The general consensus of media pundits is that Obama won Tuesday’s debate, albeit narrowly. Again we are talking about rhetoric and style with only a tangential relationship to substance, i. e. Obama is judged to have thrust and parried a bit better than Romney, and much better than in the first debate where he barely lifted his sword.
As a sports fan, I have to say I’m a little excited about the rubber match to be fought this Monday over the issues of foreign policy. But as a citizen, when I regain my sanity and see clearly the chasm between the pretense and reality, I think I belong in a rubber room. All of us do who find the race exciting, like playing fantasy football. Except it is more our version of the Hunger Games.
The problem with making the Monday debate really interesting is that by most accounts, Romney’s foreign policy is not much different than Obama’s. The primary difference is his asserting he will just handle it all better. And in the process his strategy will be to show how Obama has come up short.
As the patron saint of Wisconsin, Vince Lombardi, put it decades ago: “Winning is not everything; it’s the only thing.” True of football back then in Green Bay; even more true of this presidential election. This morning I heard Chuck Todd, an MSNBC analyst, articulate what we all know. “This campaign is ugly and over the next 18 days it will become uglier.”
It is against this backdrop that the issue of the four American deaths in Libya has become a powerful campaign tool for the Republicans, probably viewed by some fundamentalists as a gift from God. I flicked to FOX news several times yesterday and almost every time they were talking about Libya and what the Obama administration knew when and what they did about it and what they covered up.
Ambassador Chris Stevens father said several days ago that it would be “horrendous” if the death of his son and three other Americans would become politicized. Sorry Mr. Stevens, but this presidential campaign is being fought as if it were to the death, and the death of your son is like blood in the water to Republican sharks. For them, he and the three others make wonderful symbols to contradict the Obama claim that al Queda has been steadily weakened and to show that the Obama team has not done enough to aid the development of democracies in Egypt and Libya (never mind that some other Republicans argue we should have strongly backed Mubarak our long time ally, and a few argue that it was even wrong to help topple Gaddafi as well, who had been our ally of sorts for awhile).
Granted the Obama administration hasn’t handled the news about the Benghazi killings well and their earlier stances about a spontaneous demonstration seem wishful thinking, some cherry picking between different reports. But let’s remember the situation in Benghazi is chaotic (it took three weeks for the FBI to feel it was safe enough to go investigate the consulate) while both campaigns have war rooms looking for every weakness in the “enemy” that they can turn to strategic advantage. The Obama administration was not eager to reveal anything the Republicans could use. Do you think it would have gone down any differently if the roles had been reversed?
Let’s also remember that Republicans like Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz, who feigned outrage at the lack of security have voted several times to reduce the state department’s budget over the years, especially in the area of foreign security. They remind me of the police prefect in that ancient movie Casablanca who was” shocked” to discover gambling taking place at Rick’s casino while someone discreetly hands him his winnings for the day. Though in this case the hypocrisy is not humorous but galling.
What happened and why regarding those deaths in Libya is complex and will take time to sort out, but in the meantime Republicans will make it very simple for all of us: the Obama administration has its head in the sand regarding al Queda and should have protected those Americans, an example of Obama policy failure writ large. (FOX is more than willing to “help” in the sorting with a special investigative report this evening).
Kathleen Parker, somewhat right of center and one of my favorite columnists, offers a much more balanced picture in a recent Washington Post editorial in which she gets to the heart of the real story in Libya: “Stevens went to Benghazi knowing the risks and died in the service of his country, the people of Libya and the greater good. It is tragic, but it is war.”
For now that’s the important point, not to rush to judgement on blame, but how brave our foreign service people can be in chaotic, dangerous situations. They see interacting with the local populace as vital to their work. As such, to be so well protected as is our embassy in Iraq makes the foreign service people feel “incarcerated” as characterized by Daniel Server, a former diplomat. In regards to Ambassador Stevens he has said: “For our diplomats to do things right, it requires taking risks. And Chris Stevens did things right.”
The bravery and commitment of Ambassador Chris Stevens, computer expert Sean Smith and security contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods is what should be focused upon, but don’t expect to see the tragedy play out that way Monday night. If you are going to bother to watch. I’m not.
Those who want to delve more deeply into the complexity of the Benghazi attack should find interest in an article by Dan Murphy in the Christian Science Monitor: Getting in on the Benghazi Blame Game.