What Are Romney Surrogates Complaining About?

by Kevin Jon Heller

The media and blogosphere are predictably — and justifiably — abuzz about Candy Crowley pointing out that Romney was wrong when he claimed it took Obama two weeks to label the Benghazi attack an “act of terror.”  More interesting, though, is the push-back from Romney surrogates like Ed Gillespie, who said afterward that “[s]he was wrong about it, no doubt… I’ll let the American people judge for themselves in terms of the moderator and that kind of thing.”  Fortunately, it’s not difficult to judge for ourselves who was right, because we have the relevant transcripts.  First, the debate tonight (my emphasis)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Secretary Clinton has done an extraordinary job. But she works for me. I’m the president. And I’m always responsible. And that’s why nobody is more interested in finding out exactly what happened than I did (sic).

The day after the attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror


MR. ROMNEY: Yeah, I — I certainly do. I certainly do. I — I think it’s interesting the president just said something which is that on the day after the attack, he went in the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror. You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror. It was not a spontaneous demonstration.


MR. ROMNEY: I — I — I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Get the transcript.

MS. CROWLEY: It — he did in fact, sir.

So let me — let me call it an act of terrorism — (inaudible) —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy? (Laughter, applause.)

MS. CROWLEY: He did call it an act of terror.

And now what Obama said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack (emphasis added):

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.  Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America.  We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act.  And make no mistake, justice will be done.

Unless one is functionally illiterate, this is a clear statement by President Obama that the Benghazi attack was an act of terror.  Thus: Crowley right; Romney surrogates wrong.  Point, set, match.

I’m no big fan of Obama’s reaction to the Libya attack.  But claiming that he didn’t label it an act of terror the day after the attack is just foolish.

PS. This article is typical of right-wing dishonesty about tonight’s exchange.  It claims that, with regard to the Rose Garden speech, “the legal term of ‘act of terrorism’ is never used.”  No, it wasn’t.  But Obama didn’t claim that he described the attack as an “act of terrorism,” nor did Romney claim that Obama didn’t call it an “act of terrorism.”  Both — and Crowley — referred to an “act of terror.”

PPS. Josh Rogin reminds us at FP.com that Obama also referred to the Benghazi attack as an “act of terror” the day after the Rose Garden speech, in Colorado:

“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.

So much for the ridiculous claim that Obama was referring to 9/11, not Benghazi, during the Rose Garden speech…


8 Responses

  1. Yes, I think you are correct.  Romney missed a great chance by his sloppy wording since the issue wasn’t whether it was an “act of terror” but rather the Administration’s deceptive strategy to make the video the cause of the Libya attack, its strange reluctance to call it a deliberate and preplanned assault and the whole issue of security planning for the consulate.  It was a target rich environment for Romney and he failed to grasp the opportunity.

  2. Mark,

    Agreed.  As I said, I was incredibly disappointed by Obama’s reaction to the attack.  And I don’t agree with Democrats who think criticizing Obama should be off-limits until after the election.  But words matter, especially when you want to be President — you can’t simply argue that you got the gist right.

  3. If you read the full transcript, “act of terror” refers to 9/11.  It’s not clear he’s using the phrase other than a rhetorical device.  Let’s say we get bombed tomorrow, not clear by whom or if it were an accident.  And the Pres says “No act of terror could shake our resolve.”  In a few days it turns out it was a gas main explosion.  Then we wouldn’t say he CALLED the act an act of terror.  We would say he was covering his bases and reassuring people who feared the worst.

  4. Sorry, but that’s just wrong.  He explicitly mentions the Benghazi attack after discussing 9/11 and before condemning “acts of terror.”  And the “acts of terror” paragraph itself makes completely clear that he was describing the Benghazi attack as an act of terror.

    In any case, your argument — and the right-wing’s argument generally — is based on the assumption that Obama would bring up and condemn acts of terrorism such as 9/11 in a speech specifically devoted to the Benghazi attack even though he did not actually believe that the Benghazi attack was itself an act of terrorism.  With respect, that’s absurd.

  5. Kevin, this whole kerfuffle misses the larger point that Romney should have been making. The Administration as a whole was carefully NOT calling it a terrorist attack (Susan Rice on Sept. 16), Obama himself on The View (after the Rose Garden speech), at least according to this Washington Post writeup.
    “Turning to more serious matters, President Obama declined to describe the recent attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya as a “terrorist” strike. ”


    The only issue that matters is whether it was a mistake to avoid calling it a terrorist attack and to blame it, implicitly, on the Youtube video produced in the U.S. Since the Administration has now reversed itself on this, and is in fact planning retaliatory military strikes, it doesn’t matter all that much in the long run.

  6. Reponse

              What Romney should have said (and what he probably meant) is that it took the President  14 (it may have been less) days to acknowledge that the attack was a premeditated attack not the result of a spontaneous demonstration fueled by a video, the latter theory which ambassador Rice advanced on 5 Sunday morning news shows that week–saying that was the best intelligence they had that Sunday.  

            One fact is undisputable:  there was no demonstration the day of the attack. That is clear from live feeds both State and the CIA were following. 

              If our intelligence services are as incompetent as the Ambassador’s remarks imply we have problems.  How difficult is to watch or review the feeds? 

              The real question is who in the WH cleared the Ambassador’s remarks and who in the intelligence services provided such incompetent advice to the WH. 
               Romney did not anticipate the President’s point which is surprising. Jay Carney had telegraphed it weeks ago. 




  7. Julian,

    Nothing I’ve said in any way contradicts what you wrote.  But that’s not the point.  It’s not Obama’s or Crowley’s fault that Romney screwed up what should have been a winning attack and made himself look foolish.  If Romney’s larger point was lost in the process — which it clearly was, because all anyone remembers now is how Romney got caught claiming something demonstrably false — he has no one but himself to blame.

  8. Apparently Obama privately explained why he didn’t specifically call the attack a “terrorist attack” to the questioner after the debate.  This explanation meshes with repeated White House statements that it was not a terrorist attack for the week afterward.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/post/presidential-debate-libya-questioner-says-obama-didnt-answer/2012/10/17/7109898e-1867-11e2-a55c-39408fbe6a4b_blog.html

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