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Romney must confront Obama about troubling details of Libya attack

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Oct. 16, 2012: Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question during the second presidential debate.AP/Reuters Pool

In just four years the foreign policy of the Obama administration has turned the United States from superpower to international joke. Now it’s cost the lives of four innocent Americans, including the first American ambassador to be murdered in four decades.   

If Mitt Romney really wants to win tonight’s foreign affairs debate–and very probably wrap up this election–he needs to stay laser-focused on one issue: Libya and the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others.

There are four vital questions about what happened in Benghazi on September 11-12, 2012 to which the American people, and the families of the four Americans killed, deserve answers. Governor Romney needs to make them central to the proceedings on Monday night.

If Mitt Romney really wants to win tonight’s foreign affairs debate–and very probably wrap up this election–he needs to stay laser-focused on one issue: Libya and the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others.

First, why did the Obama administration ignore the repeated pleas to strengthen security for our people in Libya from State Department security chief Andrew Wood; the man on the ground in charge of security, Greg Nordstrom; and even Ambassador Stevens himself, whose June 25 memo was headlined “fragile security deteriorating.“ In his memo, Stevens noted the rise of pro-Al Qaeda sentiment in Libya, including Al Qaeda flags popping up in Benghazi and elsewhere. Why it allow Stevens to go to Benghazi knowing it might cost him his life?  

Second, how could our government have refused to act during the six hours in which the attack on the Benghazi unfolded, even as a drone camera was giving a real time view of the entire incident?  An attack on an American ambassador is an act of war. No less than three American military bases had assets like jet fighters and Specter AC-130 gunships that could have been over Benghazi in matter of minutes. 

According to CBS News, a special ops team was even sent to our Naval Air Station at Sigonella, sixty minutes from Libya–but then were told to do nothing. Even if a Rapid Response Team couldn’t have reached Benghazi in time,  why didn’t one deploy to secure the murder scene afterward–instead of allowing the mob to loot, burn and steal, with the ambassador’s own diary lying around for a CNN reporter to pick up?  

Third, who first concocted “the spontaneous reaction” to a YouTube video as the reason for the attack, ignoring both the Libya CIA station chief’s assessment and that of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research in the first 24 hours, that this was a planned and coordinated terrorist attack? Was it the same person or persons who decided to stick to that explanation and even repeat it six times in the president’s speech at the United Nations, even when all the growing evidence–including the drone video of the attack -- pointed the other way?  

Clearly this president and this administration were, and still are, engaged in a cover-up.

 That leads to the final vital question:  what are they covering up?

Already rumors are swirling that Ambassador Stevens was in Benghazi on a clandestine mission relating to arms the Obama team had secretly supplied to Libyan militias–just as other rumors abound that Obama is planning a sudden “October surprise” military strike in Libya or elsewhere, in order to salvage his reputation, as well as the election.

The best antidote to false rumors is the truth. On Monday night Mitt Romney needs to be the one who publicly shines the light of truth on this sordid, tragic mess. If he does, he will earn the gratitude not just of the families of the dead, but the entire nation.

Historian Arthur Herman is author "The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization" (Random House 2013).