Oct 28, 2012

No, Mr. President. Benghazi Is an Election Issue

Denny BurkBy Denny Burk

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A local reporter in Denver, Colorado did not get the memo that he was supposed to give President Obama a pass on the Benghazi issue. In a recent interview with the President, the reporter pressed the President to account for the failure to send help to the Americans who died in Benghazi.

The President’s answers were at best evasive. Not only does the President refuse to answer the question, he tells the reporter that his question is irrelevant:

KYLE CLARK: "Were the Americans under attack at the consulate in Benghazi Libya denied requests for help during that attack? And is it fair to tell Americans that what happened is under investigation and we’ll all find out after the election?"

PRESIDENT OBAMA: "Well, the election has nothing to do with four brave Americans getting killed and us wanting to find out exactly what happened. These are folks who served under me who I had sent to some very dangerous places. Nobody wants to find out more what happened than I do…

The evasion is bad enough. That the President thinks that "Americans getting killed" has nothing to do with the election is even worse. Is it really the President’s place to tell the American people that the most significant foreign policy failure on his watch has nothing to do with the election?

After the President refuses to answer the question, the reporter presses him again, "Were they denied requests for help during the attack?" Again, the President refuses to answer.

Media Malpractice

If this were a Republican president giving evasive answers to questions about attacks that killed four Americans, the national media would have been in full apoplexy weeks ago. The story would be on the front page of every newspaper and leading every newscast until it was resolved. No such evasion would be accepted but would be treated as prima facie evidence of a cover-up. But because the President is the chosen one, the media simply accept his answer that this is not an election issue, and they tell us, "Move along, nothing to see here."

How can this be? Are voters really accepting this line? Shouldn’t we expect more from our President and from the media who cover him?

Here’s what we know. The administration has changed its story numerous times. We now know that the White House and the State Department knew about the attacks as they were happening and that our men were denied requests for military support. In spite of all of this, our national media is now telling us, "Nothing to see here, move along. Maybe we’ll check in on this after the election." The time to check in on this is right now. How come the country is not paying attention?

I agree with Bob Woodward that the President needs to appoint an independent counsel to investigate what happened. An internal inquiry will not do. These kinds of investigations take time, and we certainly don’t expect one before the election is over. Nevertheless, we do expect the President to answer what questions he can right now.

10 Questions

Bill Kristol has put together a list of 10 questions that the President can and should answer immediately. If there were no other issues in this campaign, a failure to answer these questions would alone be grounds to deny the President a second term. It’s that serious.

Here are the questions that any reporter worth his salt should be pressing upon the President over the next week:

  1. To whom did the president give the first of his "three very clear directives"—that is, "make sure that we are securing our personnel and doing whatever we need to?"
  2. How did he transmit this directive to the military and other agencies?
  3. During the time when Americans were under attack, did the president convene a formal or informal meeting of his national security council? Did the president go to the situation room?
  4. During this time, with which members of the national security team did the president speak directly?
  5. Did Obama speak by phone or teleconference with the combatant commanders who would have sent assistance to the men under attack?
  6. Did he speak with CIA director David Petraeus?
  7. Was the president made aware of the repeated requests for assistance from the men under attack? When and by whom?
  8. Did he issue any directives in response to these requests?
  9. Did the president refuse to authorize an armed drone strike on the attackers?
  10. Did the president refuse to authorize a AC-130 or MC-130 to enter Libyan airspace during the attack?

If the President doesn’t want the Benghazi attacks to be politicized, then he should stop politicizing them and answer the questions. The father of one of the slain Navy Seals is demanding to know "who it was that gave that command—do not rescue them." We join him in waiting for the answer.