Last night's presidential debate had one very interesting moment that will surely be discussed a lot in the coming days. Once the terrorist attacks in Libya were brought up (which took far too long and lasted far too short for my liking) President Obama said something that made Mitt Romney do a double-take. He said that the day after the attack, while making a speech in the Rose Garden, that he called the attack "an act of terror." Mitt Romney seized on that and tried to get him to repeat it (which for some unknown reason he would not do) but it was moderator Candy Crowley who spoke up to say that those indeed were his words. (How she managed to get the transcript only a few seconds after he said it is unknown to me.) President Obama seized on the moment and asked Candy to repeat that, which she did...to applause from the pro-Obama portion of the crowd.
This has caused countless people to go back and re-read or re-watch the president's speech from that day. I'll include it here so everyone can watch it for themselves. While no one really remembers the president saying anything about the attack being terrorism, he does indeed say the words "acts of terror." It happens toward the end of his speech. After making some remarks about how September 11th was already a painful day, the president said this:
"As Americans, let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it, and in some cases, lay down their lives for it. Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those both civilian and military who represent us around the globe.
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."
Now it is all but impossible to tell from the context of the speech whether the words "acts of terror" were meant about the Beghazi attack directly or whether they were simply meant as some generic message about any terrorist attacks. There will be arguments supporting both. And since there's no actual way of knowing, both arguments will be deemed as "correct."
(In a move of political genius, Obama may have used the term ambiguously on purpose, so that he could later choose to acknowledge it as one way or the other to fit whichever narrative he wanted. I wouldn't put it past him.)
However, whether President Obama meant it one way or the other or both doesn't really matter one bit at this point. The president can spin the story whichever way he wants to now. What he can't do is erase the past month.
He can't ignore that on September 13th...two days after the attack, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said this during a press briefing:
Q. "At Benghazi? What happened at Benghazi --"
MR. CARNEY: "We certainly don't know. We don't know otherwise. We have NO INFORMATION TO SUGGEST THAT IT WAS A PREPLANNED ATTACK. The unrest we’ve seen around the region has been in reaction to a video that Muslims, many Muslims find offensive. And while the violence is reprehensible and unjustified, IT IS NOT A REACTION TO THE 9/11 ANNIVERSARY THAT WE KNOW OF, or to U.S. policy."
A few questions later Mr. Carney reiterated this:
MR. CARNEY: "I think there has been news reports on this, Jake, even in the press, which some of it has been speculative. What I’m telling you is this is under investigation. The unrest around the region has been in response to this video. WE DO NOT, AT THIS MOMENT, HAVE INFORMATION TO SUGGEST OR TO TELL YOU THAT WOULD INDICATE THAT ANY OF THIS UNREST WAS PREPLANNED. "
Now while Mr. Carney insists that the event is still under investigation, he leaves no doubt that, as far as the White House is concerned (i.e. President Obama) on September the 13th...that TWO DAYS after the attack there was NO EVIDENCE OR INFORMATION to suggest the attack was pre-planned!
THIS IS IN DIRECT CONTRADICTION TO PRESIDENT OBAMA'S STATEMENT THAT HE UNDERSTOOD IT WAS AN ACT OF TERROR THE DAY BEFORE!
He also cannot ignore that 3 days later, on September 16th, FIVE days after the attack, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, went on all 5 of the Sunday morning talk shows where she basically repeated this line:
RICE: "Our current best assessment, BASED ON THE INFORMATION THAT WE HAVE AT PRESENT, is that, in fact, what this began as, IT WAS A SPONTANEOUS — NOT A PREMEDITATED — RESPONSE to what had transpired in Cairo. In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated.
We believe that folks in Benghazi, a small number of people came to the embassy to — or to the consulate, rather, to replicate the sort of challenge that was posed in Cairo. And then as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons, weapons that as you know in — in the wake of the revolution in Libya are — are quite common and accessible. And it then evolved from there.
We’ll wait to see exactly what the investigation finally confirms, but THAT'S THE BEST INFORMATION WE HAVE AT PRESENT."
While Susan Rice also insists that the event is still under investigation, she also makes it clear that the "best information they have at present" indicates that "IT WAS A SPONTANEOUS - NOT A PREMEDITATED - RESPONSE...IN REACTION TO THIS VERY OFFENSIVE VIDEO..."
THIS IS IN DIRECT CONTRADICTION TO PRESIDENT OBAMA'S STATEMENT THAT HE UNDERSTOOD IT WAS AN ACT OF TERROR 4 DAYS EARLIER!
