With Halloween nearly upon us, for tomorrow’s debate, Romney should dress as ‘The Count.’ He’s an aristocrat with a huge mouth obsessed with meaningless numbers. And The Count is a Muppet. But unlike the oddly charming Count, Romney’s vampire campaign has been sucking blood from four dead American diplomats for well over a month. Just as the Bush Administration, beleaguered by a questionable election, built its legitimacy on the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center, Romney/Ryan, undermined by their total absence of foreign policy credentials, sought to build Romney’s floundering campaign on a foundation of four brave Americans’ graves.
As we know from the first two debates, Romney will seek to break the sound barrier of lies per hour in the debate tomorrow. He took a beating on Benghazi in the last debate. It might be strategically wise for him to avoid it, but he has nothing else to rely on and Obama can run rings around him on foreign policy generally. The moderator also could pull the pin from Benghazi and toss it in his lap to see what happens. So if Benghazi features prominently in the debate tomorrow (which I will be live-blogging), Americans should understand the facts.
First of all, attacks on US embassies are at the lowest rate in decades.
According to Fareed Zakaria, the roots of the right’s criticism of Obama’s foreign policy is that America should be supporting dictators in the Middle East, not Islamic democracy. But there is a major intellectual schism even on the right over this issue. Two things. First, when a giant redwood tree of liberty erupted suddenly from the streets of Cairo last year, we had no choice but to support it. The US president could have been the zombie of Niccolo Machiavelli and he still would have supported the uprising. To back Mubarak against his people in that situation would have catalyzed Arab opinion against the US generally and the stark discrepancy between word and deed about our aspirations for freedom would have caused a broad, debilitating rift within American political life. Second, a word to the wise: American support for dictators in the Middle East is why ‘they’ ‘hate’ ‘us.’ Bin Laden frequently said that his radicalism stemmed largely from American support for the Saudi kingdom. The 1979 Iranian revolution and hostage crisis was a popular backlash against America’s puppet dictator, the Shah. Saying you support dictatorship in the Middle East is the same as saying you support fueling terrorism.
But ultimately, there’s nothing particularly intellectual about Romney’s attack on the attack on Benghazi. In the same video as Romney’s infamous 47% speech in May, one of his secret millionaire donors asks him what he would do about foreign policy. Romney mentions the Iranian hostage crisis, the fact that American helicopters crashed in the failed rescue effort, and he says gleefully,
“by the way, if something of that nature presents itself, I will work to find a way to take advantage of the opportunity.”
So, Mitt Romney was keeping his fingers crossed all along that Americans would donate to his campaign by getting killed overseas. That’s why, as Ambassador Stevens was being murdered, Romney gave a speech criticizing him for being a coward and Obama for sympathizing with the attackers. That’s why, as he concluded his speech attacking American servants who were being murdered, Romney turned away from the podium, smirking.
The problem with his line of attack, though, is that no one has ever stooped this low before. If he thinks Republicans took advantage of the Marine One disaster in April, 1980, Romney is sorely mistaken. Reagan and Bush Sr. were tussling for the GOP nomination while Ted Kennedy was challenging Carter from the left when the rescue effort failed. The Washington Post reports
Carter’s presidential rivals were charitable. Republican George Bush supported the president’s actions without reservation. Ronald Reagan and Edward Kennedy offered sympathy to the families of the dead troopers and called for national “unity.”
Bush was most outspoken, saying, “I unequivocally support the president — no ifs, ands or buts. . . . He made a difficult, courageous decision.”
In strikingly similar formal statements, which they declined to amplify, Reagan and Kennedy expressed sympathy for the family of the eight men killed in the rescue effort, and pledged to preserve “national unity” in the cause of the hostages’ release.
Before breaking off his Michigan campaigning to return to Washington, Kennedy said, “I share the feeling of all Americans at this sad moment for our country. . . . Whatever our other differences, we are one nation in our commitment to the hostages, our concern for their families, and our sorrow for the brave men who gave their lives trying to rescue their fellow citizens.”
A few hours later, Reagan told a Los Angeles press conference, “This is a difficult day for all of us Americans. . . . It is time for us . . . to stand united. It is a day for quiet reflection . . . when words should be few and confined essentially to our prayers.”
Reagan, Bush and Kennedy sought national unity in the face of tragedy. They did not seek political advantage because they knew that their country is more important than their party. They knew that what was good for the American people was more important than what was good for their campaigns. They knew that they could not possibly hope to lead the country after dancing on American’s graves. They were not sadistic smirking sociopaths.
Romney’s attack on murdered Americans belies his ignorance of how the budget interacts with national security. The Administration makes executive decisions about how to allocate resources. But Congress determines how much resources the White House has to allocate. If Romney understood the Constitution, he would know that Congress holds the purse strings. And Congress has left the president with precious little for embassy security since the Tea Party galumphed into the House in 2010.
Utah Republican House Rep. Jason Chaffetz blathered on and on to CNN’s Soledad O’Brien about how it’s Obama’s fault that the Benghazi consulate didn’t have enough security. She then asks him,
“Is it true that you voted to cut the funding for embassy security?”
To which he responds,
“Oh, absolutely. Look, we have to make priorities and choices in this country.”
He continues droning on, apparently oblivious to his own staggering degree of cognitive dissonance.
In each of the last two years, Congress has cut President Obama’s request for U.S. Foreign Service and U.S. Agency for International Development staffing levels despite repeated analysis by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, indicating that our embassies are critically understaffed.
