Obama and Romney both fudged facts on Libya

Obama seemed to score a win in last night's debate by catching Mitt Romney in a lie, or at least an error, over the question of when the deadly attack on the consulate in Benghazi was deemed "terrorism." Obama's snappy come-back "Get the transcript" is already an Internet meme. Here's how the Associated Press "Debate Fact-check" calls it:

Mitt Romney wrongly claimed that it took 14 days for President Obama to brand the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Libya a terrorist act…

OBAMA: The day after [the] attack… "I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we're going to hunt down those who committed this crime."

ROMNEY: "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."

OBAMA: "Get the transcript."

THE FACTS: Obama is correct in saying that he referred to Benghazi as an act of terrorism on Sept. 12, the day after the attack. From the Rose Garden, he said: "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. … We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act."

But others in his administration repeated for several days its belief that the violence stemmed from protests over an American-made video ridiculing Islam. It took almost a month before officials acknowledged that those protests never occurred. And Romney is right in arguing that the administration has yet to explain why it took so long for that correction to be made or how it came to believe that the attack evolved from an angry demonstration.

Well, sorry, but (surprise, surprise) both sides are fudging things a bit here, even concerning the Sept. 12 press conference. If you look at the official transcript of the Rose Garden comments, there is at least some ambiguity as to whether Obama was referring to Sept. 11, 2012 or Sept. 11, 2001 in his "acts of terror" line. Some right-wing bloggers have of course seized on this, disingenuously asserting that it was "clear" he was only referring to (the original) 9-11. In fact, it is far from clear, either way. Judge for yourself. Am I wrong? The line came amid three paragraphs of lofty sentiment, not brass tacks:

Of course, yesterday was already a painful day for our nation as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks.  We mourned with the families who were lost on that day.  I visited the graves of troops who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery, and had the opportunity to say thank you and visit some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed.  And then last night, we learned the news of this attack in Benghazi. 

As Americans, let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it, and in some cases, lay down their lives for it.  Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those both civilian and military who represent us around the globe.

No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.  Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America.  We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act.  And make no mistake, justice will be done.

Now, World War 4 Report was following the Benghazi affair closely, and it was obvious to us the very first day that this was an armed attack by a militia, not a demonstration that got out of hand. On Sept. 14, we noted that Libyan authorities had identified the Islamist militia behind the attack as Ansar al-Sharia. On Sept. 22, we noted that wire services were citing US intelligence sources as naming a Gitmo alum called Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamuda bin Qumu as the Ansar al-Sharia leader who masterminded the attack. On Sept. 26, we noted that in public comments on the attack Romney was using the word "terrorism" while Obama was not. It wasn't until Sept. 27 that the administration issued a formal determination that the attack had been an act of "terrorism," carried out by militants linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), as the Washington Post reported. (And by the way, that's 16 days from the attack, not "almost a month," AP "fact-checkers.")

We have absolutely nothing invested in the highly politicized T-word. But if it was immediately obvious to World War 4 Report, blogging from Lower Manhattan, that the Benghazi attack was (to be strictly objective) a pre-planned assault by a militia, not the spontaneous action of a mob, why wasn't it obvious to the goddam CIA?

Just wondering.

A couple of other things. For all the kerfuffle over this exchange, nobody is pointing out that neither Romney or Obama actually answered the question that sparked it! As we all know, the questions in the debate were supplied by a panel of "undecided voters" (where do they find this strange breed?), one of whom asked, according to the debate transcript:

This question actually comes from a brain trust of my friends at Global Telecom Supply in Minneola yesterday. We were sitting around, talking about Libya, and we were reading and became aware of reports that the State Department refused extra security for our embassy [sic] in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the attacks that killed four Americans. Who was it that denied enhanced security and why?

