Political Animal


October 01, 2012 11:09 AM Benghazi Truthers

By Ed Kilgore

Now and then you read a report from “within” a presidential campaign that strains credulity to the point where you wonder if it was deliberately put out as disinformation. That’s how I felt when I read this piece at Salon from Craig Unger:

According to a highly reliable source, as Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama prepare for the first presidential debate Wednesday night, top Republican operatives are primed to unleash a new two-pronged offensive that will attack Obama as weak on national security, and will be based, in part, on new intelligence information regarding the attacks in Libya that killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens on September 11.
The source, who has first-hand knowledge of private, high-level conversations in the Romney camp that took place in Washington, DC last week, said that at various times the GOP strategists referred to their new operation as the Jimmy Carter Strategy or the October Surprise.
He added that they planned to release what they hoped would be “a bombshell” that would make Libya and Obama’s foreign policy a major issue in the campaign. “My understanding is that they have come up with evidence that the Obama administration had positive intelligence that there was going to be a terrorist attack on the intelligence.”
The source described the Republicans as chortling with glee that the Obama administration “definitely had intel” about the attack before it happened. “Intelligence can be graded in different ways,” he added, “and sometimes A and B don’t get connected. But [the Romney campaign] will try to paint it to look like Obama had advance knowledge of the attack and is weak on terrorism.”

“Chortling with glee”? Seriously? If that’s true, Team Mitt better put down the crack pipe. They’ve already tried to exploit the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens as a sign of Obama’s “weakness” to no apparent effect. But now, if Unger’s source is reliable, they somehow think that getting down into the murky undergrowth of intelligence reports and claiming the administration knew exactly what would happen in Benghazi and lacked the resolve to do anything about it is going to turn the whole election around!

And it actually gets even crazier in Unger’s account:

He said they were jubilant about their new strategy and said they intended to portray Obama as a helpless, Jimmy Carter-like president and to equate the tragedy in Libya with President Carter’s failed attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980. “They are so excited about it,” he said. “Over and over again they talked about how it would be just like Jimmy Carter’s failed raid. They feel it is going to give them a last-minute landslide in the election.”

Landslide? Maybe Unger’s source is Jennifer Rubin, who is beside herself in a post today urging Mitt to get in touch with his inner Dick Cheney on the Benghazi attacks:

If Romney can’t bring himself to call the president a “liar” on Libya, then say, “He didn’t level with you” or “It doesn’t pass the smell test” or “He told you things that weren’t true” or “He wasn’t candid with you.” After Sept. 11, 2001, he can remind voters, President George W. Bush kept us safe; Obama has not, and we have four dead Americans at the hands of jihadists.

Other than becoming the first known Republican to urge the Romney campaign to make the election a referendum on Obama versus Bush, Rubin is, of course, projecting her own neocon convictions that putting on warpaint is always a big electoral winner. But does even Rubin believe a “truther” effort to blame a terrorist act on the commander-in-chief who quickly became the mourner-in-chief over the deaths in Benghazi is going to work?

Beyond the specifics, of course, there’s this little matter of how strange it would be for the candidate who has again and again pledged a monomaniacal focus on the U.S. economy to suddenly try to make this a “foreign policy” election. I recall reading a private poll back in the late 1990s that measured the saliency of various issues in terms of whether they would actually effect voting decisions, and was shocked to learn that there was virtually no international topic that would turn a single vote, regardless of candidates’ relative positions on them. I strongly suspect we are in a similar situation today. And if Romney did somehow make swing voters care a lot about issues of war and peace, he will only draw additional attention to his implicit promise to get us into a war with Iran as quickly as possible, which is not a big crowd-pleaser.

Unger’s report, of course, is just one of many emanating from within or near the Romney campaign about its secret brilliant tactics that us outsiders are just too dumb to comprehend. Most at the moment involve micro-targeting: Mitt will get over the hump by promising a nineteenth-century-industrial-revolution effort to fill the skies with coal dust, or put the whole country to work on pipelines and oil platforms, or put the power and authority of the federal government behind the war on Lyme’s Disease. At this point, I don’t know what to believe, and I wouldn’t put any tactic past these birds.

