Romney Hits Middle East Failures


Gov. Mitt Romney introduced the crises in the Middle East to the campaign conversation this week with some tough talk about the tragedy in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, and the wave of protests that took place on that day in nearly a dozen other countries.

Romney is the wrong messenger, but he’s right about the issue. This is not about the campaign. This is about foreign policy.

The Obama Administration needs to come clean about what happened on that day and what has occurred since. And more needs to be said about our lame policies toward Iran, the growing militancy all across the Middle East (so much for the touted tilt toward the West of the Arab Spring) and the increased tension between Israel and her neighbors, the incomprehensible death and destruction in Syria, the eruption of more violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the volatile antics of Iran’s Ahmedinijad.

But we can start with Benghazi, a foreign policy failure and a human tragedy.

UN Ambassador Susan Rice still insists that she did not mislead or misinform the American people on September 16th when she sprinted from one media outlet to another trying to convince us the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, were spontaneous responses to an anti-Muslim video.

“In my September 16, Sunday show appearances,” she wrote to four Senators critical of her actions, “I was asked to provide the Administration’s latest understanding of what had transpired in Benghazi.  In answering, I relied solely and squarely on the information the intelligence community provided to me and other senior U.S. officials…”

“In every instance, I made clear that my comments were based on the best information available at that time and that the FBI investigation would ultimately provide definitive accounting of what transpired in Benghazi,” she wrote.

I repeat what I wrote days after her appearance, with more conviction than before: Ambassador Rice should resign. That would be a good first step toward the truth.


Susan Rice clearly engaged the American people prematurely. She should never have set foot in the NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN studios that day. She either knew that the messages she was delivering were not true, or she had enough reason to suspect that they weren’t true or terribly misleading.

If neither is the case, then our Ambassador to the United Nations, stepped in front of the cameras, having drunk the Kool-Aid, repeated what she was told by the White House and the intelligence community, without every questioning its veracity. If so, she is simply too naïve and too malleable to serve in high public office.

Furthermore, she used or allowed her position as a U.S. diplomat, supposedly insulated from partisan politics, to provide political cover for the President at a critical juncture in his campaign. That’s not her job and demeans the office she holds.

Ambassador Rice is like a baseball player caught in a rundown between third base and home. At third base is the image of her deliberately attempting to absolve the President of blame by misrepresenting the facts. At home is the image of a high-ranking government official reduced to the loyal “fall guy”, forced to spin something that can’t be spun.

The written exchange she had recently with Senators McCain, Graham, Ayotte and Johnson, just made matters worse. It raised more questions than it answered, and they are serious questions about the veracity, judgment and effectiveness of American foreign policy.

Just look at what has been revealed since she stepped up as the company spokesperson:

  • The President of Libya has debunked her assertions that it was a spontaneous act.
  • The Benghazi compound was attacked by well-prepared militants, armed with hand grenades, rocket launchers and mortars.
  • House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa has uncovered a pattern of incidents and threats since last April that suggested both a growing militancy in Libya and the potential for a terrorist attack.
  • Libyan workers in the compound were reportedly warned by family members of a pending assault.
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was sent to investigate the murders of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Glen Doherty, Sean Smith and Tyrone Woods, but didn’t bother to show up in Benghazi until three weeks after the incident.
  • After their arrival they only stayed three hours.
  • Neither the Libyan nor the U.S. government made an effort to secure the crime scene.
  • CNN got there days after the incident and absconded with sensitive information, including Ambassador Stevens personal journal, which CNN inexcusably used for their own purposes, again the wishes of Stevens’ family.
  • A Washington Post reporter also beat the FBI to the site and found sensitive documents strewn all over the place, including detailed information on a Libyan contractor whose life may now be in jeopardy because of it.
  • The same Washington reporter, Michael Birnbaum, who deserves a Pulitzer, for whatever they are worth these days, interviewed an eye-witness to the killings, who said no one has contacted him.  “Since that day nobody has called, nobody cared,” the witness said.
  • The State Department apparently denied requests from U.S. diplomats for additional security and, in one case, for a plane, presumably for extraction of personnel.
  • “Spontaneous” protests have occurred in nearly a dozen other countries.

All of these revelations make the Ambassador’s explanation of events an embarrassment.

Ambassador Rice’s resignation may not solve anything, but it may get us closer to the truth. It will force the Administration to provide greater clarity, and be more forthright in communicating what really happened to the American people.

The media (particularly the Post), which surprisingly have done a good job of maintaining focus on these incidents, should be pressing for more answers and more information. This is far more serious than Rep. Todd Akin’s biology lessons, Mitt Romney’s income tax returns or whether Jim Lehrer was too easy on the Presidential debaters the other night.

The Administration’s handling of these events has been outrageous and in some ways, insulting. It is just the tip of the iceberg.  The future of Middle Eastern turmoil is not bright. It seems to be growing darker by the day and extending its path of destruction throughout the globe.

It’s too bad we are in the middle of a political campaign, because it puts everything said and done in the context of political opportunism. We don’t need that right now, and we can’t afford to wait another month for some movement toward resolution.

Editor’s Note: Mike Johnson is a former journalist, who worked on the Ford White House staff and served as press secretary and chief of staff to House Republican Leader Bob Michel, prior to entering the private sector. He is co-author of a book, Surviving Congress, a guide for congressional staff. He is currently a principal with the OB-C Group.