October 14, 2012
By the time President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney meet in their second debate Tuesday, what happened last week in the vice presidential debate should be almost forgotten.
Except for Benghazi.
That subject came up in the debate between Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican. And despite Team Obama's hopes and dreams, it won't go away.
Benghazi is the place where four Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, were killed last month, on Sept. 11. And for days afterward, Obama and his political team avoided use of the word "terrorism" and blamed it instead on mob action that they insisted was sparked by an anti-Muslim video that had been on the Internet for months.
But Americans now know there was no impromptu mob protest at the American Consulate at Benghazi. It was a planned terrorist attack. Yet why did it take Obama's administration so long to admit it?
Because it was in conflict with Obama's politics. He'd just spiked the football at the Democratic National Convention, reminding voters that his administration killed terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. Admitting what the Obama administration knew, that there was no mob protest at Benghazi and that terrorists killed four Americans, conflicted with White House politics that terrorism was on the run.
And I thought he promised to transcend the broken politics of the past.
The Obama campaign tells us that Benghazi is an issue only because Romney and Ryan are making it an issue. Romney and Ryan certainly want to capitalize on an Obama political weakness. They're politicians; they smell blood.
But politics isn't the reason for you to focus on Benghazi. The reason you should focus on it is because this is your country, and it's a matter of our security and four Americans were killed there. For weeks, all we've heard from the Obama White House is cynical and confusing noise.
According to testimony before Congress last week, State Department officials in Libya had asked for more security around the Benghazi compound, partly because it had been the target of previous attacks. But those requests were denied, according to the testimony of State Department security officials.
Then last week, Biden opened his mouth wide and contradicted that testimony.
"We weren't told they wanted more security there. We did not know they wanted more security," Biden said.
It was a stunning statement. Demands about more security in Benghazi had dominated the week's political news. If Biden and Obama weren't told, that means that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kept it from them. But I don't think that's plausible.
I think Biden said it because the facts conflict with the political message Obama has been pushing about bin Laden. When you spike the football on terrorism, you want points on the board. And in a presidential election year, the White House wants to score.
So rather than deal with a planned terrorist attack in Benghazi on Sept. 11 — the anniversary of the al-Qaida attacks that killed thousands in New York — Team Obama pushed the fiction that Benghazi was all about the video. An Associated Press story last week quoted a State Department official as saying the department didn't consider the video the cause.
"That was not our conclusion," the official told the AP.
If Benghazi isn't a major story this weekend, we won't require any more surveys to determine if journalists are biased in Obama's favor. We'll know.
Romney will most certainly bring it up Tuesday, both the contradictions about security at the compound and the Obama denial about terrorism as the cause of the deaths, until recently. And when he does, I certainly hope Obama answers seriously and explains why he grabbed on to the video idea and wouldn't let it go, and why he sent U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to hit the talk show circuit to repeat the video nonsense when folks inside his own administration weren't buying it.
In Tuesday's debate, let's hope the president doesn't adopt his running mate's rubber-faced debate strategy. All that Biden grinning, mugging, snickering and laughing was awfully bizarre. Biden got away with it, the way we indulge the crazy uncle we release from the chain in the basement so he can sit with the family on the holidays.
Biden can play the angry Grandpa Simpson and laugh when a nuclear Iran is being discussed on national television. But Obama is the president. If he starts smirking and mugging, he'll turn off voters.
It would be best for his prospects if Obama answers it all clearly. He owes that to the American people. And he owes it to Pat Smith.
She's the mother of Sean Smith, a computer specialist killed in the Benghazi attack. Recently, she was interviewed by CNN's Anderson Cooper, and she complained that the president, Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other senior officials betrayed her trust.
"Oh, absolutely," she said in the CNN interview that will haunt the Obama/Biden ticket through the election. "Absolutely. In fact all of them did. All of them did. Leon Panetta actually took my face in his hands like this, and he said, 'Trust me. I will tell you what happened.' And so far, he's told me nothing. Nothing at all. And I want to know."
And so do we.
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