Obama's Luck Runs Out (of interest for historians)
by Jonathan Rosenblum
November 2, 2012
Obama's Luck Runs Out
President Obama has led a charmed life from his first foray into Illinois state politics through his ascendancy to the highest office in the land a mere 12 years later. He entered the Oval Office as the least vetted and least experienced president in history, whose sole public achievement to that point consisted of a fine speech at the 2004 Democratic convention.
In his first race for the Illinois Senate in 1996, the nominating petitions of the other three Democratic candidates, including that of the incumbent, were all disqualified, leaving Obama as the sole Democratic candidate in an overwhelmingly Democratic district. Two weeks before the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate in 2004, the divorce records of the leading candidate at that time, Blair Hull, were released, after a petition by the Chicago Tribune. Hull plummeted in the polls, clearing the way for Barack Obama's primary victory.
In the general election, Jack Ryan, the Republican candidate – a former multi-millionaire partner at Goldman Sachs, then teaching at a Catholic high school in a Chicago slum – had to withdraw after a Los Angeles court unsealed the records of his custody battle with his ex-wife, again after a petition by the Chicago Tribune. (This may explain why Obama has so strenuously refused to release his own college records: He knows how embarrassing such records can prove to a candidate.) Obama faced only token opposition after Ryan's withdrawal. And finally, the collapse of the Lehman Brothers late in the 2008 presidential campaign turned a very slim McCain lead into a commanding one for Obama, which he never surrendered.
BARACK OBAMA'S LUCK, HOWEVER, RAN OUT ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2012. with the murder of U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, by jihadists affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Benghazi. As we have already spelled out at length in these pages, the murder of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans, coupled with violent demonstrations at U.S. embassies throughout the Middle East, was by itself a blow to Obama's re-election campaign, which was sailing along at that point in time. It undermined the natural foreign policy advantage that any incumbent president enjoys over a challenger, especially one, like Romney, without any particular experience in foreign affairs. And it refuted one of the central premises of Obama's foreign policy – i.e., that his determined outreach to the Muslim world had stilled the troubled waters of the Middle East and introduced new stability into the region.
In an effort to preserve the previous narrative, the administration settled upon an account of events in Benghazi that did least violence to the storyline of an increasingly pacific Middle East by downplaying the deep reservoirs of anti-American hatred in the Muslim world. For almost two weeks, top officials, from the President to Secretary of State Clinton to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice linked the violence in Benghazi to a fourteen-minute "trailer" produced by an Egyptian Copt living in California that mocked Islam. Extremists in Benghazi, they claimed, had been able to exploit the righteous indignation over the movie trailer for their own purposes. But as Press Secretary Jay Carney insisted, the violence had nothing to with anti-American sentiment, and certainly not with any anti-Obama sentiment, as proved by the fact that the administration thoroughly and repeatedly condemned the movie trailer.
That counter-narrative, it turned out, constituted something of a cover-up, as the administration knew or should have known that there was no demonstration in Benghazi for jihadists to exploit prior to the attack on the U.S. consulate. The streets of Benghazi were quiet when Ambassador Steven bid adieu to his last guest of the night, little more than an hour before the attack on his residence. In congressional testimony, State Department official Charlotte Lamb, who had been on live-feed from Benghazi during the attack, stated that there had been no demonstration, and that it had never been the view of the State Department – despite Clinton and Rice's statements to the contrary – that the Libya attack was anything other than a terrorist operation.
As is almost always the case, the attempted cover-up only made matters worse, far worse, than they would have otherwise been. Had matters stopped there, however, President Obama could likely still have weathered events without too much damage. Voters still needed to make numerous inferences to understand why the deceptive narrative was so significant and what it revealed about the administration. It was still not the stuff of hard-hitting 30-second campaign ads, "Obama lied; Americans died."
But the steady drip-drip of scandal had begun. Stage three was the revelation of misfeasance by the administration leading up to the events of September 11, not just a dodgy post-assassination account of those events. Released State Department emails revealed that there had been repeated requests from Libya for beefed up consular security, in light of the chaotic conditions in the country. The chief security officer for the Libyan Embassy, Eric Nordstrom, testified to Congress that he had requested an extension of the deployment of an American military team in July, and the request had been denied by the State Department, in favor of relying on local Libyan militias for security.
Secretary of State Clinton, while on a visit to Peru, attempted to deflect from the President the charge that not enough attention had been given to consular security given the anarchic situation in Libya, by accepting personal responsibility for the decision not to beef up security. But the question remained: Had the administration bought into its own fantasy of having brought calm to the Muslim world when it refused requests for additional security.
