News analysis: Mitt Romney under attack for administration's foreign policy errors

Published: Thursday, Sept. 13 2012 3:03 p.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney campaigns at Van Dyck park in Fairfax, Va., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Charles Dharapak, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Depending on whom you read, the scandal on Tuesday could be that embassy staff lacked Marine protection, or the State Department cannot control its Twitter feed, or that Mitt Romney reacted to the latter before the former came to light.

Romney tweeted Tuesday night, “It is disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

In doing so, he sparked a media firestorm that overshadowed reaction to the murder of four unprotected State Department officials in Libya, and to the sequence surrounding a tweet from the U.S. Embassy that the Obama administration asserts it had nothing to do with.

The scope of the disaster — and the serious questions surrounding how it evolved — were brought into focus Thursday afternoon in a report by the Independent (UK) of credible information that the U.S. Government was aware of the planned attack 48 hours before it occurred, but no precautions were taken.

"According to senior diplomatic sources," the Independent report read, "the US State Department had credible information 48 hours before mobs charged the consulate in Benghazi, and the embassy in Cairo, that American missions may be targeted, but no warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert and "lockdown", under which movement is severely restricted."

Politico reports that the Obama administration has denied the Independent's report. Shawn Turner, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, emailed: "This is absolutely wrong. We are not aware of any actionable intelligence indicating that an attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi was planned or imminent."

However, as John Hinderaker noted at Powerline, the carefully phrased statement is actually not a denial of the Independent's report. It carefully denies in detail something that the Independent never claimed.

Despite these serious questions surrounding the handling of the event, the mainstream media focus throughout Wednesday and Thursday was on the timing of Mitt Romney's response Tuesday night.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Romney continued his critique of the Obama administration and tied it to his larger characterization of the administration as cowering and apologizing abroad.

The Obama camp fired back, accusing Romney of politicizing the disasters, and the media quickly turned on Romney. By Wednesday morning, key Republican congressional leaders declined to comment on the politics, even as Politico continued to frame the story around Romney's comments.

One who attempted to look past the noise about Romney's response was Molly Ball at the Atlantic.

"If the foreign-policy controversy currently engulfing the campaign is just a matter of timing and propriety," Ball wrote, "it's not a particularly revealing contrast between the candidates. The real question is what substantive critique lies behind Romney's criticism, and what it tells us about how he would conduct foreign policy differently."

While Ball focused on Romney's neoconservative posture in reaction to the events, others have focused on U.S. foreign policy blunders before and after the crisis.

Three key questions are raised in this approach: Was the State Department lax about security in two explosive nations still reeling from revolutions? Did staff at the Cairo embassy freelance with their Twitter account, or were they merely reflecting ongoing administration sentiment? And, finally, is there a logical connection between the security issues and the tweets?

No Marines

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