Our opinion: Offensive politics on Libya

Sunday October 21, 2012

In the months following September 11, 2001 and during the ugliest years of the Iraq War, any criticism of the Bush administration’s strategy and actions was regarded by White House supporters as all but treasonous, an unpatriotic affront to the American cause. Typically, this philosophy did not apply to the Obama White House following the terrorist acts on the U.S. consulate in Libya, as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney quickly emerged behind a microphone to try to make political hay. His actions were and are, as President Obama told his opponent during Tuesday night’s debate, offensive, and he is not alone in pursuing election year gain.

Last month’s attack in Benghazi left four Americans dead, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, and concerns about whether there was adequate security and related issues should and are being investigated. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took responsibility for security issues at all U.S. embassies on Tuesday. Even better, during the debate that night, President Obama took full responsibility, asserting that "...these are my folks, and I’m the one who has to greet these coffins when they come home." That’s a refreshing change of perspective from the war in Iraq, when the Bush administration prevented the media from covering the return home of coffins carrying American soldiers so as not to disrupt the White House’s "mission accomplished" party line on the war.

During the debate Mr. Romney again sought to politicize the incident and walked into a trap of his own making when he wrongly asserted that "it took the president 14 days before he called the attack an act of terror." Debate moderator Candy Crowley corrected Mr. Romney, and film of the president’s Rose Garden speech on September 12, the day after the attack, reveals him referring to it as an act of terror.

House Republicans have haughtily criticized the administration for security failures in Benghazi without noting that they cut the State Department’s budget for security. Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican who chairs the influential House Committee on Over sight and Government Reform, proclaimed last week that more money should be spent to provide security for diplomats and their staffs, but he was part of the Republican majority that cut $500,000 from the president’s most recent $5 billion budget proposal for security accounts, which included armored vehicles and security technology at embassies. The hypocrisy is knee-deep in the House, as is routinely the case.

Both Congress and the State Depart ment will investigate reports that the Benghazi consulate had made requests for increased security in the days and weeks leading up to the assault. Security costs money, however, and in light of their complaints about embassy security we assume that Republicans will now join Democrats in providing necessary funding rather than continue to cut funding and complain later when there is a tragedy.

With Osama bin Laden and several top leaders of al-Qaida having been eradicated on his watch, President Obama’s bona fides in the fight against terror are quite solid, and he rightly took offense Tuesday night at "the suggestion that anybody in my team...would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own." If Republicans have something constructive to offer concerning the war on terror they should do so, but politics and hypocrisy aren’t welcome.


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