"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Friday, October 26, 2012

Romney's Benghazi Sidestep

The mainstream media is starting to bite hard on the Benghazi coverup story, with headlines like this:

E-mails: White House knew of extremist claims in Benghazi attack

By Elise Labott, CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter
updated 10:54 PM EDT, Wed October 24, 2012
Washington (CNN) -- Two hours after first being notified of an attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, a government e-mail to the White House, the State Department and the FBI said an Islamist group had claimed credit, according to a copy obtained by CNN.
An initial e-mail was sent while the attack was still underway, and another that arrived two hours later -- sent from a State Department address to various government agencies including the executive office of the president -- identified Ansar al-Sharia as claiming responsibility for the attack on its Facebook page and on Twitter.
The group denied responsibility the next day.
However, the e-mails raise further questions about the seeming confusion on the part of the Obama administration to determine the nature of the September 11 attack that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.


I now think I understand the Romney strategy in the debate.   Recall that the very first question was a hard-hitting question from Schieffer about Benghazi that was almost like chum in the water trying to get Romney to bite.   It took a lot of discipline not to rise to that bait:

SCHIEFFER: The first segment is the challenge of a changing Middle East and the new face of terrorism. I'm going to put this into two segments so you'll have two topic questions within this one segment on the subject. The first question, and it concerns Libya. The controversy over what happened there continues. Four Americans are dead, including an American ambassador. Questions remain. What happened? What caused it? Was it spontaneous? Was it an intelligence failure? Was it a policy failure? Was there an attempt to mislead people about what really happened?

Governor Romney, you said this was an example of an American policy in the Middle East that is unraveling before our very eyes.

SCHIEFFER: I'd like to hear each of you give your thoughts on that.

Governor Romney, you won the toss. You go first.

ROMNEY: Thank you, Bob. And thank you for agreeing to moderate this debate this evening. Thank you to Lynn University for welcoming us here. And Mr. President, it's good to be with you again. We were together at a humorous event a little earlier, and it's nice to maybe funny this time, not on purpose. We'll see what happens.

This is obviously an area of great concern to the entire world, and to America in particular, which is to see a — a complete change in the — the structure and the — the environment in the Middle East.

With the Arab Spring, came a great deal of hope that there would be a change towards more moderation, and opportunity for greater participation on the part of women in public life, and in economic life in the Middle East. But instead, we've seen in nation after nation, a number of disturbing events. Of course we see in Syria, 30,000 civilians having been killed by the military there. We see in — in Libya, an attack apparently by, I think we know now, by terrorists of some kind against — against our people there, four people dead.

Our hearts and — and minds go out to them. Mali has been taken over, the northern part of Mali by al-Qaeda type individuals. We have in — in Egypt, a Muslim Brotherhood president. And so what we're seeing is a pretty dramatic reversal in the kind of hopes we had for that region. Of course the greatest threat of all is Iran, four years closer to a nuclear weapon. And — and we're going to have to recognize that we have to do as the president has done. I congratulate him on — on taking out Osama bin Laden and going after the leadership in al-Qaeda.

But we can't kill our way out of this mess. We're going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the — the world of Islam and other parts of the world, reject this radical violent extremism, which is — it's certainly not on the run.

ROMNEY: It's certainly not hiding. This is a group that is now involved in 10 or 12 countries, and it presents an enormous threat to our friends, to the world, to America, long term, and we must have a comprehensive strategy to help reject this kind of extremism.

Schieffer clearly wanted Romney to talk about the coverup by the Obama administration, the lame story that the attack had been caused by an Internet video.   He wanted to get a brawl started at the outset.   If Romney had risen to the bait, the opening moments of the debate would have been extraordinarily negative and contentious, and a lot of voters, but women voters and independents in particular, would have been turned off.

But look at Romney's answer.   He doesn't talk about the President misleading anyone, he doesn't talk about the video, he doesn't really talk about Libya or Benghazi much at all.   Instead he sidesteps to talk in the most general terms possible about our policy in the Middle East, preemptively congratulates the President on taking out Osama bin Laden, but then offers more of an olive branch than a big stick to the region, saying "we can't kill our way out of this mess."   It was all a very disciplined presentation of a calm leader who isn't the bellicose warmonger Democrats would paint him, and all designed to reach suburban women voters who don't like the idea of more wars.   I would have been tempted by the question, and I would have responded with a vigorous takedown of the administration's conduct with regard to Benghazi, but that's why I'm not going to be elected President.

Romney knew that the story wouldn't go away and that it would eventually get into the mainstream press, and he was confident enough and disciplined enough to let them carry that water and to keep his focus on the big prize.   A savvy move in retrospect by a very smart man who understands that intelligent leadership isn't about snarkiness.  

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