But there’s something about the image of Romney staff and consultants sitting around chortling about how they’ve finally found a way to replay the 1980 election that bears the strong aroma of self-delusion. Heavy reliance on the Benghazi Truther approach would certainly give the wingnutosphere a big opening to revisit all their favorite Obama-Hates-America “vetting” schemes. But the only “October Surprise” such a tactic would likely generate is a consolidation of swing-voter impressions that Mitt Romney is living on a different planet, listening to strange alien voices.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Ronald on October 01, 2012 11:22 AM:

    It is only going to get weirder in the next 4 weeks...
    And more desperate.
    And scary.
    Bring somebody with you who normally doesn't, just vote.

  • c u n d gulag on October 01, 2012 11:27 AM:

    Ah, the Conservative chimp's are flinging their poo against the wall, trying to find something that will stick.

    And Jen, take a V*lium!
    Bush kept us safe?
    Tell that to almost 3,000 people who were killed on 9/11.

    And add on thousands of our soldiers, dead, and tens of thousands injured - and FSM only knows how many Afghan's and Iraqi's, dead, injured, or displaced.

    So, Jen, even if Obama was negligent, which I doubt, his body count stands at 1 Ambassador, and 3 people accompanying him.

    Hmm... 4 dead, to almost 3,000.

    Unless you're using Rovian math, THAT, dear Jen, leaves Obama far, far behind YOUR hero, W.

    And what's with the "chorling with glee?"

    Are they also waxing their handlebar mustaches?

    Will we hear a loud "BWA-HA-HA!!!" when Mitt gets off his Libyan "zinger" in the foreign policy debate?

  • Danp on October 01, 2012 11:31 AM:

    I suspect it will be more like "Obama skipped intelligence briefings because he was too busy sharing meals with 47-percenters. If know-nothings buy it, great. But even if they don't, they can always fall back on the "everybody does it" mantra. In this case, the "it" is blaming the other side for ignoring warnings. And once again, the truth becomes irrelevant, just like the content of the 60-minutes forgery or the effect of the New Black Panthers on the 2008 elections.

  • golack on October 01, 2012 11:33 AM:

    Really!!! I mean REALLY!!!

    The fact that the people of Benghazi rose up against the Islamist militias over the killings seems to be forgotten...

  • CRA on October 01, 2012 11:34 AM:

    "After Sept. 11, 2001, [Romney] can remind voters, President George W. Bush kept us safe; Obama has not, and we have four dead Americans at the hands of jihadists."

    After Sept. 11, you see. Jennifer Rubin's self-deception (or chutzpah) is astounding. Bush definitely had advance notice of an attack that killed 750 times the number who died at Benghazi, and he failed to prevent it.

  • SteveT on October 01, 2012 11:35 AM:

    Umm . . . instead of reminding voters of Jimmy Carter in 1980 (32 years ago), won't this be more likely to remind voters of how Bush and his neocon advisors -- who also are ROMNEY'S neocon advisors -- ignored intelligence that said that Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were determined to attack the United States?

  • Lolly on October 01, 2012 11:41 AM:

    This whole exercise sounds vaguely familiar. Weren't they trying to push the same story a few years ago with the Somali pirate crisis? Obama was weak, Obama could only stand by helpless and watch as rogue countries thumbed their noses at us...

    How'd that work out for Republicans? I don't hear them bringing that up any more.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on October 01, 2012 11:45 AM:

    Willard Mitt Romney is setting up an October surprise. He is promising to sell weapons parts to Iran for not releasing the hostages until after he takes office. Naturally, the Israelis are working as the middleman for the transactions. Oops, Ronnie beat him to this strategy. Have to think of another one.

  • cmdicely on October 01, 2012 11:51 AM:

    After Sept. 11, 2001, he can remind voters, President George W. Bush kept us safe; Obama has not, and we have four dead Americans at the hands of jihadists.

