Count me as irritable on the subject, but President Obama’s imperious habit of suggesting that American diplomats work for him is offensive to democratic sensibilities.
In the second presidential debate last fall, when the Benghazi matter came up, the president responded: “Well, let me . . . talk about our diplomats, because they serve all around the world and do an incredible job in a very dangerous situation. And these aren’t just representatives of the United States; they’re my representatives. I send them there, oftentimes into harm’s way. I know these folks, and I know their families. So nobody’s more concerned about their safety and security than I am.” (I wish Candy Crowley had asked what the names of the four dead Americans were. But, as we discovered, she had other plans that night.)
Last week, during a press conference, the president again described the murdered Americans as “people I sent into the field.” White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer, emphasizing the president’s deep concern, noted that “this is a horrible tragedy, people that he sent abroad whose lives are in risk, people who work for him.”
No. Ambassadors and other officers of the Foreign Service represent the United States of America. They are not the personal envoys of Barack H. Obama. British ambassadors technically represent the Queen of England. The Saudi ambassador to the U.S. is the personal representative of the King. Memo to the White House: We are not a monarchy.
The president invites us to conclude that his “my diplomats” language is proof of his passionate concern for their welfare. But there’s more than a whiff of protesting too much in the president’s comments and those of his spokesman. Pfeiffer went so far as to label questions about what the president did on the night of September 11, 2012, as “offensive.” Bristling at a question from Chris Wallace about whether the president was in the Situation Room that night, Pfeiffer huffed, “The assertions from Republicans that the president didn’t take action is offensive.” When Wallace persisted with “I’m simply asking a question: Where was he? What did he do? How did he respond . . . ?” Pfeiffer could say only that “the president was in the White House that day, kept up to date by his national-security team, spoke to the Joint Chiefs of Staff earlier, secretary of state, and as events unfolded he was kept up to date.”
Taking offense, or pretending to, is a favorite tactic of this White House, but let’s understand it for what it is — a combination of bullying and evading responsibility.
President Obama has showered us with virtually minute-by-minute descriptions of his activities on the night Osama bin Laden was killed. We’ve been vouchsafed photos of the national-security team watching events in real time. The president used the word “I,” “me,” or “my” twelve times in a 1,300-word speech. But to ask how the president conducted himself on the night of September 11 crosses a line?
According to testimony from Leon Panetta, following a previously scheduled 5 p.m. meeting at which Benghazi was mentioned, the president did not speak again to his secretary of defense or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the attacks on the consulate and then later the annex unfolded. The following morning, the president jetted off to a fundraiser in Las Vegas.
Pfeiffer asserts that it’s false and offensive to say that the president took no action, but the secretary of defense acknowledged as much. In October 2012, Leon Panetta explained that while “we quickly responded” with ships, FAST teams, and forces to the region as soon as the attack was reported and were “prepared to respond to any contingency,” they did not act because there was a principle at stake: “You don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on.” (This explanation was later contradicted.)
Is that really a U.S.-military principle? It’s one thing to say that, in the absence of hostilities, initiating military action should be undertaken only after a full evaluation of all options. But when Americans are under attack, shouldn’t the cavalry come over the hill if they possibly can?
Certainly that’s how Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty saw things. Completely outnumbered and outgunned, they nonetheless ran to the consulate and annex to man whatever guns they could lay hands on and attempt to defend their fellow Americans. They gave their lives doing so. The Obama administration gave nothing — not even the truth.
— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2013 Creators Syndicate, Inc.