With the media firmly in tow, the White House spin machine made a strategic error in trying to direct attention in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on diplomatic missions to Mitt Romney’s comments objecting to the administration’s apologetic tone. “Shoot first, aim later” is now coming back to bite the Obama team.
On Sunday Robert Gibbs got a taste of what is in store for President Obama and his top advisers:
Ooof. If the administration didn’t lie about the spontaneous nature of the attacks, its officials were speaking again and again for more than a week without knowing the facts, the very thing it accused Mitt Romney of doing. (Gibbs’s finger-pointing on the sequestration is a classic Obama dodge; if the president tries it, he will be eviscerated. Not only did Obama’s team suggest the sequestration cuts and the president sign the legislation, but Obama then removed himself entirely from the super committee process. He was acting like a passive observer, not the president.
Moreover, it’s not like the administration voluntarily changed its tune on the Libya account. All of the following disputed the “spontaneous” explanation: multiple press accounts; the administration’s own national anti-terrorism official; and Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), not to mention House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and the Libyans. Finally, the administration could no longer stick to its cover story.
It strains credulity to think that anyone upon learning there were multiple attacks on U.S. sites on 9/11 would have as its first reaction: “Oh, the movie made them do it.” If the administration actually believed such a tale, it can be only because Obama and his aides have come to believe their own spin — Osama bin Laden’s death dealt a fatal blow to al-Qaeda; the problem in the region has been the West’s historic insensitivity to Muslims; none of the events in the Middle East stem from the perception of U.S. weakness; etc.
You can tell that panic is settling in, as the Obama team looks for someone else to blame. Buzzfeed notes that the administration may well be out to spin this as “Hillary’s fault”: “[I]n reality, the fiasco appears to be largely — if not entirely — a State Department botch. It was the State Department that failed to provide its ambassador adequate security; it was the State Department that fled Benghazi in the aftermath of the attack, apparently failing to clear or secure the scene, leaving Stevens’ diary behind; and it was State that had taken the lead on the ground after the Libya intervention.” Parroting what will soon be the Obama campaign line, the report argues: “With the stunning revelations in the Ambassador’s personal diary, the continued failure to get the Libya story straight, and Team Clinton’s over-the-top response to any questioning of the official narrative, Clinton’s State Department legacy is at risk of being permanently tarnished..”
Something tells me that neither Bill nor Hillary Clinton is going to take that lying down. It was Obama who dragged his feet on Libya, allowing the extremists to gain a foothold there. It was Obama who chest-thumped over Osama bin Laden’s killing and made the argument that the war on terror was essentially over. It was Obama’s press secretary who insisted that the attack had nothing to do with the United States or with the president’s policies. And most critically, it was Obama who conceived of himself as a transformational figure whose whose word, he thought, could alter the course of U.S. relations with the “Muslim World.” That the administration has had no coherent policy for the Middle East post-Arab Spring and has been unable to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program are Hillary Clinton’s failings in part, but does anyone think Obama isn’t running his own foreign policy?
Clinton has been a dutiful foot soldier, but no one would ever accuse her of constructing a foreign policy built around the president’s persona. Obama did that, and he’ll have nowhere to run when the media, Congress and country recognize what a flop it has been.