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Asking questions about Benghazi isn’t ‘playing politics’

Updated: November 20, 2012 10:53AM

In Tuesday’s debate, President Barack Obama proclaimed he was offended by any suggestion that politics influenced his administration’s account of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. Well, Obama can shout his anger to the rooftops, but that doesn’t relieve him of accountability for his handling of the Benghazi incident.

The U.S. ambassador there and three
other Americans are dead. The account
of what happened and why offered by administration officials was obviously wrong virtually from day one. This should be an important area for full discussion — prompted not just by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s questions but from moderator Bob Schieffer too — in Monday night’s final debate, which is devoted to foreign policy.

Obama’s defenders cling to a general remark Obama made the day after the Sept. 11 attack — “no acts of terror will ever shake resolve of this great nation . . . ” — to maintain that he tagged Benghazi as a terrorist attack. But a CBS News examination of Obama’s statement concluded: “You can make the case that the president was referring to the Libya attacks as well as other ‘acts of terror,’ since he made the comment in the course of a statement about those attacks. But the stronger case would seem to be that the president did not specifically refer to the attack as an act of terror — as Romney said.”

Furthermore, if Obama’s position was so clear, why did U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and his spokesman Jay Carney for days after claim that the attack was not a pre-planned terrorist assault but sprang from a spontaneous demonstration over a little-seen Internet video clip disparaging Islam? Why did Obama himself time and again refer to the obscure video and avoid asserting it was a terrorist attack until two weeks later?

We now know that the State Department had real-time communications with Benghazi during the attack and knew there was no demonstration proceeding it. A State official told reporters the department never blamed the video for what happened. So, for all the White House’s attempts to blame the intelligence agencies for not knowing what occurred — there was plenty of accurate, reliable information available from State.

The great loss for the nation, and for Obama, is that this atrocity should have
been a cause for the country to come together and rally around the White House. Though administration officials said the video was no justification for the attack, blaming the video for it suggested otherwise — undermining cause for a national rally around the flag.

Why not have come out from the start and say Benghazi was a calculated terrorist attack? Either the administration was incompetent. Or it worried that calling Benghazi what it was would lay bare the unraveling of a central Obama foreign policy claim — America’s standing in the Muslim world is better than ever and “al-Qaida is on its heels.” News reports noted Wednesday that Obama dropped from his stump speech the reference to al-Qaida being on the run.

A full discussion of Benghazi won’t preclude other important foreign policy issues: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, relations with Israel, Syria’s civil war and the failed “reset” with Russia, to name a few.

But Libya encompasses important questions about the administration’s policies and transparency with the American people — issues voters need to consider as they go to the polls. That’s more crucial than whether Obama is offended by the questions.

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