Opinion: Columnists

The Benghazi bleed

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Photo - MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 05:  U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a rally during the last day of campaigning in the general election November 5, 2012 in Madison, Wisconsin. Obama and his opponent, Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are stumping from one 'swing state' to the next in a last-minute rush to persuade undecided voters.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 05: U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a rally during the last day of campaigning in the general election November 5, 2012 in Madison, Wisconsin. Obama and his opponent, Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are stumping from one 'swing state' to the next in a last-minute rush to persuade undecided voters. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Benghazi bleed is draining Obama and Democrats, with the consequence yet to be seen. If he loses, it will be one reason why; if he wins, he will run into a headwind of investigations and inquiries that will get his second term off to an ugly beginning.

Either way, it has put an end for the time being at least to the Democrats' latest effort to dig themselves out of the foreign policy hole they dug themselves into in the late l960s, and from which they have yet to emerge. They tried with Jimmy Carter, ex-career naval officer (and protegee of the famously hard-boiled Admiral Rickover). They tried with Michael Dukakis, who posed in a tank. They tried with John Kerry, who reported for duty until he was sandbagged by his former naval associates, who resented both his grandstanding in the Pacific and the anti-war screeds he emitted once he came home.

Mindful of this, the one-time community organizer took care to balance "lead-from-behind" and apology tours with discreet hits on terrorists, culminating with the biggest bag of them all, Osama bin Laden, in Pakistan on May 2, 2011, which Obama conflated with the end of the terrorist menace. Thus, Michael Gerson would write on Aug. 9 that "the mommy party ... has become daddy with a drone and a hit list." Thus E.J. Dionne would gloat that Obama had "played the ultimate trump card" the previous May "when he visited our troops in Afghanistan ... on the anniversary of the bin Laden raid, and, with military vehicles serving as a rough-hewn backdrop, addressed the nation from the scene of our longest war."

Hence the panic in the White House and the Obama campaign (the two are identical) on Sept. 11, 2012. "Before that day, much of the country's ... establishment had been studiously ignoring signs of trouble in the Middle East," said Walter Russell Mead. "The U.S. remains widely disliked and distrusted ... the struggle against radical terror looks longer lasting ... the strategic underpinnings of the administration's Middle East policy seem to be falling apart."

The death of Osama had been welcome, but had not been determinative, which was a threat to the president. "The administration has a lot invested in the public impression that al Qaeda was vanquished when Osama bin Laden was killed," wrote David Ignatius. "Obama could lose some of that luster if the public examined whether al Qaeda is adopting a new ... strategy of interweaving its operations with the unrest sweeping the Arab world."

Thus, the unforced error of the administration in trying to blame the riots (and the deaths of four people) not on al Qaeda but on a 12-minute video seen largely on YouTube. Thus, the apologies made for the video, and thus, the embarrassment when the story unraveled, leading to questions concerning negligence and mismanagement on the ground leading up to the riots -- that policymakers in the administration had ignored the warnings of the murdered ambassador, and, when the attack actually happened, left two Americans who tried to protect the embassy staffers (and who did succeed in killing large numbers of attackers) to die alone.

And thus, too, the return of the foreign policy card to the table; and a shift in the polls that made Dionne so happy in spring. By 49 to 42 percent, independents think that the president tried to mislead them; by 47-39 voters think he is failing in Libya; by 55-26 they call his approaches to terror too "soft." It's back to square one once again for the Democrats.

Welcome back, Carter, indeed.

Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."

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