Is the Libyan terrorist attack Obama’s “Mission Accomplished moment”? Or his Jimmy Carter moment?
Why did the White House persist so long in sticking to the fairytale that the terrorist attack and assassination of American diplomats in Libya was a “spontaneous” demonstration that got out of hand, and caused solely by the Muslim world’s reaction to a heinous YouTube video? It was only on Thursday that Press Secretary Jay Carney conceded that it was a terrorist attack in Libya following the congressional testimony of the country's counterterrorism director.
Even early public intelligence sources indicated the attacks were planned in advance, timed to coincide with September 11th, and orchestrated by Al Qaeda and violent jihadist groups. Subsequent reports indicated that despite warnings that our ambassador was in danger around the September 11th anniversary, no extra security was provided. Fox News’ Bret Baier also learned the attack was likely carried out by longtime Al Qaeda operative, Sufyan ben Qumu, a Gitmo detainee we transferred to Libya in 2007 and one of our rebel “allies” in the Libyan war. In order words, did we help arm a once-and-future Al Qaeda kingpin, who within a year turned those arms on the very Americans who helped him?.
If it didn’t have such deadly consequences, it would be farcical.
So why did the administration continue for so long to stick by a story no one believed? Because the political stakes are so high. At all costs, they have to avoid being held accountable for a failed Middle East policy before the election. They can’t let this be President Obama’s Jimmy Carter moment.
The Obama administration is haunted by the 1980 election, when Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan because of a hostage crisis in the Middle East.
Thirty-two years ago Jimmy Carter’s reelection seemed guaranteed – despite a horrible economy, mounting unemployment, and high oil prices. Carter had orchestrated a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt in early 1979 and planned to run for reelection on his foreign policy record. But in late 1979 Iranian students stormed the American embassy in Tehran and took 52 American diplomats hostage. Carter tried and failed to rescue them, and by election time 1980 he became the personification of an America in retreat.
Look at the photo of the White House situation room during last year’s attack on the Bin Laden compound. You can read the tension in their faces – if the Bin Laden raid had failed, Obama’s goose was cooked. But the raid did succeed, spectacularly, and Obama rightly deserves credit. The Obama campaign has touted the president’s foreign policy record: he’s not Jimmy Carter. He’s Obama-the-Usama-Slayer.’ The War on Terror is over. We won the Libyan War. The Arab Spring is a success. Al Qaeda is finished.
They were almost home free….until last week.
But now, just when they thought they were out of danger from an “October surprise” that could jeopardize Obama’s reelection, another Mideast crisis is reaching up from the grave to pull them down.
If the Libyan and Egyptian attacks are shown to be the work of Al Qaeda, Obama looks like President Bush with “Mission Accomplished.” The Arab Spring which President Obama was instrumental in shaping, now looks like the Winter of our Discontent. What if the entire Muslim world, from Algeria to Pakistan, erupts in anti-American demonstrations, many violent?
Politically, the Obama administration is in full damage-control mode, and must avoid all responsibility for the anti-American flames now burning throughout the Middle East.
By getting out in front of the story now, and spinning their own narrative of events, the administration ensures that no matter what happens next in the Middle East, it’s not their fault. They can’t be held accountable for demonstrations against a YouTube video they had nothing do to with.
But it might not work.
What happens if there are more attacks on Americans in the Middle East? What happens when the administration-supported Hollywood film about the killing of Bin Laden comes out? What if the next attack doesn’t result in assassinations but hostages? Can you imagine the national conversation we’d be having in response to a hostage video with Al Qaeda terrorists in black ski masks in front of their black flag wielding a scimitar at the neck a blindfolded, kneeling American citizen? Then it’s not Bush’s "Mission Accomplished," or Jimmy Carter’s Tehran hostages, it’s Nixon’s “What did the president know and when did he know it?” That’s a story even the mainstream media might decide they can’t suppress.
Kathleen Troia "K.T." McFarland is a Fox News National Security Analyst and host of FoxNews.com's "DefCon 3." She served in national security posts in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations.