Mendacious Mitt Politicizes Benghazi
by Walter C. Uhler
On November 22, 2011, Mitt Romney's campaign released an ad that criticized President Obama's handling of the economy. To support its critique, Romney's people inserted a snippet from a speech by Obama, which appeared to suggest that even Obama knew that the economy was a losing issue: "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose."
However, when the fact-checkers looked into the ad, they found that it grossly misrepresented Obama's statement. First, Obama spoke those words on October 16, 2008, three weeks before being elected President. Thus, he could not possibly have been referring to bad economic performance during his time in office.
Second, Obama used those words in the course of quoting an admission made by somebody in John McCain's campaign. Obama's actual statement reads: "Senator McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, 'If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.'"
When the media confronted Romney about the brazen falsehood, he brazenly conceded nothing. His response spoke volumes.
Mendacity became Mitt's modus operandi. Even Newt Gingrich called Romney a lair. Romney, who seeks to turn Medicare largely into a voucher program, even had the gall to assert that the Obama administration was attempting to "end Medicare as we know it." To people actually paying attention, his mendacity has become the stuff of legend.
But, even I was surprised when Mendacious Mitt denied that he advocated a 20 percent across-the-board tax cut, when confronted on it by Obama during their first debate. It was like Peter denying Jesus.
Beyond his mendacity, however, is Romney's unseemly opportunism in the wake of tragedy. Do you remember Romney's private fund-raising speech in Boca Raton, where he denigrated the 47 percent of Americans who do not pay federal income taxes as people who refuse to take responsibility for their lives? If you do, then you might also remember that Romney expressed his hope for a foreign policy opportunity to exploit: "If something of that nature presents itself, I will work to find a way to take advantage of the opportunity."
Well, he certainly did! But it was unprincipled and unseemly. Consider what journalist Phillip Rucker wrote after the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012: "Crises overseas tend to create moments of joint resolve back home, a time to pause from the daily bickering of partisan politics. But as news was streaming in about attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya; Mitt Romney broke from that protocol." [Washington Post Sept. 12]
Do you remember how all Americans, regardless of political affiliation, rallied around President George W. Bush in the aftermath of al-Qaeda's terrorist attacks on 9/11? Had any Democrat, on the very day of the attack, tried to politicize the obvious failure of Bush to protect America, Republicans would have accused him of treason.
Yet, Romney seized the opportunity to criticize the Obama administration on September 11th, even before "the full gravity of the situation was known." [Ibid] According to Mr. Rucker, Romney "seized on a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo – apparently a response to outrage in Egypt over an anti-Muslim film made in California – that said: 'The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.'" [Ibid]
It's important to know that "the [Embassy] statement was written hours before protesters breached the embassy's grounds..." [Ibid] Why? Because, that fact proves Mendacious Mitt delivered an erroneous, opportunistic cheap shot, when he asserted: "It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."
But, Romney's cheap shot was nothing new. It is part of a larger big lie by Republicans that accuses President Obama of repeatedly apologizing for America, rather than standing up for American values. That big lie was thoroughly demolished last year by the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler. But it appeals to many white Americans, especially those nativists who now wallow in "white victimology" and believe that the very election of a black President is the final proof that they need to take their country back.
The very day after the attack, President Obama asserted, "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation..." Mendacious Mitt, perhaps suffering from his frequent "Romnesia," or perhaps relying too much on a right-wing media that deliberately ignores Obama's actual statements, seemed to miss it. He and his surrogates also overlooked a similar statement made by Obama a day later. Instead, they chose to pounce opportunistically on statements made by United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice three days after that, on September 16th.
Ambassador Rice appeared on five major news shows on September 16th to assert that the Obama administration believed that the Benghazi attack resulted from a protest against an anti-Islam video that "seems to have been hijacked, lets us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons..." But, Ambassador Rice went on to caution: "We'll wait to see exactly what the investigation finally confirms, but that's the best information we have at present."
A report by the New York Times on September 12th supported Rice's subsequent assertions, when it stated: "Fighters involved in the assault...said in interviews during the battle that they were moved to attack the mission by anger over a 14-minute, American-made video..." So, too, did a report by Anne Flaherty of the Associated Press, "A CIA memo obtained by the Associated Press cited initial intelligence that supported the assertion." [Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 15]
On September 28th a spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence admitted that, yes, intelligence officials first believed that the attack was part of a spontaneous revolt, but revised these assessments "to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists" [NYT, Oct. 17].
Later, CIA Director David Petraeus would tell a closed session of congress about the early lack of consensus within the intelligence community. Petraeus acknowledged that "there were some intelligence analysts who disagreed with the conclusion that an unruly mob angry over the video had initiated the violence." [Kimberly Dozier, Associated Press, 19 Oct. 2012] One such individual was the CIA station chief in Libya. [Ibid]
But, as David Ignatius wrote on October 19th, "'Talking points' prepared by the CIA on Sept. 15, the same day that Rice taped three television appearances, support her description of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate as a reaction to Arab anger about an anti-Muslim video prepared in the United States." [Washington Post Oct. 19] According to the CIA's talking points of September 15th, "The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protest at the U.S Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations." [Ibid]
The CIA's talking points of September 15th prove that Ambassador Rice had good reason to believe that the hijacking of an anti-video protest brought on the assault on the consulate in Benghazi. The talking points also prove that Mendacious Mitt and his right-wing followers were wrong to seize upon Rice's statements and those made by Obama at the United Nations.
Although it's now clear that Romney and the Republicans got it wrong, it is less clear why they decided to politicize something they knew nothing about in the first place. Here's a possible explanation.
On September 19th CNN reported that Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was concerned about security in Libya months before his death. On September 20th CBS reported about Libyan witnesses who denied seeing any anti-film protests prior to that attack on the Consulate. The two reports inspired right-wing propagandists, such as serial liar Sean Hannity, to suggest that the Obama administration was engaging in a cover-up.
Wow, a cover-up! But, cover up what? Well, cover up the fact that the assault, which killed four Americans in Benghazi, was a terrorist attack (not a mere anti-video protest), perhaps engineered by al-Qaeda.
Were those facts to come out, President Obama would not be able to continue to claim as much credit for a foreign policy that brought Osama bin Laden to justice and decimated al-Qaeda. Were such facts to come out, they would undermine the perception of Obama as a strong leader and, thus, benefit Republicans at the polls.
Consequently, right-wing conspiracy theorists seized on a report in theThe Daily Beast on September 26th, which claimed that within 24 hours, U.S. intelligence officers had "strong indications" that al-Qaeda affiliated groups were behind the Benghazi attack.
But, to hold on to their conspiracy theory, they would need to ignore an article in the New York Times on October 15th that claimed: on September 11th "a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of eleven years earlier." The conspiracy theorists also would need to ignore Obama's Rose Garden statement, made the day after the Benghazi attack, about "acts of terror."
Although a more honest man would have been careful with such contradictory intelligence and news reports, on October 8th Mendacious Mitt boldly but falsely asserted: "The latest assault cannot be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the administration's attempts to convince us of that for so long."
Thanks to Greg Miller, writing in the Washington Post on October 19th, we now know that Romney was wrong. According to Miller, "a U.S. intelligence official said: 'The bulk of available information supports the early assessment that the attackers launched their assault opportunistically after they learned about the violence at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.'" And it was the video that sparked the violence in Cairo.
Not knowing about the intelligence official who subsequently would claim that "the attackers launched their assault opportunistically" Mendacious Mitt falsely told an audience at the Virginia Military Institute on October 8th that the Obama administration "has finally conceded" that "these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists." Mitt also appears to have forgotten Obama's Rose Garden statement about "acts of terror."
On October 16th, Mendacious Mitt's Romnesia came back to humiliate him during the second presidential debate. He mistakenly asserted that Obama waited fourteen days before acknowledging the terrorist nature of the attack. After an amused Obama urged Romney to proceed, the debate moderator, Candy Crowley, felt compelled to correct Romney's gaffe in front of 65 million viewers, by reminding him of Obama's Rose Garden statement. Having blown that chance to further politicize Benghazi, infuriated Republicans desperately began splitting hairs over what Obama actually meant when he used the word "terror.")
Two reporters for the Associated Press got it right on October 19th when they observed: "As a security matter, how the Obama administration immediately described the attack has little effect on broader counterterrorism strategies or on the hunt for those responsible for the incident in which the U. S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed." Yet, Mendacious Mitt and the right-wing echo chamber are concerned precisely with how the attack was immediately described – and we all know why.
Rather than rally Americans around President Obama in the wake of this attack, Mendacious Mitt and his Republican supporters seek unseemly political advantage. Their unwillingness to wait – even as it became apparent that there existed no consensus about the facts on the ground among intelligence and news reports – indicated that political opportunism was their overriding concern.
Mendacious Mitt's decision to cherry-pick intelligence in order to strike at President Obama is reminiscent of George W. Bush's distortion of the intelligence in order to invade Iraq. Simply recall the infamous Downing Street Memo, which revealed that British Intelligence advised Prime Minister Tony Blair that the Bush administration had decided to attack Iraq, "but the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy."
The attack on the Consulate in Benghazi raises legitimate questions about embassy security and congressional funding for that security, about the balance struck between diplomatic security and diplomatic outreach, about whether the U.S. is safer, thanks to its intervention in Libya and about how stability in the Middle East can best be achieved. But, Mendacious Mitt's politicization of Benghazi also raises the important question of whether Americans can afford another Commander in Chief who is so contemptuous of facts and truth.