Between a Rock and a Libyan Hard Place

Last night’s presidential debate proved a fairly even match, which means those who want Mitt Romney to win next month are probably inclined to think he won the debate, and those who support President Obama are probably confident that he won. Even if undecided voters are still left undecided, the boost in confidence among the President’s supporters—up from a very low low—probably makes the immediate outcome a slight positive for the Obama camp.

The two most memorable moments of the debate, according to my unscientific survey of one, came 1) during the candidates’ confrontation over oil and gas permits and 2) during Mitt Romney’s attack on the Obama administration’s handling of the Libyan terrorist attacks.

The first will be remembered as titanic struggle of wills between the challenger, Mitt Romney, and the President of the United States. In those moments of intense, almost physical disagreement, the two men seemed evenly matched. Anyone who has watched the first two debates is almost certainly convinced that Mitt Romney is a man well-suited and competent, personally and temperamentally, to the office of President of the United States. That’s a net win for Romney. (It doesn’t help the President that the he was substantively wrong on the matter at hand — his administration has cut the number of drilling permits issued by roughly half.)

The second memorable moment came with Romney’s observation that, when terrorists attacked our consulate in Benghazi and killed our ambassador, President Obama gave a speech in the White House Rose Garden in which he blamed the Libyan affair on a YouTube video, rather than on an act of terror, and then flew to Vegas for a fundraiser.

The President countered immediately, insisting that he did call the attack an “act of terror” in his Rose Garden speech. Debate moderator, Candy Crowley, stepped in to reinforce the President’s claim. The audience reacted audibly, presumably in approval of Crowley’s impromptu fact-check. The moment was widely viewed as an escape for the President on a very tough point and as a swing-and-miss by Romney who ended up looking like he was bending facts to score political points on an issue of national security.

A quick look at the transcript of the President’s Rose Garden remarks from September 12, 2012 show that President did in fact use the words “act of terror.” The context in which that phrase was used suggests that, if the President was indeed referring to the Libyan attacks as the work of terrorists, he was doing so in an intentionally indirect and plausibly deniable way. Nevertheless, Romney’s failure to pin the President on the Libya issue was itself a victory for the President. Unfortunately for the President, it may well turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory.

Why? Because, in order to score that debate point, the President professed – indeed, insisted — that he believed the Benghazi attack to be a terrorist attack from day one; believed it so strongly that he said so publicly in his Rose Garden address on September 12, 2012.

Of course if that’s the case, if we are to read the Rose Garden remarks the way the President insists we must, then President Obama is going to have explain his administration’s convoluted, misleading, and ultimately inadequate response to a terrorist attack against American lives and interests.

Here are just a few of the hard questions he must now answer:

If he knew the attacks were the work of terrorists on September 12 in the Rose Garden, why did the President and his “team” continue to mislead the American public by calling the attacks “protests” against an “offensive video” for more than two full weeks afterward?

Why, if the President knew these attacks were the work of terrorists, did go on The View to say something different?

When asked in an interview with Univision about the attack more than a week after it occurred, why did the President continue to blame the “protests” and on a YouTube video and then go to great lengths to distance his administration from that video?

Photo: It was the intelligence community!

If the President knew the attacks were the work of terrorists from day one, why was Vice President Biden claiming otherwise three weeks after the attack when he insisted at the VP Debate that the “intelligence community” was pointing to protests, not terrorist attacks?

If the President knew the attacks were the work of terrorists from day one, why did the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, go on a press tour five days after the attacks to insist that this was a protest, “a response to a hateful and offensive video,” “a spontaneous reaction to a video”? And when asked directly if it was an act of terror, why did Ambassador Rice call the attack “a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video”?

If the President knew this was an act of terror from day one, why did he go before the United Nations himself, two weeks after the attack, and blame a YouTube video six times without once uttering the word terror or terrorist in reference to Libya or the murder of our ambassador?

If the President knew the attacks were the work of terrorists from day one, why did White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, refuse to admit as much for more than two weeks?

If the President knew that terrorists had attacked our consulate and killed our ambassador, was a press-conference en route to a Las Vegas fundraiser a remotely appropriate response?

And of course, if the President is responsible for his team, why is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton taking the blame?

The President seemed very proud of the point he scored in last night’s debate. He wants credit for calling the Benghazi attack an act of terror from day one. The question is, having definitively undermined every different story his administration has told in the last month, will he also take “credit” for his administration’s coordinated campaign of disinformation and half-truths?

With President Obama already swimming against the steady stream of his own promises unkept—unemployment won’t go above 8%, the deficit will be cut in half, immigration reform in the first term, if you like your health insurance you can keep it—now is not a good time to explain why his administration spent weeks talking about a YouTube video when they knew what really happened was that Americans had been killed in a terrorist attack.

Needless to say, I expect next week’s debate on foreign policy will be very interesting.

