Friday, October 19, 2012

Yes, They Played Politics on Libya

by Jonathan S. Tobin

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.

Jonathan S. Tobin


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