Benghazi and tonight’s presidential debate

Michael Petrou on the issues Obama will and should face in tonight’s debate


Barack Obama enters tonight’s debate on foreign policy in decent shape. As of July, voters perceived him as stronger than Mitt Romney when it comes to defending America from terrorism; foreign policy in general; and judgment in a crisis.

Though these numbers may have changed in the last three months, Obama, I think, enjoys some of the lustre that comes from being the commander-in-chief. But his record abroad is uneven.

Let’s start with the raid that killed Osama bin Laden — because that’s where Obama will start and finish tonight. Someone needs to remind the President that he wasn’t on the helicopter that flew into Abbottabad. He made a risky decision that paid off. It was the right call, and he deserves credit it for it. The bravery — and while we’re at it, can someone please tell Joe Biden this? — was shown by the commandos on the mission, not Barack Obama.

America’s ability to pull off such a raid has been developing for years, beginning with the hunt-and-kill teams in Iraq that decimated al-Qaeda there during the later years of the Bush administration, and continues today in Afghanistan. This is the sort of tactical skill and reach that comes from being at war for 10 years. It has more to do with military experience than presidential vision.

On Afghanistan, Obama came into office believing it was the necessary war and made consequential investments. To those who dread our approaching abandonment of the country, Obama might have deserved praise for this. The problem is his resolve didn’t last.

By 2010, according to author and journalist David Sanger, the group of presidential aides charting Afghanistan policy came to be known informally as “Afghan Good Enough.” Good enough was no longer defeating the Taliban, building a nation, or protecting the Afghans who had — despite all the warnings of history — bet on Western staying power. They’ll be enslaved and slaughtered after we leave in 2014. But don’t worry. We won’t be around to notice.

On the Arab/Persian Spring, Obama was cautious and suffered for it. Iranians, braving death and gangs of government-backed Basiji thugs, chanted: “Obama! Obama! You’re either with us, or you’re with them!” Obama dodged the choice. He was, instead, with “the arc of the moral universe” — which apparently bends toward justice. This just might be true, but only if mortals put their shoulders to it.

It is noteworthy that in Egypt today 79 per cent of Egyptians hold unfavourable views of the United States, up from the 70 per cent who did so in 2009. Those who supported Hosni Mubarak feel Obama deserted a friend and ally; those who backed the revolution feel he was too slow to support a pro-democracy uprising.

Despite this, it is the Obama administration’s response to the raid in Benghazi, Libya, that may dominate the debate. Romney unwisely focused on when Obama first described the attack, which killed U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, as an act of terror (almost immediately, it turns out). His volley backfired, and Romney withdrew. He’s unlikely to do so again tonight.

The more substantial issue on Benghazi concerns when Obama learned the attack was likely pre-planned, rather than the result of a spontaneous demonstration, and when he informed the American people of this. The latest reporting from the Wall Street Journal indicates Obama was told in his daily intelligence briefings that the attack grew out of a protest, for more than a week after Stevens was killed.

This blunts accusations that Obama knowingly misled Americans, but it also suggests poor intelligence gathering and dissemination. Conflicting reports regarding the attack were circulating at the same time Obama’s daily briefs were blaming American deaths on a demonstration that got out of hand.

These are important details, and they should and will be discussed and fought over tonight. A more substantial debate could be had on the war in Afghanistan, Syria, and what — if anything — the United States can do to shape how the newly democratizing Middle East will evolve.

It’s often said that foreign policy doesn’t matter in elections. I’m not sure that’s ever really the case. It shouldn’t be this time around.


Benghazi and tonight’s presidential debate

    • Oh puh-lease!

      • Pretty well sums it up,,,,and it’s all that counts.

        • It shouldn’t be, I don’t know how Obama can sleep with Ambassador Stevens blood on his hands.

          • Amazing, you never worried about Bush killing thousands…..

          • But I never supported Bush or believed in him (still don’t) Obama promised to everyone that he was a different man and he was going to bring people together and he has throw all that out of the window. It’s election time, so the buck didn’t stopped with him as he promised, on the contrary he’s not only is ok with the cover up, he embraces it. If he truly meant what he said he would have no problem to look everyone in the eye and say “I f**d up”. I truly believed he was a different man.

            Imagine Mandela doing something like that?! Obama sold himself to the world as a man with a heart and integrity, an American Mandela, ready to fix his broken country, and make mends with the world, honestly what a joke!

          • Obama is a transitional leader….and doing as well as he can fighting strong headwinds and all. Somehow people think he’s able to be a dictator who can just wave a magic wand….

            You want jokes….try the US with Romney in charge!

  1. Obama is going to get reelected, Romney is not electable.

    Rex Murphy is right, Obama is no Lincoln but more of a Nixon, and that is very bothering to me, I actually thought he was a better human being (lousy President but a good guy).

    • You’ve posted that a lot here. I’m very surprised to see this from you, you are usually pretty reliably “c”onservative.

      Why do you think Romney is unelectable? Have you seen his momentum in the polls?

      • Does that have more to do with Obama’s missteps or more with Romney”s good luck lately? Claudia’s right, Romney is unlectable. If Obama had done his job in the first debate there would be no question of momentum. Fact is after that 47% goof Romney should have been dead and buried. Would have been too if Obama hadn’t gone AWOL.
        Don’t mistake me for being a big fan of Obama either. Had the GOP put up a truly socially moderate candidate with a decent fiscal record, this president would have likely been out. He’s managed to annoy many liberals and conservatives at the same time. Then again, there never was a chance a truly moderate fiscally prudent GOP candidate could have got the nomination past the tea party gatekeepers. Obama should have nailed his phony shape shifting hide to the barn door by now. Says something about how weak the president’s underlying position really is that he hasn’t accomplished it this late in the game.