Stephen P. White is a fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC and coordinator of the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society. The views expressed here are his own.

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32 thoughts on “Between a Rock and a Libyan Hard Place

  1. unafides says:

    Thanks Steven White for a good article. The disinformation and half truths are not lost to the thinking Catholics who know how to reason.

  2. abadilla says:

    “And defending Romney’s lies with more lies will still not get him elected. You might as well pack it up and go home now.” Don’t be so sure Mr. Troll, that’s not what the polls are saying 20 days before the election, although I don’t totally rely on polls because I believe they are inflated by the adoring media who wants Obama back in power, or the polls are correct and we’re about to give Obama a swift kick in the a.. and get him out of power.

  3. abadilla says:

    And the troll says, “You might as well pack it up and go home now.” I wonder why he would talk about Obama this way, because that’s exactly what many of us hope will happen Nov 6!

    1. Romney will be going home to make money off of disposing of aborted fetuses and outsourcing American jobs to China.

      1. Randall says:

        Liberal lies.

      2. abadilla says:

        You can make that accusation all day long, not too many of us here would believe it except the trolls who like you, hate Romney so much you are willing to say just about anything against a decent man to discredit him. I would not say that about Obama and I certainly don’t like him.
        Of course, if you are a Catholic, there is always the confessional available so you can confess the sin of calumny, particularly when you have repeated that lie in a public place.

  4. abadilla says:

    And the troll says, “See how many comments there are on this article and you will understand how few Americans care about this issue.” Well, if Americans don’t care about foreign policy, perhaps they should vote for Obama who also doesn’t care about this issue, and it shows!

  5. Jasen White says:

    Hey this site is entirely disingenuous and ill explain why …the church doesn’t back any candidate or political party..when I saw this site last night I was like hu? So i read left a post..and today went to my church ..this site no more represents the Catholic Church then I do and maybe less cause at least i am a Catholic and who knows who runs this site..So I dont mind the partisan babble but I am against the use of my religion for political reasons:)

    ps not that I don’t entirely expect it from the Republicans:)

    1. abadilla says:

      “ps not that I don’t entirely expect it from the Republicans:)”
      Well, you just made your point and, in the process, lost all credibility. You’re living in a glass house and you throw stones at your neighbor.
      “Hey this site is entirely disingenuous…” I will ask you what I always ask of people who are unhappy with CV, if you feel the way you do, why do you come here?

    2. Randall says:

      Goodbye, Democrat troll. And no, you’re not a Catholic.

    3. Julie T. says:

      Jason, do you know the history of Catholic Vote and how it came about? You should reserve judgment before casting aspersions. This Web site is intended as a community for *faithful* Catholics (those who embrace the Magisterium, both Scripture and Tradition) and who want to see political candidates elected who will uphold cultural mores that we, as Catholics, can live with. For decades, Catholics had the same old tired choice of a Democrat willing to violate Catholic moral teaching—ESPECIALLY that of the First Principle: Respect for *All* Life from Conception to Natural Death—in trade for his or her version of “social justice.” Or, we could choose the (generally) Republican candidate who was better than the Democrat about pro-life issues, but not so good about issues encompassed in the Church’s social teaching. Catholic Vote is relatively new; I believe this is only the site’s second general-election cycle, but the LONG-TERM goal is to promote political candidates (ideally, *faithful* Catholic candidates) who will do a decent job on *all* issues Catholics care about. Is Mitt Romney the ideal candidate? No, but he is a thousand times better than Barack Obama insofar as the Church’s first principle of moral teaching is concerned. We must start somewhere and our starting point is here.

  6. You think Romney won one on this? See how many comments there are on this article and you will understand how few Americans care about this issue.

    1. Loving Lemmings says:

      Seems to me most Romney folks here have realized that it’s time to drink the kool-aid. Even match? Romney’s upper lip was sweatin’ like Nixon’s. What were the terrorist attacks predicated upon? Just blind hatred with no precipitating events? And why still try to make political hay out of a tragedy like this when it will only make Romney more vulnerable? Well, follow the leader. Yea, I get it. Ah, you folks can always counted upon to be lemmings. And you’ll rush to the cliff just to spite the obvious.

    2. Loving Lemmings says:

      Seems to me most Romney folks here have realized that it’s time to drink the kool-aid. Even match? Romney’s upper lip was sweatin’ like Nixon’s. What were the terrorist attacks predicated upon? Just blind hatred with no precipitating events? And why still try to make political hay out of a tragedy like this when it will only make Romney more vulnerable? Well, follow the leader. Yea, I get it. Ah, you folks can always counted upon to be lemmings. And you’ll rush to the cliff just to spite the obvious.