BUT BY FAR THE MOST DAMAGING CHARGE to emerge is that the President did not take the decision necessary to save at least two Americans under siege in a CIA annex near the consulate in Benghazi over a four hour period. The President can talk all he wants about getting to the bottom of matters and the full report that will conveniently emerge nine days after the election, but the key questions now are: What did the President know and when did he know it, during the more than six hours between the time of the initial attack on the Benghazi consulate and the time when Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed by mortar fire? Whom did he speak to and to whom did he issue directives? What was the response to the directives? Was the President aware of urgent requests for outside help to lift the siege of the annex coming from personnel within? If so, what was his response? And if not, why did no one think it important to inform the President? Did he speak to combat commanders who would have been responsible for mounting a rescue mission?
These are all matters within the personal knowledge of the President, and about which he has not said a word. That pretty much puts him in the position of the man of whom it was said, "You knew he was prevaricating when you saw his lips moving."
It is now known that U.S. drones hovered overhead the fighting relaying images to the Pentagon and White House situation room. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta have taken responsibility for the decision not to mount a rescue mission, despite having planes and a special forces team barely an hour away in Italy, on the grounds that the situation on the ground was too unclear to do so.
But it is wildly implausible to think that Panetta took this decision on his own without consulting the President. If he did, then the President is viewed as a nincompoop and nonentity by his own security team. And if he did not, then the responsibility for the decision rests with the President. So much for the image of the decisive warrior – "Osama bin Laden is dead" – that Obama has so assiduously cultivated. Without months to mull over the matter, the President could not make the decision to rescue Americans under the siege.
Two pieces of evidence further complicate the assessment of the decision-making process in the White House and Pentagon. The State Department has admitted that a team was sent from Tripoli to Benghazi during the siege of the annex. The slain Glen Doherty was a member of that team, probably comprised of CIA operatives or on the CIA payroll. So the question becomes: If the situation was too murky to mount a rescue operation, why send a team of eight or so lightly armed men to scene? Why not a heavily armed special forces contingent instead?
A second major point is made by a blogger at Powerline blog. Numerous reports place Tyrone Woods on the roof of the annex directing a Ground Laser Designator (GLD) at the source of the mortar fire. Since the laser beams can be used to pinpoint the location of the person operating the GLD, Woods would have done so only if there was an armed drone or Specter gunship above capable of eliminating the jihadis directing their mortar fire at the annex.
Someone must have issued an order not to employ the "air asset" against the mortars. Who? Was the president informed of the pleas for help? If yes, what was his response? If not, why not?
At this point, we are beyond the point of misfeasance to that of malfeasance. To add to the administration's woes, they have a bereaved father on their hands. And bereaved fathers attract lots of media attention. Charles Woods, father of Tyrone Woods, told reporters that the President could not look him in the eye at the memorial service for his son and managed only a "wet fish handshake," while looking over his shoulder. Secretary of State Clinton promised him that the person responsible for the film trailer would be 'arrested and prosecuted," even though she knew by then that the film trailer had nothing to do with the attack in Benghazi.
(Even if the film trailer had triggered Muslim rage, Clinton's promise to arrest and prosecute the filmmaker reflects the degree to which the President and Secretary of State, graduates of Harvard and Yale Law Schools, respectively, have no conception of the First Amendment. Both have repeatedly criticized, in the strongest possible language, those who "insult" Islam, and have shown sympathy for the efforts of Muslim states at the U.N. to criminalize insults to religion. Interestingly, Clinton's solicitude for the feelings of religious believers did not prevent her from attending the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon, which ridicules Mormonism. Sadly, she did make good on her promise to arrest the producer of the movie trailer, who is now sitting in jail on charges of violating his federal probation.)
TWO MONTHS BEFORE a close election was a tough time for President Obama's luck to run out. But it has. Even the usually reliable pro-Obama mainstream media has been unable to overlook the Benghazi story altogether. At this stage, it is clear that Obama cannot run on his record in office, and the only path for him to re-election is to relentlessly attack Romney, even if he alienates some of those mesmerized by his promises to heal a fractious nation in 2008.
But it is hard for the President to attack Romney – and especially to portray the election as about "trust" -- while continually answering questions about Libya and his own performance during the crisis. Nor are the President's clipped responses to those questions well designed to bring him back the "trust" voters.
Depending on your candidate of choice, the end of President Obama's roll of good luck could not have come at a better or at a worse time.
What I could not have anticipated at the time this piece was written was the degree that the mainstream American media would abdicate all journalistic responsibility and simply ignore the Benghazi story.
Related Topics: American Government & Politics, Islamofacism & Terrorism
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