But even more inexcusable are the repeated and deep cuts made to embassy security and construction. Thousands of our diplomatic personnel are serving overseas in facilities that do not come close to meeting the minimal requirements for security established by the so-called Inman commission’s report on overseas diplomatic security to President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state more than two decades ago.
Nor is it likely to change anytime soon. In the 2011 continuing resolution, Congress, at the insistence of the House of Representatives, slashed the president’s request for embassy security and construction and forced another cut in fiscal year 2012. Altogether Congress has eliminated $296 million from embassy security and construction in the last two years with additional cuts in other State Department security accounts.
Sequestration required under the Budget Control Act of 2011 will take more than $100 million more out of the program in 2013 if the current Congress does not overcome the impasse over budget cuts and tax revenues by yearend. Those cuts are largely the result of the draconian and unrealistically low budget caps placed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) on all discretionary spending, falling particularly hard on the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee with responsibility for embassy security.
All told, Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan and the House GOP have cut nearly a third of the overall budget for embassy security worldwide.
The new government in Libya also made it clear that they didn’t want any private contractors providing security in their country. This was largely because of Blackwater’s massacres of civilians in Iraq. As a sovereign nation we have to respect their decision.
The House GOP slashed embassy security, Bush’s foreign policy took private contractors off the table. So who picked up the slack?
After Romney’s attack on Benghazi flopped, the House GOP tried to help him out. Darrell Issa, who famously held a congressional hearing on women’s healthcare that included no women, held a hearing on the Benghazi attack. Dana Milbank writes at the Washington Post that while Republicans grilled State Department officials,
One of the State Department security officials was forced to acknowledge that “not necessarily all of the security people” at the Benghazi compounds “fell under my direct operational control.”
And whose control might they have fallen under? Well, presumably it’s the “other government agency” or “other government entity” the lawmakers and witnesses referred to; Issa informed the public that this agency was not the FBI.
“Other government agency,” or “OGA,” is a common euphemism in Washington for the CIA. This “other government agency,” the lawmakers’ questioning further revealed, was in possession of a video of the attack but wasn’t releasing it because it was undergoing “an investigative process.”
Or maybe they were referring to the Department of Agriculture.
That the Benghazi compound had included a large CIA presence had been reported but not confirmed. The New York Times, for example, had reported that among those evacuated were “about a dozen CIA operatives and contractors.” The paper, like The Washington Post, withheld locations and details of the facilities at the administration’s request.
But on Wednesday, the withholding was on hold.
The Republican lawmakers, in their outbursts, alternated between scolding the State Department officials for hiding behind classified material and blaming them for disclosing information that should have been classified. But the lawmakers created the situation by ordering a public hearing on a matter that belonged behind closed doors.
Republicans were aiming to embarrass the Obama administration over State Department security lapses. But they inadvertently caused a different picture to emerge than the one that has been publicly known: that the victims may have been let down not by the State Department but by the CIA. If the CIA was playing such a major role in these events, which was the unmistakable impression left by Wednesday’s hearing, having a televised probe of the matter was absurd.
The chairman, attempting to close his can of worms, finally suggested that “the entire committee have a classified briefing as to any and all other assets that were not drawn upon but could have been drawn upon” in Benghazi.
Good idea. Too bad he didn’t think of that before putting the CIA on C-SPAN.
In an effort to score political points, House Republicans potentially jeopardized American lives, and an American intelligence mission. Because of the GOP’s crusade to cut everything but their salaries from the budget, the White House had to use the CIA to pick up the slack on embassy security. The White House can’t go into a lot of detail for the obvious reason that they can’t expose American secret agents. The GOP knows this, and is attacking Obama over an issue on which they know he has to keep mum to protect Americans serving their country. The GOP is playing a perverse game of political poker with national security and American lives are the chips.
Earlier this year, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann and other GOP House Reps launched a neo-McCarthyite witch hunt of supposed Islamic fundamentalists in the Administration. They were quickly sent packing by John McCain. While such witch hunts are absurd, if one were inclined to wear a tinfoil hat, one might wonder where the loyalties of Darrell Issa and the House GOP lie, after they decided to make the whereabouts of a CIA safe-house a matter of public record. There is probably some al Qaeda lackey cuddling a Kalashnikov in a tent somewhere in the Libyan desert, watching C-Span on a black-and-white TV hooked up to a generator, crying out, “Darrrrell Issa be praised, for make great jihad!”
The bottom line is, terrorists took advantage of a protest at the consulate. When the White House speaks about protests and about terrorism, it is not a contradiction, both are true. The CIA has supported this all along, and does not support the GOP’s story. The Crux of Romney’s argument is that the CIA should have had a clear picture of what happened instantly and Obama should be updating the country with classified information at the speed of Charlie Sheen’s Twitter feed. Obama can’t divulge tons of detail immediately while there is an ongoing investigation and while American lives are at stake.
In the last debate, Romney tried to pin Obama on whether or not he had called the attack an act of terror the following day. Romney’s debate strategy failed, possibly because he is living in a rightwing media bubble, and now the Romney campaign, surrogates and rightwing media are saying Obama lied because he said that he said “an act of terror” but really he said “acts of terror.”
The difference, which Paul Ryan (while turning his forehead into a cheese grater) claims “unravels” Obama’s foreign policy, is the letter S. The letter S stands for semantics, splitting and smallest, as in the Romney campaign is trying to split the world’s smallest hair. While they still can, Sesame Street should run a segment with pictures of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Romney and sing to the kids, “one of these things is not like the other ones, one of these things does not belong.” Big Bird should tell the kids a story that begins, once upon a time Republicans had a magical power called basic decency…
This episode has been brought to you by the letter S and the number 1040. Ahh! Ahh! Ahh!