By Donna Brazille, Syndicated columnist
The Picayune Item
According to several polls and focus groups, an energized, fighting President Barack Obama emerged as the victor in the second debate. After former Gov. Mitt Romney’s previous win, each candidate has now won once. This election is far from over.
We got a foretaste of the third debate, which focused on foreign policy. The exchange between Romney and Obama on Libya provided one of the night’s most contentious and revealing exchanges.
Obama looked directly at Romney and said with fire and resolve, “The day after the attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people ... that this was an act of terror. ... The suggestion that 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.”
Observers took note. “Obama’s response on the Libya issue crackled with passion and presidential mettle,” said John Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College in a post-debate interview.
Yet, Romney was incredulous. “I — I think it’s interesting the president just said ... that this was an act of terror ... I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.”
Romney revealed to 50 million viewers that he didn’t have his facts straight. Candy Crowley, the CNN moderator, tried to help Romney out of his hole before he dug it deeper. “He did call it an act of terror,” she gently corrected him.
Romney was still disbelieving, “It took them a long time to say this was a terrorist act by a terrorist group ... am I incorrect in that regard?” he asked Crowley.
Viewers had to wonder if Romney was being deliberately deceptive or if he was just ignorant. Not only did he not know that Obama called the Benghazi attack an act of terror one day after the attack, he also did not know Obama told a Las Vegas audience two days later that, “No act of terror will dim the light of the values that we proudly shine on the rest of the world.”
Nor, apparently, did Romney know that Matthew G. Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, had told a Senate hearing that Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others “were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy” eight days after the attack, not two weeks later.
Romney apparently also did not know that White House press secretary Jay Carney said, nine days after the attack, “It is ... self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack.”
Romney and Ryan and a few strident partisans on Capitol Hill have led a weeks-long attack on the Obama administration based on misinformation, deception, ignorance or a combination thereof.
Romney gets away with it because the media doesn’t do what Crowley did: fact-check. Veteran CBS reporter Jan Crawford repeated Romney’s false assertion, even saying the president had presented a “new timeline.” Thirty seconds spent searching on Google proves Romney — and Crawford — wrong.
Initial reports indicated that armed militia (i.e., terrorists) exploited a small demonstration over an anti-Muslim film. The question wasn’t who did it, but how it was done: Using the demonstration as cover or openly attacking.
Regarding the issue of security and intelligence, Romney, and his allies in Congress, are also making accusations based on conjecture before they hear from the experts. We deserve to get a full explanation — not some partisan witch hunt right before the election.
In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Ambassador Chris Steven’s father, Jan Stevens, said that politicians should await the findings of a formal investigation before making accusations or judgments. According to Bloomberg, Steven relayed that “his son, who was a career diplomat and had worked for Republican and Democratic presidents, hadn’t expressed concerns to him about security or support from the administration.”
Mistakes or errors in intelligence or security are inevitable. Both President Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton have accepted responsibility for this one. The investigation will reveal the problem and how to fix it. But Benghazi was a security lapse, not a failure of policy. The response of Libya and the Libyan people — overwhelming support of and cooperation with the U.S. — proves that.
As a result of President Obama’s foreign policy, Qaddafi is gone, and an independent Libya has a secular government. An appreciative population turned out 30,000 strong to protest the attack on the U.S. consulate. More than 7,000 Libyans sent condolences to the parents of Ambassador Stevens. Thanks to Obama’s foreign policy, which has strengthened this nation and made it far more secure than at any time since 9/11, we have a new ally and valuable friend in the Middle East.
But, election year politics could unravel all that, and Christopher Steven’s life could have been given in vain, if we continue to politicize this attack on America.