    Even if one restricts the analysis to the period after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks -- of which, one might recall, the Bush Administration had advance intelligence but failed to act because, to quote his then-National Security Advisor speaking to the 9/11 Commission, "No one told us we needed to do anything" -- there more Americans killed by "jihadists" during George W. Bush's time in office than in any other period of similar length in U.S. history.

    I suspect that the people who would buy the "George W. Bush kept us safe" argument are people who would be voting for Romney anyway.

  • beejeez on October 01, 2012 12:06 PM:

    Whew -- He had me worried until I noticed that the "top Republican operatives" were on the case. You know. The masterminds behind the juggernaut Romney campaign and the beloved political party.

  • rk21 on October 01, 2012 12:08 PM:

    I don't get how "reminding" people about Jimmy Carter helps. Who remembers Jimmy Carter? I vaguely remember a nice guy called Carter who now-a-days does good works.And I was one who paid attention those days. Yes he messed up the hostage rescued attempt, but his heart was in the right place. It could have easily gone the other way and he'd be considered a hero today. Most people will be clueless if Romney tries to invoke Carter and compares Obama to Carter. Some days I thank God that republicans are evil, but stupid (almost like cartoon villains). Imagine if they were evil and smart. Then we'd really be screwed.

  • John B. on October 01, 2012 12:13 PM:

    Bring it on... All Romney will accomplish is to unearth the political corpse of George W. Bush which the GOP has been trying desperately to keep buried deep underground.


  • kd bart on October 01, 2012 12:21 PM:

    The Simpsons were right. Jimmy Carter is History's Greatest Monster.

  • T2 on October 01, 2012 12:31 PM:

    @rk21....so true. How many voters were even born when Carter was president? And if they were, they'll remember WHY Carter was president - a little deal called Watergate, Nixon and Ford. You can't base a campaign on something that happened 30 something years ago when half the country what ocean Atlantic City, NJ is on.

  • Peter C on October 01, 2012 12:31 PM:

    This meme about "George Bush kept us safe after 9/11" really pushes my buttons. Anyone who says this needs to be punched in the face! Then, as they are getting up off the floor, they need to be asked why they are not counting the 4400 American soldiers killed in Iraq as part of us. President Bush didn't keep THEM safe, and didn't even send them into combat with effective body armor.

  • Ron Byers on October 01, 2012 12:32 PM:

    Where is the third party back up for this story? I need to see something with some real impartial teeth behind it. My guess is this is classic Senor/Bolton Neo Con crap. Without an aspect to the story with real news value (maybe Hilary Clinton pointing fingers at Barack Obama)this story won't last a news cycle let alone be an October surprise.

    Seriously, what would be the President's motivation for letting four American diplomats die?

  • xaxnar on October 01, 2012 12:33 PM:

    There is something obscene in the way the Republicans are willing to exploit a tragedy like this - and that they think they can get away with it.

    If they really want to make this Obama versus Bush, then I hope the Democrats finally unload on the years of incompetence of the Bush regime, beginning with the repeated failure of Bush and the circle around him (including a number now advising Romney) to take seriously report after report that Al Qaida was planning to attack in America.

    Clinton got impeached over a blow job; George W. Bush got a free pass for spending a month on vacation with his head up his butt - and for the rest of his two terms.

  • dalloway on October 01, 2012 12:39 PM:

    "Republican operatives" have been planning this for months. I wouldn't be surprised if it eventually (after the election) came out that they encouraged the extremist Coptic Christians to translate and upload the offensive video as a trigger for "Operation Turn Obama into Carter."

    I think it's also a pretty good bet that they fed a fake scoop to the CNN reporter in Benghazi who "happened" to find 7 pages of Ambassador Stevens' diary that miraculously survived the attack and fire that killed him and that conveniently supported right-wing talking points about supposed lax security. Nobody at CNN in the U.S. actually saw the pages -- Anderson Cooper was e-mailed a transcript. They claimed to have confirmed them through "unnamed sources," and that the security situation in Libya now prevents the original journal from being returned to the ambassador's family, but it sounds like bull to me.