He cannot ignore that 4 days after that, on September 20th, while being interviewed by Univision, PRESIDENT OBAMA HIMSELF said, when asked directly if it was a terrorist attack:
“Well, we’re still doing an investigation, and there are going to be different circumstances in different countries. And so I don’t want to speak to something until we have all the information. What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests.”
5 days after that, while asked if it was a terrorist attack on The View, PRESIDENT OBAMA HIMSELF said:
“We are still doing an investigation. There is no doubt that the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn’t just a mob action. Now, we don’t have all the information yet so we are still gathering.”
And on that same day, during a speech to the United Nations, PRESIDENT OBAMA HIMSELF made NO mention of the words "terrorism," "terrorist act," or "act of terror." The closest he came to discussing the attack was this:
"That is what we saw play out the last two weeks, as a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity. It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well – for as the city outside these walls makes clear, we are a country that has welcomed people of every race and religion. We are home to Muslims who worship across our country. We not only respect the freedom of religion – we have laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or what they believe. We understand why people take offense to this video because millions of our citizens are among them.
I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws: our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech. Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. Moreover, as President of our country, and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so. Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views – even views that we disagree with.
We do so not because we support hateful speech, but because our Founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views, and practice their own faith, may be threatened. We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can become a tool to silence critics, or oppress minorities. We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech – the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.
I know that not all countries in this body share this understanding of the protection of free speech. Yet in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete. The question, then, is how we respond. And on this we must agree: there is no speech that justifies mindless violence.
There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There is no video that justifies an attack on an Embassy. There is no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan."
President Obama does not directly say that the video was the cause of the attacks...but he also does NOT say they were an "act of terror" either. As a matter of fact, he makes it sound more like the attacks were caused by the video than not, as he goes on a diatribe about free speech and how it must be protected even though it may insult, and in how he declares that "no speech justifies mindless violence...no words excuse the killing of innocents.
ALL OF THESE RESPONSES SEEM TO DIRECTLY CONTRADICT THE STATEMENT THAT HE UNDERSTOOD IT WAS AN ACT OF TERROR ON SEPTEMBER 12TH!
The question that begged to be answered about all of this rhetoric was this: was the death of four Americans and the resulting campaign of misinformation caused by incompetence or was it deliberate deception?
Up until now, the president and his entire administration could play the game of ignorance. They could blame the falsely made statements on the "fog of war" as Hillary Clinton did. They could say that they made statements based on "incomplete information." They could say that the exact details were "unknown" and that the investigation was "ongoing." They could insist that all of the information given to them at that time pointed to an "unplanned" attack. They could get away with simply saying that they made those statements based on the information they had at that time and then the information changed.
But not anymore. Now that President Obama said last night that he called it an "act of terror" on the VERY NEXT DAY, thus implying that he understood it was a terrorist attack as early as September 12th...it takes incompetence right off the table. It takes confusion and "evolving information" right off the table. IF President Obama believed it was an "act of terror" on September the 12th...then WHY did White House Press Secretary Jay Carney say there was no information to support that!? WHY did Ambassador Rice say the same 5 days later!? If the president of the United States believed it was an "act of terror" the day after it happened, then WHY did it take OVER TWO WEEKS for the Administration to finally admit it!? IF the president believed it was an act of terror, then the story about there being NO information or evidence supporting a terrorist act as the cause and focusing all attention on the movie instead was NOT simply confusion due to the "fog of war." IF the president believed it was an act of terror, then removing all rhetoric about terrorism and placing the blame on a "spontaneous protest" was a downright lie! If the White House Press Secretary isn't speaking with and for President Obama, then there is incompetence on a massive level going on in that administration. And if he is...then WHY did he say something that the president himself didn't believe? WHY DID HE LIE? WHY DID THEY ALL LIE??
So which is it, Mr. President? Did you truly believe and understand it to be an act of terror on September 12th as you said last night? Because if so...you've got a lot of explaining to do on who made the decision to lie about it for two weeks, and why that decision was made. You've just painted yourself into a pretty sticky corner, and I'm not sure even you can get out of it.
It will be a very interesting next few days and weeks as the election approaches, and as President Obama tries to answer the questions he himself raised by stating that claim last night. It will be interesting to see if he sticks with it now or if he tries to change the story again. The questions remain either way...but I think he just made it a lot harder on himself. Yes, should be interesting indeed.