Student Op-Eds

Week in Review: The Politicizing of Benghazi

Mollie Greenwood ’13

This Tuesday’s Presidential debate proved to be a major turning point for both the Obama and Romney campaigns.  In the wake of the first debate, President Obama’s polling numbers had dropped nationwide, most importantly in swing states, whereas Romney’s campaign appeared to reenergize as Romney put a spirit behind his first debate.  The second debate, conducted in “town hall” style, did not focus on one theme, but rather on questions put forth by a number of currently undecided New York voters.  Though much of the debate hinged on the candidates’ tax plans and the perpetually worrisome state of the economy, one voter raised the issue of the recent turmoil in Benghazi.

Last month, during a period of uprisings throughout the Middle East related largely to an offensive anti-Islamic video, protests sprang up in a number of countries including Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan and Yemen.  Many protests occurred outside the American Embassies in these countries.  In the case of Libya, one United States ambassador was killed by the protests (though it later became clear that the attack was premeditated rather than reactionary to the film).  Since the moment American Ambassador Christopher Stevens was pronounced dead, the story has become a campaign piece.  The Obama administration came under immediate fire from the Romney campaign when statements were first released, and this American tragedy was instantly politicized and utilized by both parties as a campaign issue.  Fittingly, the Benghazi incident came up in the most recent debate, and the scene that resulted has been discussed in not just American news but also international coverage as the election draws ever closer to the foreign policy debate.

Al-Jazeera, an Arabic news station with headquarters in Qatar, discussed the election in their piece, “Fiery Obama Erases Memory of First Debate.”  Al-Jazeera, like virtually every American media outlet, declared the debate a victory for the Obama campaign, and wrote about his “aggressive and fiery” presentation throughout the evening.  Al-Jazeera continued their support of Obama in their distaste for Romney’s presentation.  They stated, “Romney claimed, wrongly, that it took Obama two weeks to label the assault a terrorist attack.”  The article’s discussion of the Benghazi incident was closed with a quote from Obama criticizing Romney’s campaign for immediately having seized upon the attack as a political talking point, saying “That’s not how a commander-in-chief operates. You don’t turn national security into a political issue”.

Al-Jazeera wasn’t the only source pointing to this moment of tension as a high point in the debate.  The BBC also noted the significance of the question, discussing in further detail the events as they unraveled in that portion of the debate. Importantly, after Romney’s statements chastising Obama for not immediately labeling the Libya incident as a terrorist attack, they noted that in fact the President had labeled it as such the next day.  The moderator’s interference is also said to have “sparked uproar” among the conservatives watching the debate.

Though the brief discussions in these two international pieces focused on the overall return of President Obama’s spirit and his resurgence in the second debate, they also pointed to the Romney campaign’s alleged politicizing of the Benghazi incident as shameful behavior for which he and his campaign should be embarrassed.  Not every American source is looking at Romney’s politicizing of Benghazi the same way.

The National Review, for their part, is pointing to President Obama and his administration as having created a diplomatic mess in the wake of the Benghazi attacks by repeatedly pointing to the Innocence of Muslims film as a cause for the deadly assault on the embassy.  Officially disproved by a number of testimonies presented to Congress this past week, the administration has continued to place the burden of blame for this terrorist attack upon the radical Islamic community responding to an offensive movie.  The administration has gone so far as to claim this was the case as recently as last week’s Vice Presidential debates, where Biden claimed that that story was “exactly what we [the Obama administration] was told by the intelligence community.”  This statement has been proven embarrassingly false in recent days, largely by Eric Nordstrom, the Regional Security Office for the U.S. Embassy in Libya, who had been expecting and preparing for such an attack for months, according to CNN.

With this information now available and making its mark in the media, the Romney campaign is losing some of the embarrassment of allegedly politicizing the problem.  The problem was politicized by both sides; a tragedy was taken advantage of and cited as a response to an offensive film, but as actual intelligence officers speak up, the situation is becoming increasingly embarrassing for both campaigns, which rushed to make the death of an American Ambassador into a talking point.  I personally cannot wait to watch Governor Romney and President Obama try to cover their tracks on this issue during the upcoming foreign policy debate.