The foreign-policy focus of tonight’s third and final presidential debate gives Governor Mitt Romney a perfect opportunity to hammer President Barack Obama on what should be his biggest vulnerability in Benghazigate. Obama might be able to blame “the fog of war” for his actions before and during the deadly attack on America’s consulate in that Libyan city. For two days after the assault, however, Obama behaved unforgivably — and he cannot point fingers at anyone but himself.
Neither on Wednesday, September 12, nor Thursday, September 13, did Obama hold an in-person meeting to discuss Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) to discuss threats to U.S. national security. According to the official White House schedule and the reporting of Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen, not until 9:25 a.m. on Friday, September 14 — three days after the Benghazi mayhem — did Obama join Vice President Biden in the Oval Office for that day’s PDB.
In the week before the attack, Obama did not attend a PDB between Wednesday, September 5, and the killings on Tuesday, September 11. Thus, during that time, Obama failed to meet with high-level intelligence and security experts, learn the latest risks that our enemies have created, ask questions, and offer feedback on these pivotal matters.
In his defense, the White House claims that Obama often reads his PDBs. However, examining binders full of documents and skipping verbal briefings 56 percent of the time — as Obama did between his inauguration and May 31, 2012, according to Thiessen and the conservative Government Accountability Institute – deprives him of the give and take inherent in such interactive sessions.
#more#After redacting sensitive information, the White House should release the portions of that week’s PDBs that address Libya. Was Obama told about Benghazi’s mounting dangers? Was Obama alerted that al-Qaeda flags flew over government buildings there? Did Obama know that the British diplomatic corps and even the Red Cross had exited Benghazi due to growing violence? Was Obama informed of the late ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’s pleas for more safety personnel, even after two security teams were withdrawn from Benghazi not long before the attack — presumably to make the Libyan government feel more comfortable?
Even if one assumes that Obama fully mastered the contents of his PDB binders before the attack, it is unfathomable that he did not sit down with security staffers for his PDBs after Stevens was murdered, along with foreign service officer Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
Thiessen’s findings in the Washington Post indicate that Obama’s PDB meeting was scheduled for the morning of Wednesday, September 12. However, he postponed it in order to address shocked and distraught personnel at the State Department at 10:50 a.m. This was the perfectly correct thing to do.
However, Obama did not re-schedule his PDB meeting, which he could have squeezed in before departing for Andrews Air Force Base at 2:05 p.m. Had he picked the brains of top officials from the CIA, Pentagon, and other national-security entities, he might have asked:
• Who killed our people?
• Was this perpetrated by a video-fueled mob or a well-prepared band of terrorists?
• Was this a one-off attack, or should American diplomats elsewhere expect similar bloodshed?
• What are America’s options for responding to this carnage?
• What else should the President of the United States know?
Rather than focus like a steel-cutting laser on these life-and-death matters, Obama instead flew to a campaign rally in Las Vegas.
Speaking at the Cashman Center at 6:03 p.m. local time, Obama started by telling supporters “a few words about a tough day that we had today.” He continued: “We lost four Americans last night, who were killed when they were attacked at a diplomatic post in Libya. . . . And as Americans, we stand united — all of us — in gratitude for their service, and we are mindful of their sacrifice, and we want to send out heartfelt prayers to their loved ones who grieve today.”
Fine words from America’s leader.
But, within moments, Obama sprang back into divisive, partisan, class-warfare-attack mode.
“Now,” as the White House’s official transcript says Obama began, “because Nevada is a battleground state, you are aware that we’ve got an election going on. [Applause.] . . . unless you’ve accidentally stumbled in here looking for a convention of podiatrists — [laughter].” Obama added: “I refuse to ask middle-class families like yours to pay more [in taxes] so that millionaires and billionaires can pay less. [Applause] . . . I refuse to kick children out of Head Start programs or eliminate health insurance for millions of Americans who are poor or elderly or disabled just so those with the most can pay less.”
The president flew that evening to Colorado.
The next morning, Thursday, September 13, Obama again blew off his PDB. He could have used that occasion to ask America’s sharpest policy experts:
• Are we any closer to catching the bad guys?
• What else can we do to protect the good guys?
• Are our enemies overseas plotting any follow-on actions here at home?
Instead, Obama led yet another campaign rally, this time at Golden, Colo.’s Lions Park.
“I don’t know how you guys get any work done around here,” Obama chuckled with the audience at 11:03 a.m. Mountain time. “I notice there’s kind of like a water slide in there — I wanted to try it out, but — [laughter] — Secret Service said no. [Laughter.]”
Indeed, Lions Park includes The Splash at Fossil Trace, an aquatic facility with lap pools, spray fountains, and water slides. While The Splash had closed for the season, America’s commander in chief should not have been within a half-hour drive of such frivolity while four American public servants flew home in caskets after being assassinated by al-Qaeda — Stevens being the first U.S. ambassador killed since 1979.
Nonetheless, Obama saluted these men early in his statement:
Yesterday I had a chance to go over to the State Department to talk to friends and colleagues of those who were killed,” Obama said. “And these were Americans who, like so many others, both in uniform and civilians, who serve in difficult and dangerous places all around the world to advance the interests and the values that we hold dear as Americans.
But, yet again, Obama shifted into campaign mode:
Over the past few weeks, Colorado, you’ve been offered two very different paths for our future,” Obama declared. “You’ve seen their convention, you’ve seen ours, and now you face one big choice.” Obama proceeded: “I don’t think the best answer for today’s new challenges are [sic] the same old sales pitches. And frankly, that’s what you heard mostly in Tampa . . . Tax cuts in good times. Tax cuts in bad times. Tax cuts when we’re at peace. Tax cuts when we’re at war. You need to make a restaurant reservation, you don’t need the new iPhone — here’s a tax cut for that. (Laughter.) You want to learn a new language? Try a tax cut. Tax cut to lose a few extra pounds. (Laughter.)
Ironically, Obama would have done himself and his campaign the most good if he had remembered this: Good policy is good politics.
Rather than squeeze laughs out of his fans in a Colorado park, Obama should have spent a couple of days off of the campaign trail at the White House.
Imagine the reaction if Obama had said,
At this critical hour, with American embassies ablaze in the Middle East, and four treasured public servants coming home for burial, I will take a pause from the campaign trail to consult my top aides at the CIA, FBI, NSA, and Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security. We will get to the bottom of this carnage and launch the hunt for the perpetrators of this brutality. Trust me. They will pay for their bloodthirsty atrocities against these fine men and the nation that they represented. Anyone who plots against the United States of America should understand that we will use the world’s sharpest and most sensitive eyes and ears to track your every move, and respond accordingly.
Such maturity and single-mindedness would have been exactly what the president of the United States should have displayed at that time. Witnessing such behavior, Americans would have rallied proudly around our commander-in-chief. Obama’s poll numbers would have climbed — and justifiably so.
Instead, as the Doherty, Smith, Stevens, and Woods families mourned, Islamic extremists torched American embassies, and the whole world watched in disappointment, an unbriefed Barack Obama straddled the Rockies and joked about water slides.