Beyond the Rose Garden Gaffe: No New Details on Libya Attack

GOP nominee Mitt Romney, left, and President Barack Obama shake hands following their testy debate on Oct. 16 at Hofstra University in New York. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

What did we learn during the second presidential debate about the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Libya that left four dead? We are all confident U.S. President Barack Obama did indeed use the word “terror” when he spoke about it the following day in the Rose Garden.

That’s all, however.

GOP nominee Mitt Romney attempted to use the attack to undermine Obama’s credibility on foreign policy. Instead, he appeared unaware Obama’s Rose Garden speech did signal the Libyan consulate attack was carried out by terrorists.

Obama instructed Romney to “get the transcript.”

I did. Here’s the line to which Obama was referring his opponent: “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.”

Let the debate among cable news talking head and campaign surrogates about the definition of “act of terror” begin! After all, Obama and his speechwriters opted for that phrase instead of plainly calling it on Sept. 12 a “terrorist attack.”

The political chattering class got its Big Gaffe of the Night. The cable news networks got a new narrative to repeat on what will seem a constant loop of talking points and volume ahead of the final debate, which will be devoted solely to foreign policy.

But did we get any new details from Obama about the weeks and months leading up to the consulate attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three others? No.

In a letter sent this week to Obama by Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican asked several straightforward but important questions: “Mr. President, were you informed of these attacks on our Libyan consulate? If not, why not? Did you consider these serious events? If you were informed, what action was taken to protect the consulate?”

Did we get any answers to those questions? Not one.

And did Romney offer any clues on what he would have done differently to make sure a U.S. embassy or consulate in a potentially volatile nation undergoing a messy and tense political transition is as secure as possible? No.

Obama harshly lectured Romney in perhaps the tense debate’s most dramatic moment about making claims that “anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state (Hillary Clinton), our U.N. ambassador (Susan Rice), anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own.” Seeming to stare Romney directly in his eyes, Obama said: “Governor, [that] is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president, that’s not what I do as commander in chief.”

Romney attempted to rally, but made his infamous Rose Garden gaffe.

Don’t expect that exchange to be the final Libya moment of the campaign.

A GOP congressional source, just hours before the debate, kept steering a conversation with me back to Libya. During a television interview on Oct. 17, Republican National Committee Chief Reince Priebus said the final debate will give Romney an opportunity to press Obama on the very questions raised by Graham.

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett