One of the big, albeit absurd, controversies from the second presidential debate Tuesday night was whether President Obama referred to the Benghazi attack as a “terrorist attack” when he addressed the nation from the White House Rose Garden on September 12th.
I’m not sure why this particular issue seems to be getting such a large amount of attention, but then some people look for dirt no matter where they can find it. In this case, they are claiming Obama lied when he said he referred to it as such from the beginning, arguing instead that it took a few days for the administration to acknowledge it as anything resembling true terrorism.
When Mitt Romney raised that point, CNN’s Candy Crowley, moderator of the debate, did interject that Obama used terrorism terminology when Obama himself disputed Romney’s claim. This, naturally, led conservatives to label Crowley as a puppet for the Obama administration. (But being from CNN, Crowley wasn’t exactly having nice things said about her from conservatives before the debate began, anyway.)
Brietbart called it “the big lie,” disputing the argument that Obama referred to the attack as “terrorism” from the outset. But the site then points out something very curious that seems to make “the big lie” not so dishonest after all.
If you go back and actually read the transcript of Obama’s remarks from the morning of September 12th, you’ll find this:
“Of course, yesterday was already a painful day for our nation as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks. We mourned with the families who were lost on that day. I visited the graves of troops who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery, and had the opportunity to say thank you and visit some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed. And then last night, we learned the news of this attack in Benghazi.
“As Americans, let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it, and in some cases, lay down their lives for it. Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those both civilian and military who represent us around the globe.
“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. And make no mistake, justice will be done.”
Brietbart immediately dismisses the use of the phrase “acts of terror,” which is another way of saying “terrorism”, by suggesting that it was more referring to the attacks of 9/11. But in doing so, it overlooks a basic logic of the English language that all of us take advantage of from time to time: when we refer to a second thing while discussing a first thing, then make a general statement, we are grouping both under the same umbrella statement.
Let’s say that I went to a new restaurant and was explaining how much I enjoyed the food. Then let’s say I refer to another restaurant, completely different from the first one, and mention that great experience. Then, I say, “a good dish of shrimp and grits always makes for a great dinner.” Is it not safe to conclude, logically, that I’ve sampled that same dish in both restaurants? Of course it is.
Logically, there’s no reason for Obama to have invoked the September 11th attacks the way he did at that particular point, then say that no acts of terror will ever defeat America, if he wasn’t suggesting that the Bengazi attack was an act of terror.
That’s not partisanship, that’s not blind devotion to one candidate over another. That’s merely the logic of how our language works.
Did Obama specifically say, “The Benghazi attack was terrorism”? No. Not in so few words. But if you analyzed what he did say, which is exactly what Romney supporters refuse to do, it is clear that he made that connection.
What’s most frustrating about this silly argument, in my mind, is that it so blatantly ignores the bigger, more important issue in favor of petty word games: the fact that security was insufficient to prevent the deaths of four Americans.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has accepted blame for this, but of course Romney’s supporters, many of whom would have been happy to place blame for everything on George W. Bush’s watch on any of his staffers who choose to take it on themselves instead of on their president, refuse to sit still for this, insisting the buck shouldn’t stop with Clinton but with Obama himself.
Regardless, emerging details seem to indicate that the embassy requested additional security, but for whatever reason, that security never materialized. It is easy for anyone to sit back and play Monday morning quarterback by suggesting that additional security would have completely prevented the deaths. Those additional agents may well have been overcome, too.
But the question I think is much more important than what Obama called the incident after the fact is how his administration handled requests for help before the fact.
If you’re going to argue about Benghazi, that’s the argument that’s actually worth having.