“Spoiler alert: we got bin Laden.”
This statement from the Commander-in-Chief was part of a light moment as President Obama and Governor Romney poked fun at themselves and each other during the traditional Alfred E. Smith dinner. But, it was also a glimpse into what has become this Administration’s key talking point describing what they consider a successful national security and foreign policy. This was evident in Monday night’s presidential debate.
Of course, Americans are grateful that Osama bin Laden is no longer able to plan additional acts of terrorism against us. It is a tremendous victory for our military and our nation. But the vast majority of Americans are sophisticated enough to understand the world is complicated, dangerous and in constant flux. And they know that America’s national security policy must reflect and be responsive to this ever-changing reality.
Consider the danger of a nuclear Iran, the resurgence of al Qaeda in Africa and parts of the Middle East, threats from Russia and China, and growing extremism around the world as evidence of just a few national security challenges. The President - our head of state, Commander-in-Chief, and leader of the executive branch - must be able to address a myriad of security challenges; and he must be willing to speak truthfully to the American public. Winning one battle - in this case killing bin Laden - does not mean we have won the war on terror. The death of bin Laden is not the death of al Qaeda.
Case in point is the failure to protect our Ambassador and other Americans serving our country in Libya.
Six weeks after extremists murdered four American diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, the President’s stump speech continues to highlight the death of bin Laden and the withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet, he and his team have not told the American people what really happened in Benghazi.
The debate over whether or not the President labeled the Benghazi attack what it is - terrorism - the day after, is semantics. The fact remains that Ambassador Rice and other high-ranking officials in the Obama administration went out of their way to point out that the tragic events in Libya were in response to a now infamous YouTube video offensive to Muslims. For two weeks - two weeks - they placed blame for the attack on a “widespread” protest of the anti-Muslim video. The problem is that this rhetoric doesn’t equate with reality.
There were warnings from our own diplomats. Newly released documents written by our Ambassador detailed the deteriorating security situation and underscored just how dangerous Libya had become. There were also repeated requests for increased security on the ground - with one document stating: "What we have seen are not random crimes of opportunity, but rather targeted and discriminate attacks."
And let us not forget the events leading up to the deadly attack. The American Consulate had been previously attacked twice. The British consulate in Benghazi was closed after the British ambassador was attacked, and the Red Cross was closed due to deteriorating security.
Then came September 11, 2012 - on the 11th anniversary of that terrible attack on U.S. soil. The assault lasted seven hours, with no land troops or other military reinforcements available. Witnesses called the storming of the compound a “strong, multi-pronged and organized” effort, with perpetrators wielding various weapons, including machine guns and RPGs.
Media reports now state that the CIA chief in Libya informed Washington within 24 hours that the attack was carried out by militants. Libya’s President said that there is “no doubt” that this was terrorism.
Every day it is increasingly clear that, tragically, the deaths of four Americans in Libya were the result of a failure by our government. But who does “the buck really stop” with? The handling of the attack at best shows this Administration's incompetence in managing the basic responsibilities of protecting those on the front lines of our national security. At worse, it demonstrates a lackadaisical foreign policy approach. Those serving our country and representing America are deserving of much more.
Perhaps I am more sensitive to this outrage because I lived this reality. As a military wife, whose husband has selflessly sworn to defend America with his life, I dare not even imagine how his safety may not be as serious a consideration as it should be for his Commander-in-Chief.
I know my concern is shared by Pat Smith, whose son Sean was killed in Benghazi. My heart broke when I saw her being interviewed on television pleading with the President and his team saying, “Just tell me the truth... I look at TV and I see bloody hand prints on walls, thinking, my god, is that my son's? I don't know if he was shot. I don't know.” She and the other families deserve to know.
The campaign speeches will continue for the next two weeks, and chances are that the Benghazi story will continue to shift. As Americans follow this story, they must remember more than just one talking point about one battle that was won - important as it may be - for our national security. They need to remember that any President must be nimble enough to ensure the safety of those serving us while serving as head of state and the leader of our country. If one applies that test to President Obama, the results may be the real spoiler alert for him on Election Day.
Jennifer S. Korn, a Marine Corps spouse, is Executive Director of the Hispanic Leadership Network (HLN). Previously, she served in President George W. Bush’s White House as Director of Hispanic and Women’s Affairs.