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Misleading on Libya

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
President Obama gave a vigorous defense during this week's presidential debate of his handling of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya -- but his answer could come back to haunt him. The natural instinct of most Americans is to rally round the president when they feel the country is under attack. But if they believe that the president has tried to mislead them, that support will dissipate quickly. Monday night's presidential debate could be that turning point.

In Tuesday's debate, President Obama said that the day after the Benghazi attack -- in which the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans were slaughtered -- he immediately labeled the attack as "an act of terror." When challenged by Gov. Romney on the accuracy of that description, moderator Candy Crowley interjected herself into the debate, validating the president's claims.

Crowley's action was clearly inappropriate and biased the debate -- but in the end, the media cannot rescue the president from his own missteps, misstatements and misleading of the American public. The facts are indisputable.

The day after the Benghazi attack, the president indeed stood in the Rose Garden and promised, "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." But his comments on "acts of terror" were generic and came after he referenced the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3000 Americans, not specifically on Benghazi.

But even if we take the president at his word that he meant to label the Benghazi attack as an act of terror, why then did he and his spokesmen spend the next two weeks blaming an online video for the violent anti-American demonstrations and assaults on U.S. embassies around the world?

The White House -- not the State Department -- determines who will go on television to respond to an event as significant as the killing of four Americans, including a U.S. ambassador. Five days after the Benghazi attack, the White House sent U.N. ambassador Susan Rice out to the Sunday morning talk shows to give the administration's official line on the attacks in Benghazi and rioting in much of the Middle East.


In each interview, Rice described the assault in Libya as the result of a "spontaneous" demonstration provoked by an anti-Islamic YouTube video. But of course it turned out that no such demonstration took place outside the Benghazi consulate -- and questions remain on when the White House learned that the assault was not only not spontaneous but the work of an al-Qaeda-affiliated group operating in Libya.

Worse than disbursing Ambassador Rice to raise the red herring of the YouTube video, nine days later the president spent much of his time in his annual U.N. address denouncing the YouTube video while never blaming terrorists for killing our ambassador and three others. Here is what he said:

"In every country, there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening; in every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask how much they are willing to tolerate freedom for others.

That is what we saw play out the last two weeks, as a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity. It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well ...

When conservatives complain that the president is always apologizing to America's critics, words like these are what they mean. Instead of blaming our enemies when they attack and kill us, the president looks for what might have provoked such acts.


Gov. Romney was not given time in the last debate to respond adequately to the president's misleading claims on Benghazi. Indeed Crowley interrupted Romney 28 times during the debate and allotted him three fewer minutes to make his case, denying him the opportunity to rebut when she extended that courtesy to the president. But he'll have plenty of opportunity to revisit the issue on Monday. If Romney makes good use of the opportunity, the president could well lose the advantage holds now in the polls on his handling of foreign policy -- and with it the election.

The administration badly bungled the Benghazi story -- and the buck for misleading the people on what happened lands squarely on the president's desk.

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