When Obama said, "Check the transcript," during last night’s presidential debate, it could have been the big line of the evening, but that will depend on whether Romney or his surrogates use it to advantage. The consensus is that Obama got the better of Romney last night, if only because he actually showed up this time, which was viewed as an infinite improvement over his previous performance. Nevertheless, Obama's imperative to "check the transcript" viz. the Libya 9/11 attack and subsequent cover-up is a potential opening that may make Obama's victory last night a Pyrrhic one.
When you check old transcripts, sometimes you come up with inconvenient quotes. For example, the Weekly Standard notes that Hillary Clinton once said, "The buck stops in the Oval Office" which conflicts with her statement yesterday that responsibility for the security lapses in Benghazi is hers alone. Another example, in the VP debate there was this exchange:
MS. RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on for weeks?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because that's exactly what we were told —
MS. RADDATZ: By who?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: — by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment.
If Biden was being truthful, then Obama didn't know on September 12 that the Libya attack was an act of terrorism and yet Obama claimed last night that he did know and that in his Rose Garden remarks, he said as much. Well, Mr. President, let's follow your advice to check the transcript on that (emphasis added):
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.
But we also know that the lives these Americans led stand in stark contrast to those of their attackers. These four Americans stood up for freedom and human dignity. They should give every American great pride in the country that they served, and the hope that our flag represents to people around the globe who also yearn to live in freedom and with dignity.
The only mention of terror was a banal generality in his closing statement. Worse still, the statement is false. In the very same speech he criticized an American citizen for exercising his freedom and the right to free speech which is one of the "values that we stand for." That citizen is now in jail on trumped-up charges of violating probation for an entirely unrelated matter. So in fact, an act of terror did alter the character of this great nation. We now put citizens in jail for purely political reasons. That's something they do in Venezuela or Cuba or Iran before an "election." Not in America.
Furthermore, the quote that was reported at the time was when the President said, "We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others." That was the storyline that the Obama Administration was pushing with their liberal media allies, not the terror angle.
Ironically, Candy Crowley speaking to the CNN post-debate panel said that the moderator was incorrect when she supported the President's "check the transcript" line. Unfortunately the moderator happened to be herself. More puzzlingly still, Crowley also made statements on the record that directly rebut Obama's and her own assertion that the administration immediately recognized that Libya was a terror attack. At the time she said, “There's a back and forth now about why didn't this administration -- why did it take them until Friday after a [Tuesday] September 11th attack in Libya to come to the conclusion that it was premeditated and that there was terrorists involved."
Even then, Crowley was being very generous. Even on September 25th, terrorism in reference to Libya was still that-which-must-not-be-named for the President. The Prolix Patriot wrote in these pages several weeks ago about the President’s UN speech:
Just as with the Tucson massacre, the motives of the killers in Libya are very clear. This was not a "protest" against an amateur video. This was an act of pure slaughter in violation of every precept of international law and diplomacy. Despite this, and even though leaders in the intelligence community, the Secretary of State, and his own Press Secretary have all admitted that it was a premeditated and overt act of terror aimed directly at the United States, the President only mentioned the word "terrorism" once in his address—and not even in reference to the violence in Libya.
The most memorable line from that speech was, "The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam." Even weeks after the attack, the President was still hanging--nay clinging--to the video protest story, even when it was thoroughly discredited by everyone around him.
There are also other clips out there, for example the President equivocating about the nature of the Libya attack while being interviewed on "The View." [N.B., it's a sad state of affairs in journalism today when the pack of liberal harpies on "The View" are tougher on the President than the moderator of a nationally-televised debate.]
Out of all of this, we have two potential explanations. Either the President knew it was a terrorist attack and deliberately mislead the American people for weeks until the lie started to unravel, or he genuinely did not know even when everyone around him had already admitted it. Both are disturbing prospects. Worse still, given Obama's aloofness from foreign affairs, both are entirely plausible.
Unfortunately, most people in this country are not following the Libya story--which is a shame, because it has very real consequences for the security of our country. Nevertheless, the economy is still the number one issue of this election, and in that area, Romney completely dominated the President last night.
Regardless of whether Romney made an unforced error or cleverly flushed Obama out into the open, it may not even matter. The real question is whether Romney sees this as a potential opening and decides to capitalize on it, or decides to just stay focused on the economy and jobs and let the Libya story fester inside the beltway until it starts to really stink.
That said, foreign policy really should be more of an issue in this election. As a friend observed during the debate, the President has many powers, but he is not able to repeal the laws of supply and demand. Even though the economy stinks, the President can only do so much about it, whereas on foreign policy, the President literally has a sworn obligation to protect the American people.
We live in an increasingly dangerous world. Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and others are up to no good. Al Qaeda is rebuilding across the Muslim world. Piracy is still a threat to our shipping off the Horn of Africa and in the Straits of Malacca. The Drug Wars in Mexico continue to spill over into border towns and even deep into the country to places as far north as Denver and Detroit.
The President's handling of the Libya attack can best be described as a fiasco. Instead of just admitting that we were unprepared, this whole cover-up demonstrates that politics no longer stops at the water’s edge, especially when foreign events are inconvenient to the President's political fortunes and aspirations. The last four years under this President have been dark and perilous times. We should recoil in sheer horror when we even begin to imagine what another four years would look like.