One of the most jaw-dropping moments during Tuesday night’s presidential debate was Mitt Romney’s jaw-jutted, hoped for “gotcha moment” when he attempted to call out President Obama on the September 11 terrorist attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Clearly Romney has never been anywhere near a war room, or an international crisis. His anticipated moment, telegraphed by his raised eyebrows and forward thrusted chin, was simply astounding, not to mention naive. Crises and information don’t unfold from a package as neat as a custom tailored, newly pressed shirt.
As Richard Clarke, a former counterterrorism adviser to Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton. and George W. Bush, as well as deputy assistant secretary of state for intelligence under President Ronald Reagan, so aptly put it in today’s Daily News:
News media and members of Congress may want instant answers when something explodes, when Americans die, but national security professionals know that “first reports are always wrong.” That is why, when pressed by reporters to say what had happened, UN Ambassador Susan Rice qualified her response by saying that the investigation was ongoing. She then said what the intelligence community had reported to her at that time.
President Obama has been particularly successful in his anti-terrorism efforts. Not only is Osama bin Laden dead, a fact that Romney, and the Republican Party also like to downplay, fewer American lives have been lost to terrorism under Obama’s watch than his predecessors. Indeed, as Clarke notes, every president since Ronald Reagan has suffered American casualties to terrorism, but Obama has kept terrorist groups on their toes;
he has kept the terrorist groups off balance by relentlessly attacking them. He has largely eliminated Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan as an effective fighting force. His use of drones and special forces has been aggressive and successful, including in Yemen and Somalia.
Romney will clearly continue on this specious warpath in the next debate on October 22, which focuses on foreign policy. The real question is why? As Clarke explains:
Karl Rove, the Republican evil genius of campaign slurs, is famous for advising candidates to attack an opponent’s strong suit. If Sen. John Kerry is a decorated war hero and your guy avoided going to Vietnam, then attack Kerry’s service record. If Sen. Max Cleland lost limbs fighting for America, question his patriotism.
The problem is that those two outrageous attacks worked, as have many others like them.
Why is the attack on Benghazi being talked about so much? It is not because the Republicans have a long record of caring about embassy security. House Republicans cut $128 million in fiscal year 2011 and an additional $331 million in fiscal year 2012 from what Secretary of State Clinton requested for embassy security.
No, it’s because their polling and focus groups show that voters believe that President Obama has done a very good job fighting terrorists. Therefore, the Rove theory says, you attack Obama on terrorism.
Romney’s attack on the minutiae of who said what, and when, is a petty distraction, a stab at politicizing a serious event, an attempt to take the spotlight off his utter lack of foreign policy knowledge and experience. More troubling, though, it’s also yet another attempt on the part of the Romney campaign to shoot first and ask questions later. Wasn’t his trip to London, Israel, and Poland this summer, not to mention the press release the Romney campaign put out decrying Obama’s actions following the Benghazi attack, proof enough that Romney’s finger should be nowhere near a trigger?
Not only is the perpetuation of this, and all of the other myths the Romney campaign has so boldly spun, a disservice to us all, it’s a prime example of Romney’s inexperience in the face of an international crisis. It’s been fact checked. The President made two separate statements in the two days following the Benghazi attack, on both September 12th and 13th, describing the killings as acts of terror. The question, as Clarke so rightly raises at the end of his Daily News piece is,
what he really cares about is trying to put a dent in Obama’s outstanding performance on terrorism. When he does, ask yourself which man would you want calling the shots against Al Qaeda.
Photo credit: huffstutterrobert via flickr
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