The Cable

Obama no longer saying al Qaeda is ‘on its heels’

During Tuesday's debate, President Barack Obama tempered his claims about U.S. success in fighting al Qaeda, jettisoning his oft-repeated campaign-trail claim that the terrorist organization is "on its heels."

"I said that I'd end the war in Iraq, and I did. I said we'd refocus attention on those who actually attacked us on 9/11, and we have gone after Al Qaeda's leadership like never before and Osama bin Laden is dead," Obama said during his second debate with Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

That paragraph is part of Obama's regular stump speech, and he made nearly identical remarks at two campaign stops last week. But in those previous instances, Obama said that al Qaeda was "on its heels," a claim he didn't repeat in front of Tuesday night's national audience.

"Four years ago, I made a few commitments to you. I told you I'd end the war in Iraq, and I did. I said I'd end the war in Afghanistan, and we are. I said we'd refocus on the people who actually attacked us on 9/11 -- and today, al Qaeda is on its heels and Osama bin Laden is no more," he said in a campaign stop in San Francisco on Oct. 9.

Two days later, in another campaign stop in Miami, Obama said nearly the same thing.

"Four years ago, I told you we'd end the war in Iraq -- and we did. I said that we'd end the war in Afghanistan -- and we are. I said that we'd refocus on the people who actually attacked us on 9/11 -- and today, al Qaeda is on its heels and Osama bin Laden is dead," he said.

The attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi on 9/11 was reportedly the work of the extremist group Ansar al-Sharia, which is thought to have ties to al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM).

This month, the White House has been slowly but surely adding qualifications to its claims of progress in destroying al Qaeda, which has seen its ranks in North Africa increase recently.

For example, on Sept. 19 White House spokesman Jay Carney said that Obama's strategy in Afghanistan has "allowed us to take the fight to al Qaeda in the region in a way that we had not been able to before; that led to the decimation of al Qaeda's leadership."

By Oct. 10, after reports emerged tying al Qaeda links the Benghazi attack, Carney was specifying that al Qaeda "central" was hurting in two specific countries.

"Well, what we have said all along, what the president has said all along, is that ... progress has been made in decimating the senior ranks of al Qaeda and in decimating al Qaeda central in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region," adding that al Qaeda "remains our No. 1 foe."

Carney repeated his qualification that al Qaeda is hurting in Southwest Asia, but not necessarily in North Africa, two days later.

"[Obama] has made clear that he would refocus attention on what was a neglected war in Afghanistan, refocus our mission on al Qaeda, and decimating al Qaeda's leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- he has," Carney said Oct. 12.

In his debate Oct. 11, Vice President Joe Biden also declined to say that al Qaeda was completely decimated or on its heels during his debate with Rep. Paul Ryan.

"The fact is we went [to Afghanistan] for one reason: to get those people who killed Americans -- al Qaeda," Biden said "We decimated al Qaeda central; we have eliminated Osama bin Laden. That was our purpose."

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

Obama did call Benghazi attack an 'act of terror' - in Colorado

President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney sparred over whether Obama called the Sept. 11 murder of four Americans in Benghazi a "terrorist" attack. In fact, Obama did refer to the attack as an "act of terror," but he did not do so directly in the Rose Garden the next day.

Romney said during Tuesday night's debate that it took 14 days for Obama to acknowledge that the attack was a terrorist attack, while Obama and CNN's Candy Crowley agreed that Obama said so Sept. 12 in remarks in the Rose Garden. In those remarks, journalists noticed, he did not explicitly refer to the Benghazi attack as an "act of terror," though he did use those words.

"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," he said.

Commentary's interpretation was that he made that he was referring to the original 9/11 attacks, not the Benghazi attack the day before.

"'Acts of terror' could have just as easily been a reference to that. Or maybe it wasn't a direct reference to anything, just a generic, reassuring line he'd added into a speech which did take place, after all, the day after the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks," blogger Alana Goodman wrote.

But on Sept. 13, at a campaign event in Colorado, Obama again used the phrase "act of terror" and this time tied it directly to the Benghazi attack.

"So what I want all of you to know is that we are going to bring those who killed our fellow Americans to justice. I want people around the world to hear me: To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished. It will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America," he said.

Romney countered by saying that the Obama administration took too long to acknowledge that there were no protests outside the Benghazi mission before the attack and referred to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's Sept. 16 comments claiming that according to the best information at the time, the attack was "spontaneous" and a reaction to an anti-Islam video.

For the first time, Obama said he bears ultimate responsibility for the Benghazi attack, and again promised to bring the attackers to justice.

In one of the most drama-filled moments of the debate, the president said that Romney's statements during and immediately after the attack amounted to a politicization of the issue and he said he found Romney's suggestion that administration officials might have misled Americans about the attack "offensive."

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images