There are dozens of important issues to be covered in tonight's presidential debate on foreign policy. In addition to questions about Iran and Afghanistan and China, we will almost certainly hear more about the 9/11 attack in Benghazi. Here are a few points I hope are made about the president's handling of the attack:
1. The President was obviously determined to blame the attack in Benghazi on a spontaneous demonstration against a video. The most likely reason is that to admit it was a terrorist attack would disrupt the narrative that bin Laden is dead and the terrorists are "on the run" or "on their heels." It is very telling that the president recently removed those phrases from his stump speech.
2. In addition to how wrong it was to intentionally mislead the public about the nature of the attack, there is a big problem with all the apologies, even if the attack had been a spontaneous reaction to a video. The President of the United States apologized to the world -- in a speech to the UN -- for a video created by a private citizen. By apologizing over and over again for a video the government had no role in, he is, in effect, apologizing for the freedom our country provides all its citizens to the free speech that allowed such a video to me made.
3. One thing most in the media have not covered is that the President of the United States reported the video to YouTube and that the creator of the video was picked up by law enforcement in the middle of the night. I'd like to know what other videos the White House has reported to YouTube. What kind of message does that send to the world?
4. I hope we see the President asked about his "bump in the road" and "not optimal" references to the four Americans killed in the Benghazi attack.
For me, the President's handling of the Benghazi attack comes down to lies and apologies -- neither of which should be the basis for America's foreign policy. This is just one small issue in the big foreign policy scheme of things, but in many ways it is a fitting example.
Update (October 23): On the CBS News tonight they did a segment on the Benghazi emails that
were just released. The emails they showed made it very clear that the
White House Situation Room and several others in the administration
received emails in real time alerting them of the situation on the
ground in Benghazi as it unfolded and in the first couple hours they had a very good idea about what was happening.
They also showed a clip from 60 Minutes that was from an interview shortly after the attack in which Obama said it did look like it was probably more than a mob action, different than the situation in Egypt, and that it looked likely that Americans were targeted from the start. You can see the text of the CBS report and video of the 60 Minutes clip here. They didn't say much about all the apologizing he did for weeks over the video, though.