The Corner

Axelrod Misleads on Libya Reaction, McCain Goes on Offensive

On CNN’s State of the Union this morning, David Axelrod was immediately asked to explain the Obama administration’s reaction to the September 11 attack in Benghazi, and offered a curious explanation. Within the past couple days, the U.S. intelligence community and the Obama administration have admitted that their reading of the attacks as a spontaneous outgrowth of riots was incorrect, and that they now saw it as a pre-meditated act of terror.

But wait — according to Axelrod, Obama knew this all along. He launched his defense of Obama by saying, “First of all, the president called it an act of terror the day after it happened.” But unfortunately, he didn’t: The president made two statements on September 12, neither of which calls the Benghazi attack per se an “act of terror.” In one, the closest he came to such a claim was:

No act of terror will dim the light of the values that we proudly shine on the rest of the world, and no act of violence will shake the resolve of the United States of America.

Later in the day, he had this to say:

No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America.  We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act.

Contra Axelrod’s claim, the president seems to have taken specific pains at the time not to call the event an act of terror while still supplying some strong rhetoric. The U.S. government’s definition of terrorism requires pre-meditation (a fact with which the president should be familiar), and at the time, the Obama administration was claiming the attack was spontaneous, so one assumes that, indeed, Obama was not at the time trying to specify that it was a terror attack. (Further, some sources have now told Fox News that the administration actually knew within 24 hours that the attack was terrorism.)

He also defended Obama’s representatives, including Ambassador Susan Rice, saying that “she was acting on the intelligence that was given to her by the intelligence community.” As McCain suggested earlier in the program (see below), such an assessment would seem to suggest either politically motivated eagerness to downplay the attacks, or just a lack of perspective when the statements were made, but Axelrod claimed that the Obama administration statements about “what we knew at the time” compared favorably with Mitt Romney’s, since “we don’t need an administration that shoots first and asks questions later.” 

Host Candy Crowley then asked, “But is that what happened? Didn’t the administration shoot first?” In response, Axelrod claimed, “That’s exactly what you should do. That’s the responsible thing to do” — the responsible choice for the president, apparently, is to provide the few facts available as if they are confidently known, so long as they’re politically convenient.

Earlier in the program, John McCain eagerly attacked the Obama administration, explaining that he felt the claim that the Libya attack was not pre-meditated reflected “either willful ignorance or abysmal lack of knowledge of the facts.” He tended to favor the former explanation, attributing it to “politics,” and suggesting that Obama “is the one who’s taking a cheap political shot.” He also eagerly attacked the Obama administration for its inaction on Syria, where he said “I think America should lead, not follow,” and Afghanistan, where he says “the president has consistently ignored his military advisers,” leading to last week’s attack on a Kandahar air base that destroyed six U.S. jets, which McCain called the “greatest damage” (presumably in terms of equipment) for an American force “since the Tet Offensive.”




Patrick Brennan was a senior communications official at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Trump administration and is former opinion editor of National Review Online.


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