Romney's Benghazi inability

2012-10-22 12:17
The interior of the burnt US consulate building in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi following an attack on the building on 11 September. (Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)

The interior of the burnt US consulate building in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi following an attack on the building on 11 September. (Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)

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Washington - It is quite unbelievable that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is unable to land any punches on the incumbent President Barack Obama over the 11 September attack in Benghazi, Libya that killed the US ambassador to the country along with three others.
 
Democrats have decided to clobber Romney with accusations of “politicising” the tragic events of that day, and there is an obvious element of truth in Romney’s attempted exploitation of the event. But it is a valid accusation that the Obama administration changed its version of events, took two weeks to officially call the incident a terrorist attack, and then accepted responsibility for what happened.
 
Terror

(Before you jump in and try and correct me, Obama did not specifically call the incident terrorism, although he did use such language in a press conference at the White House on the Friday following the attack. During a speech about the Libya attack, and the 11 September attacks on New York City in 2001, Obama said, “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this nation.” While he did indeed use the word, it is highly arguable that he referred to it as terrorism, as he claimed at the debate last Thursday, and moderator Candy Crowley told us.)
 
There are a few major pitfalls for Obama here. Firstly, that there was not enough security at the US consulate in Benghazi. Secondly, that the threat of terrorism was downplayed - either to help his election prospects or to not offend the government of Libya. Thirdly, that his foreign policy is not working if terrorists are still targeting the USA.
 
Yet somehow, Romney has haemorrhaged every attempt at trying to get any accusation to stick. He isn’t alone: a Republican effort to slam the administration in a congressional hearing also managed to mess it up more than once.
 
At the town-hall debate last week, it is staggering that Romney did not know Obama used the phrase “terror” during the aforementioned press conference at the White House - particularly when Obama was obviously leading him down a road. Romney was trying to swing so hard he forgot any sort of precision in trying to attack.
 
Darrel Issa, the chairperson of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee, has attempted to exploit this in far more facile terms than Romney (precedent set when one examines his obstructive conduct since Obama took office). Issa held a hearing about the attack in Benghazi two weeks ago where classified information was accidentally released, and then on Friday, he published 166 pages of unclassified, yet sensitive, communications from within the State Department. The latter revealed the names of Libyans who were working with the US government, potentially endangering them, and will likely dissuade many future civilian allies joining the US in any sense. 
 
Tactical mistake

Romney also duffed the issue when he attempted to slam the Obama administration on the day the attack happened – by accusing the president of sympathising with the murderers of Americans. A pretty severe accusation and one that is unlikely to sit well amongst an electorate already bored with constant negative campaigning. At the time, I called it a bad tactical mistake, and the downward trend in the polls continued until the first presidential debate.
 
There is a constant effort on behalf of Team Romney to overplay the attack in Libya, and they have erred virtually every time. The electorate doesn’t always need the consequences shouted at them when a simple explanation about what happened will do. Sometimes the putter will do. Sometimes comment isn’t even required. This was an absolute freebie for anyone helping Mitt Romney get elected, but the eagerness and over-exertion resulted in less than ideal results. Calm would have been far more beneficial.
 
In the third and final presidential debate on Monday, Romney has his last major opportunity to lash Obama with this. But, assuming he doesn’t mess it up again, Team Obama is now well trained in how to respond. And sadly, a valid issue for voters won’t be confronted in any meaningful way.

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Read more on:    barack obama  |  simon williamson  |  mitt romney  |  benghazi attack  |  us elections 2012
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