  • plane on October 01, 2012 12:46 PM:

    Bush kept us safe Ms. Rubin???? Wasn't he President of the United States on 9/11/2001?

  • KarenJG on October 01, 2012 12:47 PM:

    I am reminded of my favorite "go-to" guy for great quotes:

    "In my life, I have prayed but one prayer: 'Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.' And God granted it."
    -- Voltaire

    Even three centuries of distance cannot dim the brilliance of his wit - or the astuteness of his observations.

  • nitpicker on October 01, 2012 12:49 PM:

    Funny, because all Obama has to do is turn and say, "You know, I may have had the word 'HOPE' on a campaign poster, but you told your rich donors that hope was a major part of your foreign policy strategy." Let's go to the tape:

    I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there's just no way. And so what you do is you say you move things along the best way you can. You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that it's going to remain an unsolved problem. I mean, we look at that in China and Taiwan. All right, we have a potentially volatile situation, but we sort of live with it. And we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve.

  • sgetti on October 01, 2012 1:04 PM:

    Romney has been getting daily intel briefings recently as part of the presidential campaign procedures for viable candidates. Perhaps he and his staff have interpreted something in the briefs to postulate a "gotcha" position.

  • Old Uncle Dave on October 01, 2012 1:22 PM:

    "After Sept. 11, 2001, he can remind voters, President George W. Bush kept us safe"

    After some thugs trashed his store and beat him up, the shopkeeper started paying protection money, and the mob kept him safe.

    p.s. Please don't use "truthers" as a pejorative. In the sixties they turned peace into a negative (damn peaceniks). Now they're doing the same thing to truth (damn truthers). What's next, Love is hate, Freedom is slavery?

  • g on October 01, 2012 1:23 PM:

    "After Sept. 11, 2001, [Romney] can remind voters, President George W. Bush kept us safe"

    Bush gets a mulligan for 9/11

  • cwolf on October 01, 2012 1:30 PM:

    The perception of something that doesn't exist is an hallucination, generally speaking.

    Rubin appears to have been indulging in Imagination Growth Hormone. For all our good,,,
    ...Stop slamming that fairy tale juice Jennifer.

  • g on October 01, 2012 1:34 PM:

    What's the key point here? That the Obama administration didn't use the "T" word soon enough?

  • paul on October 01, 2012 1:42 PM:

    Classic Rove. The party of "No one could have known that the things our intelligence briefers warned us about might happen" is going to go after the guy who finally had Bin Laden hunted down, for four deaths that might or might not have been preventable.

    Always attack your enemy for your own screwups. Oh, and leak it first so that it gets all over the place even before you make any claim you could be called on.

  • Quaker in a Basement on October 01, 2012 1:44 PM:

    What is it with Republicans and their magic words?

    The whole trumped up "he didn't level with you" charge revolves around the use of a single word--terrorism. It's not like the White House tried to deny there was an attack. They didn't try to hide the fact that Americans died. They didn't pretend that the attack wasn't an act of belligerence against the U.S.

    So what's the problem? The White House didn't rush to the microphones to slap the label "terrorism" on the attack. Why? Because in the days immediately following the attack, there wasn't yet sufficient evidence to show exactly who had perpetrated the attack. Was it al Qaeda? Some splinter faction of Libyan rebels? Qadaffi dead enders? Random violent protesters?

    The great failing of the Obama administration, according to GOP shouters, is that they didn't immediately use the only available magic word that shows the world we're not going to be messed with.

    How do they expect to lead the free world with the mentality of 12-year-olds?

  • Crusader1 on October 01, 2012 1:44 PM:

    "After 9/11, Bush kept us safe"?
    How about the anthrax attacks?

    Rubin: Oh, yes I see...but that was domestic terrorism, it doesn't count.

    Me: What about Danny Pearl, the journalist who was abducted and brutally murdered by Pakistani Al-Queda members?

    Rubin: Well, yes, yes, but that was just one person after all.

    Me: How about the attacks on American embassies and consulates in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and even Greece?

