The terrorist attack in Benghazi was never politicized. Not by Mitt Romney, not by President Obama, and not by the press. The terrorist attack in Benghazi is – by its very nature – political, as are all foreign policy failures of such fatal magnitude. The death of Americans is also always tragic, particularly so when it occurs in a diplomatic setting that once held great promise. But the greater tragedy would be allowing the Commander in Chief to depoliticize a thoroughly and rightly political thing for his personal political gain.
As Carl von Clausewitchz once observed, “War is politics by other means.” This act of terrorism, of war, is an indisputable part of the preeminent conflict in international politics today: the contest of wills between the friends of democratic liberty and forces of theocratic tyranny. This contest was crystallized with the first 9-11 – an event never divorced from politics.
Indeed, the first 9-11 became an actuating political force unto itself, bringing about the realization within the American political mind that the fundamental realities of the world we live had diverged from the former Cold War realities on which our policies were predicated. As such, our policies, particularly our national security policies, demanded reconciliation with the post-9-11 world, and the resultant changes kept Americans safe—for a time.
But what about the post-Benghazi world? What will we learn from this tragic debacle? Precisely nothing if Obama is allowed to sweep it under the rug with puerile charges of politicization. And Team Obama would certainly prefer it so; for what the second 9-11 teaches us is that foreign policy Obama-style welcomes aggression, jeopardizes peace, and spawns violence.
The attack itself discredits spectacularly the notion that Mr. Obama’s oratorical brilliance and prodigious capacity for empathy are useful substitutes for credible force projection, a strong military, swift action and steadfast courage: his silver tongue and advanced understanding of Islam have failed demonstrably to assuage the ire of radical Islamists who hate us. But the ultimate consequence of his conciliatory and apologetic foreign policy, which was entirely predictable for some, is not the only lesson to be gleaned from Benghazi.
The other lesson concerns Mr. Obama’s ability to command and inspire amidst chaos, crisis, turmoil, and national doubt. Being presidential, even as war’s fog surrounds and uncertainty pervades, is singularly important for a Commander in Chief. This President, by virtue of his hollow, unserious platitudes and limp-wristed finger-pointing, has shown that he is incapable of achieving that presidential moment, that timeless and righteous call for American resolve that has marked many of his predecessors’ conduct under fire.
When American and British sailors were being impressed by North Africa’s Barbary Pirates, did Thomas Jefferson offer lessons on tolerance and multiculturalism? No. He formed one of the first special ops teams in American history and gave them the mission of saving American lives by hell or high water, regardless of the political costs.
When a band of Moroccan terrorists led by Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli took Ion Perdicaris hostage in 1904, holding him hostage to embarrass the Sultan of Morroco, did Teddy Roosevelt apologize or cast blame? No. He took out his metaphorical big stick and demanded: "Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead!"
When the Soviets attacked Korean Airlines Flight 007 killing Congressman Lawrence McDonald, did Ronald Reagan defend our enemy’s narrative events? No. He denounced the act as a crime against humanity, an act of barbarism and inhuman brutality, and swiftly dispatched U.N. Ambassador Jean Kirkpatrick to demand truth and accountability before the Security Council.
Even the hapless Jimmy Carter was able to muster a somewhat presidential response when, in February of 1979, Adolph “Spike” Dubs, then U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, was kidnapped by armed militants posing as Afghan police (sound familiar?), and shortly thereafter was killed in an exchange of gun fire during a botched rescue attempt. Carter’s reaction was a 103-word-long, succinct and solemn expression of sympathy for victims that also resolutely condemned the attackers. Obama’s Rose Garden speech, conversely, was a meandering 801-word, platitude-infested paean to religious tolerance, circuitously blaming a YouTube video.
Moreover, Carter did not use the moment to boast of his commitment to the troops, whereas Obama reassured us, “I visited the graves of troops who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery, and had the opportunity to say thank you and visit some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed.” But this is part and parcel with Obama’s campaign modus operandi. While he was quick to cast aspersions of unwarranted politicization upon Romney, as if his campaign-induced casket chasing was somehow appropriate, those with longer memories may recall his own shameless use of Iraq War casualties to assail John McCain in July of 2008.
George W. Bush, the current president’s oft-beguiled arch nemesis, achieved his presidential moment after the first 9-11. He did not attempt to soften or mitigate the harsh truth of what had occurred and what it would mean for the future of the United States. “Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror,” he said; “These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation.”
As refreshing as it would be to hear Obama speak frankly of evil deeds and evil doers, the most telling difference, between him and his predecessors is not in words but deeds. Simply consider: would Jefferson, Carter, Reagan, or Bush have ever even fathomed jetting off to Las Vegas for a ritzy fundraiser while an American consulate smoldered?
In the next and final debate, the discussion will orbit national security, and Romney will have abundant opportunities to hold Obama accountable for the demonstrable failings of his foreign policy. If he wishes to achieve this, then he will have to do better than he did during the town hall debate. He can begin by frankly rebuking the claim that he has “politicized” Libya—and could do so in the following fashion:
“With all due respect, Mr. President, the terrorist attack in Benghazi was a political act and is a political issue. Frankly, the only possible reason why you, your administration, and your campaign have continued to spread falsehoods about this terrorist attack is because the facts are devastating, simply devastating, for your claims that Al-Qaeda is on the run. Yes, I was quick to address the American people about the unraveling of your foreign policy. But while I was considering the implications of this terrorist attack for the future of this country, you were flying off to Las Vegas for a political fundraiser, fabricating politically favorable spin, and dispatching political surrogates to tell your falsehoods for you. That’s not presidential. That’s not leadership. America deserves better.”