As many of you know, I help manage a local blog, Orange County CA's Orange Juice Blog, that is extremely unusual in that it truly does span political perspectives. Our writers range from people as far left and anti-Democratic Party as the most extreme views here to people who are "smart conservatives" or not-so-smart ones. One of the "smart conservatives" -- Geoff Willis, an attorney in a local firm who has often seemed to be auditioning for a spot in the Powerline blog -- keeps his finger firmly on the pulse of conservative thought. He's been, from what I can tell, a major proponent of our local Congressman Darrell Issa's attempts to trump up a scandal out of the tragic "the Fast and the Furious" killings -- a balloon which I've enjoyed puncturing whenever it comes up on our site.
Willis's writings -- he may pretend to be offended that I'm bringing them here to slice up, but I suspect that he secretly appreciates the recognition -- do tend to give a preview of what the "educated" hard right is thinking, though. He posted a piece today that shows how the Right intends to capitalize on last night's fracas over Benghazi. The next debate is on foreign policy, so I think it's worth your attention.
Below I present his entire piece and then my long response to it in its first comment. His piece is called "Obama's Libyan Debate Lies Will Cost Him Election".
Courtesy Thinking Right Blog http://thinkingrightblog.com/...This was my reply. (Some "insider references" may not be clear; I'll answer questions on them in comments.)
Democratic pundits are giddy tonight about the reappearance of a feisty and quick (I would argue rude and petulent) Obama at the second debate held tonight at Hoffstra University. I wouldn’t even argue with anyone that would call the evening a slight Obama win. However, Obama’s answers may have won the hour but I think that they will actually cost him any chance to win the election.
For two weeks after the attack on the Libyan consulate in Benghazi the Obama administration created and clung to a narrative that the attacks originated from crowds spontaneously gathering to protest an American film that then turned into a violent confrontation leading to the death of the American Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, and for at least two more weeks, President Obama’s Press Secretary Jay Carney told everyone that would listen that the attacks “grew from a spontaneous protest that grew into the deadly attacks.” This video of the PRESIDENT’S Press Secretary EIGHT DAYS AFTER THE ATTACKS makes it clear what the Administration was saying to the public at the time.
Six days after the attack the Susan Rice, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations went on five different Sunday morning talk shows and in each and every appearance blamed the Libyan attacks on a “spontaneous crowd gone horribly wrong.” Nine days after the attacks, President Obama stated clearly and unequivocally that “we still don’t know if this was a terrorist attack” during an interview with Univision. (Univision Interview) A full two weeks after the attack President Obama stepped to the microphone at the United Nations and told the world six separate times that the Libyan attacks resulted from a protest about a film that turned horribly wrong. (Washington Times)
Tonight, on national television in an act of Orwellian proportions, President Obama tried to rewrite current history by claiming that before flying off for a campaign stop to Las Vegas the morning after the attacks, he made a speech in the Rose Garden where he declared the attacks to be an “act of terrorism.” This was not only a lie but actually creates even more problems for the President and his botched handling of the crisis.
In his speech in the Rose Garden on the day following the attacks, President Obama first blamed the video for the attacks and virtually apologized for the First Amendment, “Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.” The President then spoke for several minutes and then addressed his personal commemoration of the anniversary of the 9/11/2001 attacks:
Of course, yesterday was already a painful day for our nation as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks. We mourn 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.
It was following this statement that President Obama 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.” (Entire Transcript of Speech)
In the context of the Administration statements to the public for the next two weeks it makes much more sense that these statements were in reference to either the 9/11/2001 attacks or to “terror” in a more general sense than the President calling the Libyan attacks “terrorist attacks.” Let’s recap quickly 1) during the Rose Garden Speech, President Obama referenced and apologized for the video, 2) for two solid weeks Presidential Press Secretary Jay Carney told everyone that would listen that the attacks grew from protests about the video that turned violent, 3) Five days after the attacks U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice went on every nationally syndicated morning news show and claimed that the attacks were the result of protests about the video gone wrong, 4) nine days after the attacks President Obama told Univision that he didn’t yet know “whether the attack was a terrorist attack,” 5) two weeks after the attacks the President spoke before the United Nations and made multiple references to the cause of the attacks as a video protest spontaneously turned violent.
President Obama has two choices here 1) admit that he screwed up during the debate and he did believe for two weeks that the Libyan attacks were not terrorist attacks but a “spontaneous protest over a video gone horribly wrong,” or 2) admit that he directed his Ambassador to the United Nations to lie to the American people on six different talk shows, his press secretary to continue this lie repeatedly to the press and that HE lied to the world when he blamed the video and “spontaneous” protests for the attacks during the Univision interview and during his speech to the United Nations. Neither of those options are particularly good for a campaign that has spent the past two weeks calling Governor Romney a liar.
Putting aside the overstatement in this piece (I'm hiring a backhoe for that task) and yet another round of thunderous predictions of doom for Obama, I have some sympathy for Geoff's perspective here. I think that it helps shed light on exactly what happened in the debate. For what it's worth, I thought that Candy Crowley's intervention was odd (and from all appearances unsolicited by Obama.) Yes, Obama mentioned the attacks in a larger context of "acts of terror" without clearly asserting that they were themselves acts of terror. Obama's statement reads to me to be reserving judgment on that point -- while, regardless of their motive, he consistently said that the murderers would be brought to justice.
