Monday, October 15, 2012


I frankly don't care much for these demands for apologies that are continually being batted about in political discourse, but there does seem to be one due Governor Romney for the three days of infamy to which he was subjected over his criticism of the Cairo Embassy's tweets the night of September 11.

You will recall that just before midnight on that same night, Romney called these apologies, issued by our embassy in Cario both before and after the protests and attacks sparked by the now infamous youtube clips, outrageous. (A good summary of the facts can be found here) Subsequently, an attack on the Libyan consulate in Benghazi was launched, killing our ambassador and three other Americans (the only three Americans) who were guarding him. As it appeared that the Benghazi attacks were part of the same wave of protests that had begun in Cairo, Egypt, Romney was then criticized for attacking the administration in the midst of a crisis and making political hay out of a tragedy. He was, it was said, being an opportunist.

Later the next day the Administration distanced itself from the Embassy's tweets, to some degree at least vindicating Romney's earlier criticism of the same. But given the chance to say that he would not have made the criticism had he known of the Benghazi attacks Romney doubled down, saying that his criticisms of the Cario Embassy's 'appeasement' was still valid. Romney's comments and his refusal to withdraw them was the main political focus of the media for the next few days. The consensus was that Romney had hurt himself by trying to exploit a national tragedy before all the facts were in and had shown himself to be a political opportunist.

However, it now seems that Romney was right. The two events were separate, the Benghazi attack having been 1) a coordinated and planned attack in retaliation for the US drone attacks on al Qaeda commanders in the Somali and Pakistan, and 2) launched by an al Qaeda affiliated group in Libya. If the Benghazi attack was, as the administration after almost two weeks of denying it now admits, unrelated to the Cairo protests against the YouTube video there is no reason that Romney should be restrained in his criticism of the Embassy's tweets. It will indeed strike many Americans as outrageous that a mob should attack the sovereign territory of the United States, burning our flag and hoisting in its place a black flag reminiscent of al Qaeda's banner, and that the first reaction of our nation's representatives in that country should be not to express outrage, but to apologize that one of our citizens may have offended them.

But even more serious questions are raised by the Administration's efforts to pass the whole incident off as being a reaction to a YouTube video that got out of hand. Since it has become clear that the attacks were planned terrorist assaults the administration has explained their repeated assertions that the cartoons were to blame as being the result of relying on early, inaccurate reports. The Administration claims to have been mislead by reports from the State Department and the intelligence community. However, both the Career officials at the State Department and the career intelligence officers involved have broken with the administration, claiming that they knew either from the beginning or at the latest within 24 hours that the Benghazi attacks were terrorism and were unrelated to the YouTube videos. These denials have come not just in the form of press leaks but in sworn testimony before televised Congressional hearings.

Though the administration has finally owned that the attacks were terrorism it still insists that they were misled, most recently restating that position through the Vice President during the Vice Presidential Debates. The combination of such high profile back-pedaling on a story and finger pointing has made the story one that can no longer be ignored by the press--usually so serviceable to the Obama administration. Very serious questions are raised.

There are first, what would appear to be simple management questions. Why were the requests for more security and the concerns of the Ambassador and his staff--made so painfully public in their own writings recovered from the site of their murders--refused? There is also the simple question of public integrity: why would the administration say something that they knew to be untrue?

But there is a larger question that the whole incident raises about the Obama administration's foreign policy. The Obama administration premised their foreign policy reset on the notion that President Obama would, by presenting a kinder and more understanding face to the Muslim world and ending or at least winding down our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, make us more liked there and, thus, more secure. The administration's focus on destroying al Qaeda through drone strikes free of the distractions of neo-con nation building, democracy spreading fantasies would destroy the terrorists and, thus, keep us safer. It does not appear to have worked out that way.

It is bad enough that our embassies across the Middle East are in flames on the anniversary of al Qaeda's attacks on the World Trade Center, and that the US is less well-liked in the Muslim world than when Obama took office. One could maintain that it was a minor set back, that is takes time for perceptions to change. But what about the Benghazi attack?

The Benghazi terrorist attack shows that fighting from off-shore with unmanned drones is not enough to defeat al Qaeda. It is a real blow to the Obama administration's narrative of itself and its policies. That is why the administration kept with the YouTube-did-it story. Because the resurgence of al Qaeda in many of the very places where we assisted in bringing down a dictator is a direct challenge to the entire foreign policy of the administration.

It is not just that the administration was poor at managing by not giving enough security to the Benghazi mission, it was that they were deluded by their own ideology. They thought that the presence of American security personell would be aggravating to the Libyans. They thought of US military personell as part of the problem. Much like the generals in the early part of the Iraq war thought that minimizing the visibility of our soldiers was key to gaining the trust and not exciting the hatred of the Iraqis, the administration here thought that the fewer soldiers and security personell that were visible the safer the mission would be. They pushed the YouTube story because is was the only one that saved their foreign policy from blame. The story made the attack something beyond their control, something that they could not have anticipated, something unrelated to the warnings they had received repeatedly about the danger of al Qaeda and other radical groups taking over territory and launching attacks against us in Libya.

And what of the charge of political opportunism? If Romney calling out a bad embassy tweet is opportunism in the middle of the night and not retracting his criticism after the death of an ambassador, what are we to say of an entire administration, from the Secretary of State, to our Ambassador to the UN to the President himself telling the United Nations General Assembly that of his personal friend, Ambassador Chris Sullivan, was due to protests against a YouTube video? How is that for using tragedy for political gain? How is that for political opportunism.

It is not just Mitt Romney, or even our country, that is owed an apology. It is the family of Chris Sullivan and the three other Americans who died trying to protect his life. 

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