Obama and his administration did not only mislead the American people, they
misled themselves on what happened the night of Sept. 11 in Benghazi, a top
Romney foreign-policy advisor told The
Cable ahead of Monday night's debate.
Regardless of whether or not Obama called the events
in Benghazi an "act
of terror" in the days following the attack, Mitt Romney does not believe the
administration's insistence that the attack was related to an anti-Islam video
was based solely on reports
from the intelligence community, Romney advisor and
former National Security Council official
Eliot Cohen said in an interview.
"This notion that this was all because the
intelligence community gave them bad information is just not correct. The idea
that this was all attributable to the trailer for a crackpot movie was just not
true," Cohen said. "That's a big fundamental problem that the administration
has to deal with, that they did mislead people for a period of time, and what's
even scarier, they misled themselves."
Both the Wall
Street Journal and the New York Times
have reported that the intelligence community didn't formally revise its view
that there may have been a protest related to the video until Sept. 22; the
intelligence community maintains, according to the Times, that militants involved in the attack were inspired by the
breach of the U.S. Embassy walls in Cairo.
But the Romney campaign's critique is broader than its
claims of mishandled intelligence.
Cohen said that during Monday night's debate, Romney
will likely refer to the administration's reaction to the Benghazi attack to
counter the administration's claim that it has dealt a devastating blow to al
Qaeda and that al Qaeda is "on
its heels," as Obama has said many times in the
"They wanted to believe the narrative that this was
an understandable if excessive and unacceptable reaction to a provocative piece
of video, because the alternative would be to believe that their story, which
is that the extremist problem is an essentially an al Qaeda problem, that it's
a narrowly defined problem that you can deal with through targeted killings,
that al Qaeda was on the verge of strategic defeat, is not true," he said. "In
fact you are dealing with a larger problem which has metastasized across the
Middle East. That is something they did not want to believe. You get into
trouble when you try to fool other people. You get in bigger trouble when you
try to fool yourself."
Cohen also criticized Obama for saying the death of
four Americans is "not optimal" during an
appearance last week on The Daily Show with
Jon Stewart. Stewart had used the
word "optimal" in his question to Obama, but Cohen said that Obama shouldn't
have taken the bait.
"For the president to get on a comedy show and say
that the death of four Americans is ‘not optimal,' that is a really disturbing
way to react to his event. It's absolutely glib," he said. "A president is
supposed to be self-aware enough to just use words like ‘tragedy.' He's not
supposed to be Jon Stewart. Jon Stewart is a comic; the president is supposed
to be something else."
As for the debate, Cohen said that Obama has a
natural advantage because he has access to vast amounts of intelligence and
hundreds of national security officials, whereas Romney has limited foreign-policy
"There is a fundamental asymmetry here... The governor
and the president both have experience creating jobs. Only one of them has been
president with responsibility for the conduct of foreign policy," he said. "I
think what you can expect from Governor Romney -- what is reasonable to expect
-- is his assessment of how he sees the world, how he sees the larger
developments that are out there, a set of principles of he thinks shape foreign
policy, a sense of his leadership style, and how he makes decisions, and then
an examination of the record of the guy who actually has been in charge for the
last four years."
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has been advertising its
message about Romney's foreign-policy competence this week, including through a
memo penned by Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) alleging
that Romney has failed the "commander-in-chief" test.
"We have that steady and strong
leader today in President Obama. Mitt Romney, on the other
hand, offers nothing but endless
bluster and a record of dangerous blunders, failing at every turn
to show he's up to the challenge.
In fact, Governor Romney has outlined
fewer specific policies
for how he would lead on national security issues than any presidential
candidate in my memory," Kerry wrote. He is an extreme and expedient candidate who
lacks the judgment and vision so vital for the Oval Office, and he's at the top of the most inexperienced
foreign policy ticket to run for president
and vice president in decades."
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images