The recent murder of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans has cast a dark shadow over the closing days of the 2012 presidential campaign. The hustle and bustle of everyday campaigning has been replaced with a need not just for clarity but for clarification. The time when candidates and surrogates speaking on their behalf could fling charges and countercharges at one another with almost gleeful abandon has been eclipsed by the need for a serious discussion about the United States's role in the world and its security.
The stakes in this election are high—higher than at any time since the end of the Cold War as the Middle East and North Africa descend into chaos and anarchy. America, no one should forget, is still dealing with the ramifications of the Carter administration's foreign policy failures. Now Barack Obama's missteps must be added to the calculation.
What happened in Libya is a matter of deadly seriousness. As it now appears, the president and key members of his administration have from the start been engaged in an effort to deliberately mislead Congress and the American people about what happened in Benghazi, how it happened, and who was responsible.
To accuse a president of the United States of lying is, regardless of party, a serious thing. It is not something to be done lightly, as was the case with the "Bush lied us into war" mantra the left adopted after doubts were raised about an assertion by British intelligence—which George W. Bush accepted as true—that Saddam Hussein has engaged in efforts to procure "yellowcake" uranium from a north African country. It is now time to ask if Barack Obama has been lying about events in Libya, lying for political gain to avoid any adverse consequences for his re-election bid.
The president said in his second debate with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney that, contrary to the GOP nominee's contention, he had called the events in Benghazi an "act of terror." Perhaps so, but a careful reading of the transcript of his remarks made the Monday after the incident in the White House Rose Garden show he could have been just as easily referring to the original 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. and subsequent events in Iraq and Afghanistan—and indeed probably wanted to leave people with the impression that he was.
Now the release of official diplomatic cables that were sent in real time as the events in Benghazi unfolded cast doubt on nearly everything the president and his administration has said. From those cables we can see clearly that the U.S. embassy in Tripoli knew what was going on over the nearly seven hours it took for the events of that night to occur. Why didn't Washington? Did the senior national security team fail to inform the president? Or did he just not want to know?
Why is it that there were enough U.S. Navy SEALs nearby to rescue the captain of a cargo ship seized by pirates during the early days of the Obama administration but none to be found when they could have been dropped into Benghazi to extricate Stevens and the other men with him?
These are not questions that can be dismissed as easily as those involving who said what and when during the General Motors bailout or the effort to pass the stimulus package. Benghazi is a much more serious matter, not only because it involves life and death but because it involves whether the American people can trust the president to tell the truth about issues on which, constitutionally, only he can lead.
It also has a direct bearing on future events. If, in the days between now and the election, the United States should undertake a military strike against those deemed responsible for the Benghazi attack, how can anyone be sure that the targeted parties are really the guilty ones? Having been deceitful about the underlying event—as the president was when he went to the United Nations and as his senior officials were as the spoke to the American public on various news programs—how can anyone believe they are telling the truth about any alleged reprisals? Would they be legitimate responses to the murder of Ambassador Stevens or, to revive a phrase from the Clinton era, a case of "wag the dog"? This is not a question the American people should have to consider, at election time or at any other. Unfortunately, thanks to President Obama's deceptive recounting of what happened in Libya initially and for days afterward, they have to.