        • Regardless, can anyone sitting at at least 47% be unelectable, no matter what centrist Canadians might think about the differences between two rightist American Candidates?

          • I never use the thumbs, but I thumbed you up for that…since I so rarely agree with you. :)

          • Fair enough.

          • Hmmm, ok, that is a good point. Unelectable is maybe a bit subjective in a highly polarized environment.
            Romney should have been unelectable…is that any closer?

        • Fact is after that 47% goof Romney should have been dead and buried.

          That statement is Not Optimal.

          Curious why you think that anyone leading or tied in almost every poll, with 2 weeks to go until the election, all the momentum in his favour, and every possible attempt to destroy and demonize him already made, is “unelectable”.

          I mean come on…we’re down to stupid shit like “binders”, “Big Bird”, “Romnesia”, and “Paul Ryan didn’t wash those dishes, they were already clean”, with 2 weeks to go. You know what that is? It’s the desperate death knell of a floundering re-election campaign, from someone who just doesn’t have anything to say anymore.

          Watch Romney’s performance at the Alfred E Smith dinner from last week. It was brilliant. This is not the same guy from the primary season.

          • Maybe! But you missed my point entirely. Despite all that, Obamas is going to win. Romney was always unelectable since he turned himself into a pretzel in order to get the nominations. IOWs he will lose notwithstanding Obama’s weakness. That’s failure on an epic level really when you think about it. And i blame the tea party crowd as much as i do Romney.
            edit: GFMD’s point is a good one. Perhaps i’m looking at this too much from centrist Canadian perspective?

          • “Romney was always unelectable since he turned himself into a pretzel in order to get the nominations.”

            Romney should be unelectable because he wears magic underwear but Obama and his woeful admin are keeping Romney in the game. In fact, it would not be surprising at all if Americans decide to go with magic underwearer instead of the socialist in a few weeks time.

          • That was pretty much the drift of my comment to JG; Obama may be losing rather than magic underwear man winning.
            I get the feeling that lots of Americans are disappointed/fed up enough to vote socialist man off the island, but at the same time they’re really worried about what’s in them there underwear. My guess is cuts for everyone and spending for everyone and more military and less debt and christmass every single day of the year…for the 1%.

          • In a country in which almost half the population believes god created the world 10 000 years ago, not believing in “magic underpants” would probably be the greater liability.

          • Performance is the operative word, considering he’s now nowhere near where he was during the primaries; someone uncharitable might call that an evolving performance? It amazes me this doesn’t seem to bother you one bit. Authentic it is not. Consistent it is not. Thoroughly dishonest it is!

      • It’s just my advertising background, the same way I could tell you Michael Ignatieff was doomed, I can tell you the same about Romney, the only reason why he is even polling this high is because Obama is such a lousy President.

        That’s unfortunate though, because Obama needs to go.

        • Have to disagree with you. Romney looks so much more confident and comfortable in his own skin than he did even a month ago.

          Watch his speech at the Alfred E Smith dinner. It was excellent. You wouldn’t have seen such a natural, funny performance from him a month ago.

          When you consider that he’s fought this campaign against Obama and the media, and even the debate moderator in the town hall, he’s done far better than I expected he would.

  2. Ten years later our armies have killed and displaced tens of thousands and given a whole new generation a reason to mistrust America and its allies. Once the planes are heading towards your skyscrapers, there is no response that in some way won’t aid the terrorists. True bravery will require admitting history has been quite right on occupying Afghanistantan and Iraq was built on utter falsehoods, and trying to figure out a plan from there.

    If we really want to fix this it’s going to take money, decades of engagement, and not military occupation. We’ve started too late and we’re heading farther and farther down the wrong path,

    It’s a joke. It’s over. When Petrou wrote that article screeching about “who we were abandoing Afghanistan too” it took a commenter to wisely point out “looks like they’re doing what they want to no matter where we are.”

  3. Here’s an example of Mitt Romney’s foreign policy:

    Rather than looking at the fact that Iran already has the capability to produce “dirty bombs”, Mr. Romney is sticking to the Republican script about taking military action against any nation that dares to create a nuclear weapon.

  4. I’ve been more than slightly creeped out by the Obama, “i was on that raid too” spin on Bin laden’s demise. The whole dancing in the street thing left me cold. But then maybe it was just the human reaction you would expect after all those Bush/Cheney red white and blue alerts. You can only keep people in a state of fearful anxiety for so long without some kind of neurotic blowback.

  5. Romney looks like Mini Hitler dressed as a priest He is bad news for The USA and definitely bad for the world as a whole.Mind you i have no love toward Obama either .

  6. At the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute’s “3Ds Blog”:

    ‘Question for US Presidential Foreign Policy Debate: “CBS News: Why didn’t we send the military to rescue Benghazi personnel”‘


  7. Great article.

  8. I think this is a very good article and it has so many important points. However, I don’t think they will ever delve into issues this deeply in a televised debate. The televised debate is more about “zingers”, how you say something rather then what you say, whether you look convincing when you say something, etc.

    In general they did touch upon the topics you mention, at a superficial level. Specifically, they did not touch upon what will the Afghanis experience, or what the Egyptians think, and so on. All they talked about in the debate was America’s perspective and America’s experience.