Obama (and, really, the question was addressed to him) completely weaseled out of giving a forthright—or, indeed, any—answer. A complete dodge. CNN's Security Clearance blog reported Oct. 8 that a  16-member Special Operations "security support team" that had been established in Tripoli to help oversee the post-Qaddafi transition after last year's revolution was withdrawn in August—despite the request of the US embassy staff that its mission be extended in light of the "unstable security environment." Wow, talk about bad timing. It should be noted that the team was only based in Tripoli, not Benghazi. Ironically, the late Ambassador Chris Stevens may have been spending his time at the consulate in Benghazi rather than the embassy in Tripoli because the eastern city was the cradle of the US-backed revolution, and he may have felt it to be friendlier turf.

A final thought. After the Benghazi attack, Obama dispatched two warships to Libya, and he reiterated during the debate: "[W]e are going to find out who did this and we're going to hunt them down, because one of the things that I've said throughout my presidency is when folks mess with Americans, we go after them."

So we kind of feel like we're waiting for the other shoe to drop here. We understand that Obama can't afford to be wimp-baited by the Republicans by not "hunting down" Ansar al-Sharia. But there could be no better recipe for turning the Libyan revolution into another stupid, bloody GWOT-versus-jihad quagmire, which would be a big propaganda boost for al-Qaeda throughout the Islamic world. Alas, given all the dissembling about the far lesser points discussed above, we don't expect anyone to have anything forthright to say about that… 

  1. The Libya gaffe: Republican vultures descend

    The perennially sneering Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post's Right Turn blog also turns to the transcript from the Sept. 12 Rose Garden press conference to crow: "Obama still wrong on Libya; Crowley blows it." She excoriates the moderator, CNN's Candy Crowley, who "egregiously sided with President Obama on his false remarks on Libya, was repeatedly and decisively fact-checked post-debate as wrong (somewhere between 'mostly wrong' and 'pants on fire' in my book) and then backed away from her own incorrect assertion."  Like everyone else, Rubin is incapable of admitting any ambiguity. Crowley and Obama have certainly not been "decisively" proven wrong here, and their position is better characterized as somewhere between "mostly right" and "kind of a toss-up." Rubin gloats: "In fact, that reference to 'acts of terror' didn't appear in any sentence or paragraph with 'Libya' or 'Benghazi.'" True, but then that is what the press conference was about! Furthermore, the very next sentence in Obama's statement was: "Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America." Obviously, a reference to Benghazi! Hellooo?

    As Orwell noted, this is the problem with the vague and sloppy political language that was already in vogue in his own day (tho today's crop of speech-writers, wonks, pundits and other such professional dissemblers make those of his time look like beacons of clarity). Anyone can impose any meaning they want on a statement after the fact. And since all commentators are exclusively writing for the consumption (it barely constitutes "reading") of their own "side," they don't even have to worry about making a convincing case: they are just telling the already-convinced what they want to hear.


    1. …except World War 4 Report
      We’re the only ones who don’t play that game. Which is why nobody reads us, and our “summer” fund-drive, with a modest goal of $1,000, is still stuck at $335 in the middle of fall…



  2. Benghazi-Gate?
    Oh, stop. That’s actually what the right-wing blogosphere is calling it now, e.g. Breitbart. The liberal blogosphere, e.g. ThinkProgress, takes glee in the fact that Condi Rice has cut the administration some slack:

    But when things are unfolding very, very quickly, it’s not always easy to know what is really going on on the ground. And to my mind, the really important questions here are about how information was collected. Did the various agencies really coordinate and share intelligence in the way that we had hoped, with the reforms that were made after 9-11?

    So there’s a big picture to be examined here. But we don’t have all of the pieces, and I think it’s easy to try and jump to conclusions about what might have happened here. It’s probably better to let the relevant bodies do their work.

    Look, we’ve admitted that we’re stumped ourselves as to why it took the administration so long to publicly acknowledge that what happened in Benghazi was an armed attack, not a rowdy demonstration. But this rises to the level of a “gate”? Being a little too cautious in a judgement of “terrorism,” perhaps in the interest of damage-control, is supposed to be the equivalent of profound constitutional crises like Watergate or Contragate?

    Just stop.