Before we argue over whether Mitt Romney misspoke about Libya in Tuesday’s debate, we need to parse the meaning of what President Barack Obama said immediately after the Sept. 11 incident that claimed the lives of ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Romney said the administration waited nearly two weeks to acknowledge that terrorists, not demonstrators, carried out the assault on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi. He was corrected by the president, and by debate moderator Candy Crowley, who said the president stated almost immediately during a Rose Garden appearance that it was “an act of terror.”
Technically, that is true. But an examination of Obama’s words reveal that it was a general statement based on the belief that any such incident — including one resulting from a protest that spontaneously turned violent — is such an act.
What the president apparently did not know at the time, nor did his administration concede for days, was that there was no demonstration against an anti-Muslim video. This was, in fact, a carefully planned operation by al-Qaida terrorists.
Why did it take so long for the administration to change its story? Who knows and who cares? Where Obama, and more specifically the State Department, are vulnerable is the lax security that resulted in a tragedy — one that cost the lives of four Americans, including a highly praised diplomat whose popularity in Libya was extensive. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quick to realize this, and claim responsibility.
The situation was made worse by the fact that department security officers testifying before Congress have said they had asked for beefed up forces to ward off just such an assault and were refused. It clearly was an incident that might have turned out differently. The president said he immediately ordered improved security for all embassies, a move that can only be described as the usual closing of the barn door after the horse has fled — a philosophy that seems to permeate most of what happens here these days, from Capitol Hill to the White House.