Don't Politicize the Libya Terrorist Attack

Families of the victims of the diplomatic murders in Libya are telling President Obama and Mitt Romney not to make the incident a campaign issue.

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Kate Quigley, who says her brother Glen Doherty was among the Americans killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, faces reporters as her husband Mark Quigley, right, looks on in Worburn, Mass., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. Four Americans were killed at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on Tuesday along with U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Heather Hurlburt is the executive director of the National Security Network in Washington, D.C. Heather previously served in the Clinton administration as speechwriter to the president, and as speechwriter and policy planning staff for Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher. Follow her on Twitter at @NatSecHeather.

In case you weren't keeping track, the families of three of the four men killed in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi have now asked politicians to stop talking about them. First, the family of Glen Doherty asked the Romney campaign to stop bringing up a chance meeting between the two a few years back. Then, the mother of Sean Smith accused the White House of "telling lies." Most recently, the father of Ambassador Chris Stevens said it would be "abhorrent to make this into a campaign issue."

Abhorrent is certainly the word for what may be an all-time low in the politicization of the personal: Florida Log Cabin Republicans made an ad with a photo of Stevens's body, criticizing President Barack Obama for "failing to protect gay/gay-friendly Americans"—responding, apparently, to a whisper campaign started in Middle Eastern media about Ambassador Stevens's sexuality.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

The purist in me wants to say, "That's silly. Who cares?" and move on. But let's stop. Has anyone, anywhere, presented a shred of evidence that the ambassador was targeted because of what anyone believed his sexuality to be? No. For that matter, did the ambassador choose to make his sexuality, whatever it was, part of his professional persona? No. Should you be embarrassed to make the claim that the administration specifically failed to protect a gay America on behalf of a candidate who, in your state, declined to criticize a crowd for booing a gay American in uniform, in Afghanistan?

Surely you should.

I don't mean to pick on the Log Cabin Republicans. They got a little—OK a lot—over-enthusiastic. But perhaps their error might offer forces across the political spectrum a chance to reflect.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Middle East.]

Before it was known in Washington that the ambassador and his colleagues had been killed, both the White House and the Romney campaign were frantically spinning away about the inappropriateness of Cairo embassy staff—with some concern for their own safety—having attempted to calm demonstrators with conciliatory tweets about demonstrators' rage at a video from southern California with amateurish production values but professional-grade disrespect for Islam. We've heard endless amounts of outrage that the protests around the video were initially conflated with the terrorist attack in Benghazi. The four men who died went someplace they knew to be dangerous, with security they knew to be inadequate, with no illusions that they could calm or placate their enemies. And for their sacrifice their families will see not an outpouring of American support for the Libyan majority for whom they gave their lives; not an immediate influx of funds for diplomatic security; not even the united and deserved gratitude of the political system they were there to represent us.

National security types like myself love to complain that our issues don't get enough attention in elections. The sufferings of the four families ought to remind us of something my mother always said:  Be careful what you ask for.  

  • Read Daniel J. Gallington: Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, and Obama’s Foreign Policy Failures
  • Read Andrew Natsios: The U.S. Finds Odd Bedfellows in the Arab Spring
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