    Rubin: Well, allright, yes, but remember that was overseas, not like Li...ah, I see what you're trying to do. Why do you hate America so much, liberal?

  • Bozo11 on October 01, 2012 2:09 PM:

    >"Romney has been getting daily intel briefings recently as part of the presidential campaign procedures for viable candidates. Perhaps he and his staff have interpreted something in the briefs to postulate a "gotcha" position. "

    I'd bet that Romney is recieving Israeli intelligence.

  • j on October 01, 2012 2:10 PM:

    I think these people sound delusional, they are also forgetting that Bush could not get Bin Laden, Sununu was complaining the other day that Obama did not get Bin Laden fast enough!!!!!!!!!!!

  • MaryRC on October 01, 2012 2:19 PM:

    After Sept. 11, 2001, he can remind voters, President George W. Bush kept us safe

    And before Sept. 11 2001 too. Just not on Sept. 11 2001.

  • Steve P on October 01, 2012 2:23 PM:

    "After Sept. 11, 2001, he can remind voters, President George W. Bush kept us safe;"

    That's got to go down right alongside "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?" and "You suck ONE c*ck, and they call you a c*cksucker!"

    They have no ear. They have no idea.

  • Anonymous on October 01, 2012 2:47 PM:

    paul on October 01, 2012 1:42 PM:

    Classic Rove. The party of "No one could have known that the things our intelligence briefers warned us about might happen" is going to go after the guy who finally had Bin Laden hunted down, for four deaths that might or might not have been preventable.
    Great continuing , endless , point

    Quaker in a Basement on October 01, 2012 1:44 PM:
    How do they expect to lead the free world with the mentality of 12-year-olds?

    Because you would prefer having a beer with them ?

    Executive Decision (1996)

    When terrorists seize control of an airliner, an intelligence analyst accompanies a commando unit for a midair boarding operation.

    Directed by Stuart Baird. Starring Kurt Russell Halle Berry ...
    ... after boarding the airplane, David and the military team discover that Hassan has some stolen Soviet nerve gas attached to a bomb, and he is using the 747 to smuggle the deadly gas into the United States, where he intends to use it to wipe out Washington D.C. and possibly the entire Eastern seaboard

    It was one of the more moving comments of secretary Rice "I said no one could have imagined them taking a plane, slamming it into the Pentagon -- I'm paraphrasing now -- into the World Trade Center, using planes as a missile."

    Except that there was a fairly good action thriller based on a middle eastern Arab doing exactly that , in 1995-6 .

  • Lolly on October 01, 2012 2:51 PM:

    And aside from the sketchy nature of the charges themselves, I have to wonder why they are telegraphing this?

    If this is their plan, doesn't this give Obama a chance to prepare for it? What kind of muddled fake-out attempt is this? Of course, now they have to bring it up, because they promised all their followers there would be a huge Libya-themed October Surprise. But if it's anything less than a complete game-changer now, it's going to look like a dud.

  • Russell B on October 01, 2012 3:27 PM:


    If they haven't figured out yet that the only people likely to be enthused by this are those who are already enthused, well then they're just stupid.

    Of course, they also believe they have 41 million mouth-breathing Teabaggers champing at the bit to vote, so maybe they think they'll produce a cascade effect.

    Some reflections on Muslim rage from a coffee-drinker's perspective.

  • Neo on October 01, 2012 3:48 PM:

    Today is one of those days in which we are particularly grateful that George W. Bush is no longer the president of the United States.

    The news from Afghanistan is grim. With the latest round of deaths, we pass a milestone: 2,000 US combatants have died in what is now the longest war in American history. The milestone has been reached just as the surge in troops has come to an end without achieving the goals of pacifying the country or even launching peace talks with the Taliban. Our Afghan “allies” remain as corrupt and ineffectual as ever, with the added wrinkle that the most dangerous place in Afghanistan for US troops these days seems to be the neighborhood of US-armed and trained Afghan forces, who are shooting and blowing up their nominal allies faster than the Taliban can do it.

