How Romney Based His Libya Strategy On Right-Wing Radio And Got Burned

Bill Scher

I like to know what I’m talking about before I speakPresident Barack Obama, 3/25/09

The right is in a tizzy claiming that Candy Crowley tipped the debate by “fact-checking” Mitt Romney on President’s Obama statements regarding the Benghazi attack, then saying afterwards that Romney was “right in the main” because he was “totally correct that they spent two weeks telling us that this was about a tape.”

But the right is wrong on both counts.

It was not Crowley that blew the Benghazi question. It was Romney himself, who before the fact-check displayed outright cluelessness on the President’s statements, suggesting that he was solely reliant on the manufactured conservative talk radio narrative instead of researching the facts for himself.

More importantly, Crowley’s post-debate comment is also wrong. Romney was not just technically inaccurate, he was wrong in the main as well. If Romney bothered to pick up a copy of the New York Times yesterday, he would have rethought betting so many chips on the right-wing narrative.

First, let’s review what happened before the fact-check.

Obama said at the debate: “The day after the attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror.”

This is simply true. Obama said on Sept. 12: “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. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.”

Yet Romney responded incredulously, dramatically challenging President:

MR. ROMNEY: I think it’s interesting the president just said something which is that on the day after the attack, he went in the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror. You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror. It was not a spontaneous demonstration.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed.

MR. ROMNEY: Is that what you’re saying?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed, Governor.

MR. ROMNEY: I — I — I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.

Romney comments suggest he really thought he had Obama cornered! He really thought Obama didn’t say “acts of terror.” He really took the conservative narrative as unimpeachable and didn’t bother to do his own fact-check first.

While that is just a mind-numbingly stupid and reckless thing to do in home stretch of a presidential campaign, that by itself does not negate Romney’s larger point — driven by conservatives for weeks — that the President wrongly blamed “the video” defaming the Muslim prophet Muhammad instead of correctly blaming terrorists. Some conservatives have charged the President deliberately misled America to cover up Al Qaeda involvement.

But the rest of the facts explode that charge too.

It’s true that Obama administration comments evolved over the past few weeks, but they were always caveated with the fact that they had incomplete information and the investigation is ongoing.

Yet over the course of the past few weeks, the administration has said both: the attach was an act of terrorism and related to the infamous video. Officials never were compelled to choose between the two possibilities the way conservatives and the Romney campaign were demanding the issue be framed.

But as the New York Times reported, on the morning of the debate, that according to “Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers” that the attack was done by “a well-known group of local Islamist militants … in retaliation for the video.” Further, there is no evidence that this local group had any serious link to Al Qaeda.

That is perfectly in sync with everything the Obama administration has said to date.

The only aspect in the initial comments that turned out to be wrong was that the attack grew out of a protest about the video — similar to the protests happening at the same time in Egypt. But the New York Times notes today that, “[i]ntelligence officials believe that planning for the attack probably began only a few hours before it took place.”

For early reports to confuse a quickly launched local militant attack in retaliation for video with a spontaneous violent protest against the video is not exactly a scandal.

This is why presidents, and people who would like to become president, should know what they’re talking about before they speak.

Because if you grab the most politically charged interpretation of sketchy facts and base an entire presidential campaign, you are soon going to suffer for it.

Sadly, we recently had a president that based an entire foreign policy adventure based on the most politically charged interpretation of sketchy facts. And a lot more people than himself suffered for it.

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