Friday, October 19, 2012

Gaffe or Distraction?

First a little background on Libya.

President Obama can be forgiven for not saying the words "terrorist attack" during his speech the morning of September 12. Libya was the bigger tragedy but the embassy in Egypt had also been attacked as part of a protest over the anti-Mohamed film trailer (although the demonstration may have been incited by al Qaeda). The State Department and the CIA may have known that there was no demonstration in Libya but the information had not had a chance to trickle up to Presidential levels.

Possibly Obama may have gotten intelligence if he had stayed around for his security briefing instead of running off to Las Vegas for a fund raiser. Regardless, he used the phrase "acts of terror" for the first couple of days after the assassinations.

But by the weekend that phrase had vanished from official statements. Instead the White House began to insist that the attacks were a direct response to the video and had nothing to do with the US. We were just innocent bystanders, unlucky enough to host the person who caused all of the trouble.

Two weeks after the attack the President was still referring to the video while addressing the UN.

But that story had started unraveling. By the time the White House began its "nothing to do with us" line the Libyan government was saying that it was a terrorist attack. The President must have known that there was no demonstration by the time he gave his UN speech.

So why continue to disseminate an incorrect story? And for that matter, who decided that a directive should go out to all embassy staff that September 11 was to be treated as an ordinary day? Was this based on security analysis or was it a political decision to reenforce the concept that the threat from al Qaeda died with bin Laudin?

Which brings me to the debate. Governor Romney started to bring all of this up but was interrupted by Obama. This turned into a quibbling session about when the word "terror" was first used and totally sidetracked Romney's point.

The strange thing is that Obama asked for the transcript to be checked and moderator Candy Crowley proceeded to check it.

Think about that. Since when does a moderator being transcripts of speeches to a debate? And how did Obama know that she had it?

This turned Obama's biggest vulnerability into a triumph. The next day the Huffington Post had the headline, "Romney caught in lie about Libya". The story did contain a note at the end in which quoted Crowley as admitting that Romney's larger point was correct, that the Obama administration continued to blame the video days after that story had been discredited.

There can be no doubt that Crowley favored Obama. She picked the questions and the order that they were asked. Many of them sounded as if they were written by the Obama campaign. She interrupted Romney at least three times as often as she interrupted Obama (an average of once every three minutes) and she gave Obama more time.

But on Libya, she and Obama seemed to be working in concert, playing gotcha over the work "terror" in order to distract from substantive questions.

It is hard not to ask if this strategy was preplanned?

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