    This is all bad news and very disturbing, but there is a crumb of comfort to be had. Because these failures happened on President Obama’s watch, the mainstream press isn’t particularly interested in relentless, non-stop scrutiny of the unpleasant news. If George W. Bush were president now, and had ordered the surge and was responsible for the strategic decisions taken and not taken in Afghanistan over the last four years, the mainstream press would be rubbing our noses in his miserable failures and inexcusable blunders 24/7.

  • Doug on October 01, 2012 4:24 PM:

    You know Neo, if Bush and Co. had demonstrated SOME competence, maybe the press wouldn't have been so focused on his, um, errors?
    Whereas, in President Obama's case...

  • SadOldVet on October 01, 2012 4:34 PM:

    @ Anonymous

    Condi Rice "No one could have imagined..."

    In 1994, Tom Clancy wrote 'Debt of Honor' with the ending of the book being a Japanese commercial airline pilot crashing an airplane into the Capital Building with the full Congress, the Supremes, and most of the cabinet officers attending a presidential address to Congress.

    I had read somewhere a couple years ago that this novel had been read by more than 12 million persons. That's a lot of 'no ones'.

    Among the many, many reasons why the Bush administration refused to take Al Qaeda seriously prior to 9/11 is Condi Rice. Her 'specialty' is the Soviet Union. Hyped, but not qualified other than worshipping Little George and being a black, female lesbian which provided an overabundance of diversity for a republican admin.

  • Diane on October 01, 2012 7:11 PM:

    I don't have the link but I've seen (on DKos) a rather lengthy list of all the attacks against American interests abroad (like Libya) after 9/11/01 .... obviously we didn't lose other Ambassadors but we did lose American lives and lives of foreign nationals working for us but I guess those don't count?

  • companion on October 01, 2012 10:51 PM:

    Aren't the host country responsible for protecting consulates and embassies of foreign countries?

  • Richard Bey on October 02, 2012 10:28 AM:

    With the right wing fabricating another 'scandal' once again and demanding the resignation of Susan Rice lets consider facts: I listened to EVERY Sunday show on which she appeared on Sept. 14. On each one she cautioned that an investigation was underway and all the facts were not known at that time. She didn't have complete information and didn't 'shoot first, aim later' like Romney. Susan Rice, Meet the Press 9-14-12: "Well, let us-- let me tell you the-- the best information we have at present. First of all, there�s an FBI investigation which is ongoing. And we look to that investigation to give us the definitive word as to what transpired. But putting together the best information that we have available to us today our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of-- of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video. What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding. They came with heavy weapons which unfortunately are readily available in post revolutionary Libya. And it escalated into a much more violent episode. Obviously, that�s-- that�s our best judgment now. We�ll await the results of the investigation." Yeah, extremist elements used the video as a pretext for a violent attack and we'll await further investigation. Sounds responsible to me! As for misinforming and misleading the American public: The day after the murder of our Ambassador right wing blogs with photos screeched about how he was dragged through the streets by savages like our soldiers in Mogadishu. Drudge was blaring it. Brietbart and Beck were screaming about it. The pictures actually showed Ambassador Stevens being rescued by Libyans and taken to a Libyan hospital where doctors tried to save his life. "Shoot first, aim later" Congressman Dan Burton �We went into Libya, spent billions of dollars of our money. We drove him (Muammar Gaddafi) out of office and had him killed. Now there's chaos over there, and they killed our Ambassador. They tortured him, I understand--I won't go into details, but it was pretty bad." "In a speech on September 14, 2012 before the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Gohmert bluntley stated: "�I come over here nauseated today upon hearing reports about--and I pray God they're not accurate--about what may have happened during the 8 hours or so the body of our great ambassador was missing."� (source: Congressional Register for September 14, 2012 Where do you think Rep Gohmert was getting these reports from? Certainly NOT the Obama administration... Maybe Dan Burton an Lou Gohmert should resign for getting misinformation from right wing blogs to further inflame the US public. At best it is another example of 'shoot first, aim later."