What Geoff sees as (and Romney implied was) taking a firm position that the attacks were not planned terrorist attacks is, it seems to me, instead taking a position that we could as yet neither establish nor rule out that they were terrorist attacks. Given that Obama has a responsibility to be candid with the American people (and in this case the world), his refusal to make a definitive allegation of terrorism before he knew it was true -- in this case because his intelligence services were telling him (and Ambassador Rice) that, so far as they could tell up to that point it wasn't true -- is admirable. He leveled with the American people; he did not trump up charges that he did not know to be true.
And that is what bothers Willis here, and what is the basis for Romney's attack, and what exemplifies what would be the major difference between a Romney and an Obama administration: Romney thinks that it shouldn't have mattered if it was true. The possibility of making the charge that would give our country a reason to stoke the fires of war was right there; they fault Obama for not grabbing it.
Of course, Obama didn't grab that opportunity because he didn't know that it was true. He sure didn't rule it out, though, pending investigation -- which is what Romney seemes to suggest he should have done, and why Obama dared him to look at the transcript, and why Crowley responded to Romney's statements not as if they were saying "he didn't jump the gun!" but instead "he ruled out the possibility." The latter was incorrect. The former was an admission that Romney thought that he should have jumped the gun and made a convenient allegation without knowing the facts. That, I imagine Crowley thought -- could not be what Romney was saying -- it's madness to think, and greater madness to admit! -- and so she responded to the rational version of his statement and pointed out a factual error.
Alas for poor Candy Crowley, Romney was indeed criticizing Obama for not concluding that this was an act of terrorism even when his intelligence services told him otherwise. Romney was indeed criticizing Obama for acting responsibly. And that points to the main difference between the Obama Administration and a Romney Administration that I suspect will remain forever theoretical.
Fact matter to Obama. A reputation, especially in international affairs, for speaking the truth matters to Obama. Obama thinks that the country should tell the truth because it has the positive effect of our being more likely to be believed. This has been borne out time and again over the past four years, as Obama and his diplomatic team have been able to gain the cooperation of the world, including our competitors, towards rational and productive policies.
For Romney, the truth doesn't matter -- it is, in fact, more of an inconvenience than anything. He wanted this to be an act of terrorism -- so that's what he alleged, regardless of what the people in the best position to know were informing the President (and him, he gets briefed too now) at the time. He was "lucky" in that that was ultimately determined, when the investigation was done, to be true. But if it had turned out to be a spontaneous demonstration like that next door in Egypt that was then taken advantage of by terrorists -- well, he'd forgive himself easily, because what mattered was not the truth but taking advantage of the moment.
There's your difference between a Romney and an Obama Administration in a nutshell, especially regarding foreign policy. The first George Bush famously said "I will never apologize for America. I don't care what the facts are" when the U.S. shot down a planeful of Iranian air passengers -- a tragedy that we forget, but that the Iranians don't. Romney intentionally echoed this sentiment at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting last month: "I will never apologize for America." He doesn't care what the facts are.
Romney (and Bush, and Willis) conflate two ideas: one is apologizing for the country and the other is apologizing for the country's actions on a specific occasion. In this case, of course, Obama did neither; he recognized that the anti-Muslim video was similar to pictures of Iranians burning the American flag -- a painful provocation, but in our case one that didn't represent American policy. He was not "apologizing for America" -- another meaningless conservative statement, by the way, like "support the troops (until they come home.)" He is as patriotic as they come. What he isn't, though, is a a consistent and shameless liar like Romney. He acknowledges facts when and as they appear. This is, he thinks -- and I agree -- good for the country in its foreign policy.
There are two ways that the world's by-far-strongest military superpower can engage in foreign policy with the rest of the world. One is to try to dominate them, to govern the world by fear. We tried that in the eight years under the second President Bush. It doesn't work -- remember our pathetic "Coalition of the Willing?" -- and it is damned expensive. A good chunk of our deficit comes from our having thought that we could call the world to heel. What came of it is that we alienated much of the world -- as Romney has done even pre-election by giving a gleeful Vladimir Putin all of the justification he needs for a bellicose foreign policy.
The other method is to work with them, as an honest party and when appropriate as an honest broker, and influence them to do what is right. This is what Obama has done -- and done extremely well. This approach means, among other things, that you don't shoot off your mouth with loose and unjustified charges -- even ones that may later turn out to be true. This means that you retain and capitalize on your credibility. This means that you build your power through alliances rather than abuse.
The Romney who will never apologize for American will also -- even more so -- never apologize for Romney. We've had eight years at the beginning of this century of a President who did not care about and did not feel constrained by the facts. It was a disaster; the world has snickered as we became bogged down in Iraq. Now the world largely celebrates us because, among other things, we have a leader who will, when the circumstances permit, wait for the facts to come in before indicting.
Voters will have to ask themselves: can we afford another four years of alienating our should-be allies with a George W. Bush-style foreign policy? That's what Romney is promising us -- a national policy that matters his own life as a shady salesman, one where facts simply do not matter.