Questions for the President on Egypt & Libya

Questions for the President on Egypt & Libya

By Jack Kelly - September 22, 2012

On the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we were reminded that the War on Terror didn't end when sailors of SEAL Team Six killed Osama bin Laden:

• A mob attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, murdering our ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

• A mob attacked our embassy in Cairo, took down the American flag, burned it, and raised the black flag of al-Qaida on the embassy flagstaff.

In response to a question Wednesday, President Barack Obama said: "I don't think that we would consider [Egypt] an ally, but we don't consider them an enemy."

"For the President to come out and say, well, he's not exactly sure if Egypt is an ally anymore but it's not an enemy, that is a significant change," said Richard Engel, NBC's chief foreign correspondent. "It makes one wonder, well, was it worth it? Was it worth supporting the Arab Spring, supporting the demonstrations here in Tahrir Square?"

That's a good question. President Obama has reached out to Islamists -- in particular to the Muslim Brotherhood -- in the hopes of moderating their behavior. The Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi is president of Egypt in part because Mr. Obama abandoned the flawed, but pro-American Hosni Mubarak.

It hasn't worked. The mob in Cairo chanted: "Obama, Obama, we are all Osama."

"It's starting to feel like 1979," said Reagan biographer Steven Hayward, referring to the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Iran. President Jimmy Carter believed the Ayatollah Khomeini was a moderate reformer, so he helped him push the flawed, but pro-American Shah of Iran off the Peacock Throne.

Other questions deserve answers:

• It is customary for our diplomatic institutions to be guarded by Marines. Why weren't the Marines guarding the consulate in Benghazi?

• President Obama has invited Mr. Morsi to the White House next month, but won't meet with Israel's prime minister. What message does this send?

• Mr. Obama wants to give Egypt $1.6 billion more in aid. Should we go through with this?

• Should the president reconsider the massive cuts in the defense budget he's planning?

But most media big feet focused on Mitt Romney's criticism of administration policy.

"It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks," he said Tuesday night.

Mr. Romney was referring to this message sent hours before the attack, and re-Tweeted after it: "The Embassy... condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims. ... We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."

Anger over a video ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad was the ostensible reason for the attacks. Mr. Romney thinks the administration should have defended free speech.

"Romney is taking fire tonight for the way he went on the attack politically," said anchor Brian Williams at the opening of NBC's Nightly News on Wednesday. He was injecting politics into a time of tragedy, many said, a criticism not made when Democrats criticized President Bush's conduct of the war in Iraq.

That night, the networks devoted 20 times the broadcast minutes to criticisms of Mr. Romney than to criticisms of how the administration has handled the crisis. It was much the same on the morning shows Thursday.

Our media should have followed up on a report in a British newspaper that the State Department ignored warnings of the attack on the consulate, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough conceded Friday, but it's Mr. Romney's fault they didn't.

"Those questions are going to be asked in the coming weeks," Mr. Scarborough said. "But they weren't asked in the first 24 hours because Romney was holding this horrific, irresponsible, press conference."

At that news conference Wednesday morning, Jan Crawford of CBS and Ari Shapiro of NPR were caught on an open mike plotting how to ensure it would focus on the timing of Mr. Romney's criticism rather than on its substance.

Most in the "mainstream" media are now de facto extensions of the Obama campaign. More people are noticing. "I think you guys are suck-ups," a woman told reporters covering a Romney rally in Virginia on Thursday.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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