week furiously patting themselves on the back for having such a tough and successful leader at the helm, it appears that not only is the country just as unpopular in the Middle East as it was when George W. Bush was president, but that the security situation there may be rapidly unraveling. Though no one in Washington is allowed to say the phrase “war on terror” anymore, it appears that Islamists have no trouble in continuing their war on America.

These events in Libya, Egypt and Yemen may be just the tip of the Islamist iceberg. We now know that the kerfuffle over a trailer for an anti-Muslim movie was merely a cover for attacks on American targets in the Middle East by an al-Qaeda movement that is, despite the death of Osama bin Laden, very much alive and well. As the Times relates, U.S. forces continue to try to battle al-Qaeda. Earlier this week, one of the group’s top operatives in Yemen was killed by a U.S. drone strike. But not all of America’s security problems can be solved with remote control bombs.

Rather than this topic being a source of strength for President Obama, the embarrassing and tragic events of the past few days show it to be a weakness. This is a president who came into office desperate to ingratiate himself with the Arab and Muslim worlds, but who has discovered that a policy of engagement with Islamists has utterly failed.

In Egypt, Obama equivocated while the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power. He has chosen to embrace the now Islamist government there with debt forgiveness and continued aid only to see it stand by and watch while our embassy was assaulted.

In Iran, the president spent years on failed policies of engagement and diplomacy. Rather than set red lines on the Iranian nuclear program that would trigger action rather than more talk, he has made it abundantly clear he is more interested in stopping Israel from forestalling Tehran’s bomb than he is about the threat itself.

It is true that Osama bin Laden is dead, but that creditable action hasn’t ended the Islamist threat. The president has lost his way in the Middle East and is too full of self-regard to acknowledge the problem. Rather than dumping on Romney for stating the obvious about a disgraceful apology, the media needs to start scrutinizing an administration with a floundering foreign policy. Whether he knows it or not, the president’s long-running touchdown dance over bin Laden is over.

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Has Romney Erred on Obama Criticism?

Pundits and many in the foreign policy establishment are slamming Mitt Romney today for taking issue with Obama administration statements about attacks on U.S. diplomats and embassies in Libya and Egypt. Their assumption is that in the wake of a tragedy involving the deaths of U.S. personnel, Romney should have held his tongue rather than wading into the controversy and, in the opinion of those critical of his stance, politicizing something that is beyond politics. For some liberals, this will not just reinforce the message of the Democratic National Convention that Romney is not qualified to speak on foreign policy. They hope this will be a turning point in which a close race will turn into a cakewalk for President Obama.

It remains to be seen whether they will turn out to be right. In his statement at the White House this morning, the president sounded and looked presidential when he eulogized Ambassador Chris Stevens and the other Americans. Presidents are at their best when they play commander-in-chief, but the idea that the administration’s mistakes should be treated as out of bounds for Romney is absurd. Contrary to the Democrats’ talking points, President Obama’s foreign policy is a disaster in the making. Though he must be careful, Romney would be a fool to sit by quietly and allow these events to pass without comment, as Islamists rampage in Egypt and Libya while the president snubs Israel and allows Iran to drift toward a nuclear weapon without a serious effort to stop it.

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Pundits and many in the foreign policy establishment are slamming Mitt Romney today for taking issue with Obama administration statements about attacks on U.S. diplomats and embassies in Libya and Egypt. Their assumption is that in the wake of a tragedy involving the deaths of U.S. personnel, Romney should have held his tongue rather than wading into the controversy and, in the opinion of those critical of his stance, politicizing something that is beyond politics. For some liberals, this will not just reinforce the message of the Democratic National Convention that Romney is not qualified to speak on foreign policy. They hope this will be a turning point in which a close race will turn into a cakewalk for President Obama.

It remains to be seen whether they will turn out to be right. In his statement at the White House this morning, the president sounded and looked presidential when he eulogized Ambassador Chris Stevens and the other Americans. Presidents are at their best when they play commander-in-chief, but the idea that the administration’s mistakes should be treated as out of bounds for Romney is absurd. Contrary to the Democrats’ talking points, President Obama’s foreign policy is a disaster in the making. Though he must be careful, Romney would be a fool to sit by quietly and allow these events to pass without comment, as Islamists rampage in Egypt and Libya while the president snubs Israel and allows Iran to drift toward a nuclear weapon without a serious effort to stop it.

It may well be that the initial statement made by Romney last night was issued on the assumption that the shameful apology issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo after, rather than before, the attack on the compound. But the embassy stuck by the statement and thus showed that criticism of the apology was justified. Either way, it still reflected the moral equivalence and willingness to kowtow to Islamist sensibilities and that has been at the core of this administration’s policies in the Middle East.

The willingness of Secretary of State Clinton to condemn a foolish independent film critical of Islam that is supposedly the reason why Americans are being attacked, before speaking of the outrage against U.S. facilities and personnel, was similarly ill-considered and deserved Romney’s riposte. While the president’s statement today was better, Romney still needs to point out that the administration’s desire to appease and conciliate the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt while refusing to meet the prime minister of Israel or to set red lines on Iran is the product of a mindset that has ill served America’s best interests.

Most Americans are inclined to unite around the government and the president in times of crisis. These attacks, coming as they did on 9/11, were acts of war against the United States. The responsibility for responding to such attacks belongs to the president and it is to be hoped that the administration will react in such a manner as to ensure such actions will not be repeated.

But yesterday’s apologies, as well as those that President Obama has issued before this–such as his June 2009 Cairo speech–are part of the problem that set these events in motion. Romney is right that Obama has sent some mixed signals to the world on the defense of American values and has given a measured rather than a knee-jerk bellicose response. If Americans want a better choice on foreign policy, then this is exactly the time for Romney to be speaking up and giving it to them.

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