      1. Rich says:

        Romney was a little too intense on insisting that his misinterpretation of the facts was correct, and everyone really knows that he was wrong. Trying to say that he was anything close to right even misses the point that he was trying to make.
        Of course the stupidity of bringing up that the President went to a fundraiser is the absolute stupidest complaint. Some the image of any president sitting around in the Situation Room every time there is trouble in the world, pacing back and forth, with all the world knowing that the President in the SItuatation Room makes the world safer. If Romney really cared that much, he would have offered (like McCain did the the bottom fell out of the Bush years of Terror) to suspend the campaigning, so that the President could pace in the Situation Room and focus all his attention on the play by play. How does his being in Vegas really take him out of the information flow. Just because Romney has to have his memory scrubbed on the Etch-a-Sketch before every appearance, does not mean that this needs to be done for regular humans like Obama.
        He stated that it was an act of Terror and kept in touch with the minute by minute updates (OK hour by hour as there was nothing changing that fast to merit an update).

        1. Mary says:

          I suppose you are correct in one way. Since everyone was already dead, there was little by way of update. He could have sent people in sooner to recover sensitive materials located at the site including evidence about who had perpetrated the incident, but it was clearly more important to spend that time deciding how to throw off the US citizens about what had occurred. And picking up the big checks at the fund raiser.
          The point is, how much time does this guy actually spend doing his job? You know a job like this is an executive position and executives can spend 70-80 hours a week working. When does he do that work?

          1. Rich says:

            Mary – what are you even trying to say?
            Contrary to your limited viewpoint, not everyone in the government is stalled until the president switches on their individual switches. Nothing stood still while the president was in Vegas, and you may need to know that there is a completely functioning office on Air Force One. The president is president 24/7, but he is allowed to eat, sleep, campaign, hug his children, have sex with his wife, watch movies, go to the bathroom, and pray.
            The point is that you have no point to make, only a thoughtless complaint about matters you know nothing about. Please don’t bother us with just you complaining. If you have a real point make it, but if you just want to appear unthinking, don’t embarrass yourself.

      2. abadilla says:

        “Seems to me most Romney folks here have realized that it’s time to drink the kool-aid.” No, most of us realize what a lousy President we have and that we don’t have to live this way anymore. The kool aid was drunk by millions in 08 when the man promised “hope and change” but never told us what he really meant. Well, today the American people know what he really meant and if they like it, they can re-elect the man who will rise the oceans and will keep Hollywood happy!

    3. AuthenticBioethics says:

      Whether he won or lost the debate or this issue, one thing remains clear. Obama lied, and people died. And disparaging Romney will not make Obama’s ineptitude any better than what it is.

      1. Rich says:

        And defending Romney’s lies with more lies will still not get him elected. You might as well pack it up and go home now.

        1. Joe M says:

          lol. Based on what? The polls showing Romney in the lead?

          1. Rich says:

            You may want to check the polls out today, that lead is gone, and Obama is back on top except in Montana but that is not one of the more populous states.

      2. abadilla says:

        And remember when the Left used to say, “Bush lied people died.” Well, I’m sure the family of the dead ambassador is not feeling well since this administration NEVER told them the truth.

    4. Rich says:

      You gotta love how they want to focus on the woman moderator (who was not in the Binders full of Women) instead of his everchanging position on abortion and contraception.
      It time to play which Mitt will we see next week. Moderate Mitt, the pro-choice Governor, or the Severely Conservative who beat the faithful Catholics Santorum and Gingrich (who is on his third traditional Republican Marriage – til the next do we part.)
      And the Knights of Columbus are laying down their plumes in surrender.

      1. Joe M says:

        Rich. Do you have anything substantive to offer regarding the topic?

        If Obama thought it was a terrorist attack, why didn’t he make it more clear to the American people? Why did he let misinformation about a video riot go on for two weeks?

        1. abadilla says:

          “Rich. Do you have anything substantive to offer regarding the topic?”
          No, he never does. He is not here to have anything of substance written here, he is here to attack CV and those of us who like this site. He reminds me of a friend of mine who says the problem with the Church is that is not “Christian” as he stands in a classroom teaching in the name of the same Church he undermines.

          1. Julie T. says:

            Abadilla, have you ever thought about bringing this to the attention of your bishop? Your friend, that is.

          2. abadilla says:

            Julie,
            It’s a complicated issue. We are not a diocesan school, but a private school run by an order. The order knows and keeps quiet, and I don’t go and stir the pot because I like the person as a friend and don’t want to get the person fired. That simple, and yet, that complicated.
            One only would appeal to the bishop if the school were a diocesan or an Archdiocesan school, but even then, the ties of friendship and trust are there.

        2. Rich says:

          OK Joe, you can do a great imitation of a parrot, but you need to look at the facts every so often. You are defending the most ridiculous and insignificant points, with such yesterdays playbook that are neither factual or fair. Romney tried to score a cheap shot but was found out, called out, and told to shut up. You should follow his lead.

          1. Joe M says:

            Rich. Allow me to sum up the substance of your answer: “…”

            In other words, you can’t answer a simple question in defense of Obama. Your partisan colors are on full display.

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