Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Re. Benghazi disaster: Romney also blew it.

Romney at Sept. 12 Press Conference
My difficulties with Romney are well-documented. Still, I failed to fault him, as I should have, for the way he handled Benghazi during the 2012 campaign.

Ex-White House correspondent Richard Benedetto writes about how “Obama Got Pass on Benghazi, Thanks to Romney.” Benedetto points out that Romney
made the colossal blunder of jumping out ahead of the president in responding to the attacks. By doing that, he made himself a key player in the first news stories about the tragedy. That set him up as a target for critics when Obama should have had the hot seat all to himself. With that diversion, the pressure on the president to take sole responsibility was relieved, and in many ways deflected it toward Romney.
Romney was wrong to pounce on the American Embassy Cairo press release condemning an American YouTube video that insulted Muhammed. His criticism came too fast; Romney failed to realize the Embassy press release actually preceded the mob attack on the Cairo facility. The press release was part of a local effort to head off the attack--it wasn’t a post-attack attempt to mollify attackers who had ripped down the American flag. Romney also didn’t know that Washington had disassociated itself from the press release.

Romney’s folks were no doubt initially pleased with how quickly they had inserted their candidate into a story about Muslim extremists destroying our flag, but they goofed because good foreign policy is really about cooler heads prevailing. Still, Romney’s initial error hardly compared with what came next. The death of four Americans including our ambassador in Benghazi changed everything, everything. Who talks about Cairo’s flag pole today?

Yet Romney, Romney, on the morning of September 12, linked the two events and made his September 11 statement about the Cairo flag grabbing his version of what happened in Benghazi--as if the two events were directly connected. No wonder Obama was delighted to continue linking the two events, blaming Benghazi on the YouTube video. Romney started it!

From the “Politifact” story on what Romney actually said:
Romney’s initial statement on the evening of Sept. 11 calling the administration’s response "disgraceful" was made with knowledge of how the Cairo incident ended, but before the full details in Libya had emerged. On the other hand, significant details about both events were available by the time he made his comments on the morning of Sept. 12.
From the actual transcript of what Romney said to the press A.M. September 12, when Benghazi was already the big story:
the administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt, instead of condemning their actions. It’s never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values.
The White House distanced itself last night from the statement, saying it wasn’t cleared by Washington. That reflects the mixed signals they’re sending to the world.
The attacks in Libya and Egypt underscore that the world remains a dangerous place and that American leadership is still sorely needed. [emphasis added]
QUESTION: ... right. If you had known that the ambassador had died, would you have issued...
ROMNEY: I -- we responded last night to the events that happened in Egypt. I think President Obama has -- has demonstrated a -- a lack of clarity as to a foreign policy.
QUESTION: How specifically, Governor Romney, would President Romney have handled this situation differently than President Obama? You spoke out before midnight when all the facts were known. How would you have handled this differently than the president did?
ROMNEY: I spoke out when the key fact that I referred to was known, which was that the Embassy of the United States issued what appeared to be an apology for American principles. That was a mistake. And I believe that when a mistake is made of that significance, you speak out. [emphasis added]
The Cairo press release was “the key fact” in the Libya killings? What?

It’s possible that if Romney hadn’t directly linked Cairo to Benghazi--doing Obama’s work for him--the administration would itself have refrained from doing so, would have called what happened in Benghazi a terrorist attack, would have condemned terrorism and proclaimed its determination to fight it, would have swiftly gone after the Libyan terrorists the way they went after bin Laden, and would have been free of Benghazi questions today.

Only possible, not probable. Today, we know that Obama and company already had the damaging information that David Petraeus had had an affair with the author of his biography while serving as CIA director, and so the administration knew it could blackmail the CIA chief through the eight weeks until election day to stand behind whatever version it concocted of what happened in Benghazi. So even though Romney did pave a path for the media to ignore what actually went on in Benghazi, Obama, with the cooperation of the press, likely would have subverted the truth in any case.

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