Monday, October 29, 2012

Roots Of Benghazi Political Strategy

On September 11 (timeline, from The New York Times, here), preceding the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya that left four Americans dead, the Embassy in Egypt issued the following statement:

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.

That night (the following morning, in the Middle East) GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney

I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.

This statement was released 14 minutes after Politico reported it had been told by an Administration official "The statement by Embassy Cairo was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government."    Politico noted also the statement (issued two minutes before the Politico article) from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton concluding "There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."

At the time, however, few if any noted that Romney's hyper-partisan, opportunistic, and irresponsible remark represented a critical tactic in his political strategy.   In the second presidential debate, Romney was slapped down by Candy Crowley and Obama for his Libyan myth making and at the third debate took a pass on the issue.   But now, longtime Democratic strategist Mark Shrum has noted that Romney previously

had pursued the exploitative path he had foreseen in a little-noted part of the notorious “47 percent tape.” After referring to Jimmy Carter’s failed hostage-rescue mission, in which eight U.S. service members died, he told the assembled plutocrats: “If something of that nature occurs, I will work to find a way to take advantage of the opportunity.” I suspect his last round of debate prep included the warning that the president could clock him with that quote if he renewed his push on the Libyan issue, which had stunningly embarrassed him a week before when moderator Candy Crowley had told him he was wrong—that the day afterward, Obama had called the killing of the American ambassador a “terrorist act.”

At the time pursuing the Repub presidential nomination, Mitt Romney assured the assembled millionaires at the famous Palm Beach fundraiser

And yet, in that election, in the Jimmy Carter election, the fact that we have hostages in Iran, I mean, that was all we talked about. And we had the two helicopters crash in the desert, I mean that's—that was—that was the focus, and so him solving that made all the difference in the world. I'm afraid today if you said, "We got Iran to agree to stand down a nuclear weapon," they'd go hold on. It's really a, but…by the way, if something of that nature presents itself, I will work to find a way to take advantage of the opportunity.

There is nothing like a tragedy- ideally, a terrorist attack- to fuel Republican campaigns.  It worked in 2004 for George W. Bush and Romney figured it would work for him in 2012.    In this case, it bought the GOP nominee a lot of grief- but it did draw greater attention to a terrible incident which could be exploited by a candidate who really, truly wants voters to believe that President Obama is endangering the security of the United States.   And it further raises the question of why Barack Obama has gone nearly mum on a tape which fully, and uniquely, reveals the nature of his opponent.

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