A strong majority of National Journal’s National Security Insiders disagreed with Republicans who claim the Obama administration of being deliberately misleading about the attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed ambassador Chris Stevens when it delayed calling it a terrorist attack.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan — along with many Republicans in Congress — have criticized the Obama administration for saying the deadly assault was the result of a spontaneous outbreak of violence amid protests over an anti-Muslim film, rather than the work of terrorists linked to al-Qaida as the administration now asserts. But three-quarters of Insiders do not believe the Obama administration distorted the facts for political purposes.
“The explanation for any incident such as this understandably evolves as additional information becomes available,” one Insider said. “Republicans are merely grasping for one more stick with which to beat the president.”
First reports in such incidents are notoriously inaccurate, according to several Insiders. “Just because the information was wrong does not mean the administration was trying to mislead,” said one.
Still, the experts said, the administration could have handled the unfolding crisis better. “They would have served the nation better recognizing the possibilities and by citing the need for investigation before commenting to the public,” an Insider said.
Even after the contentious House hearing last week revealed inconsistencies in the administration’s stories about the Benghazi attack, there was no sign of deliberate misleading, another Insider said.
“Still, from the public view, the net effect can be the same, and the lessons learned just as elusive.”
However, a minority of 26 percent of the Insiders surveyed said they do believe the Obama administration deliberately misled people by delaying to label the assault a terrorist attack.
“Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the security situation in Libya understood right after the attack occurred that this was a deliberate, well-planned action,” one Insider said. “You don’t take a rocket-propelled grenade to a ‘spontaneous’ demonstration. You’re clearly planning something if you do.”
Separately, 76 percent of Insiders said that Romney, if elected, would not be able to fulfill his campaign pledges to eliminate any “daylight” between the positions of Washington and its ally Israel —and reach the “vital” goal of an independent Palestinian state.
“Adhering to the Israeli position on the peace process will all but guarantee the failure of negotiations to create a Palestinian state,” one Insider said. “The president will have to convince Israel to back off its hard-line negotiating stance, not support Israeli leaders who would rather derail any prospects of a Palestinian state.”
Romney, another Insider said, has already “painted himself into a corner by drinking the Israeli bathwater” and has no more chance than any of the previous U.S. administrations. “Perhaps less.” Another Insider said that Romney, backed by millions of dollars in pro-Israel cash, will effectively “put Tel Aviv in charge” of America's Middle East foreign policy. “He made it clear in the secretly recorded video that he has no intention of moving forward on a two-state solution,” the Insider said.
Some Insiders were optimistic Romney had a fighting chance to fulfill both those pledges. “The only way to get a deal between Israel and Palestine is if both sides trust the U.S. Lacking that trust, neither side will budge,” one Insider said. "The Palestinians want the U.S. to push Israel, but Israeli leaders will only be responsive to American efforts if they trust Washington — which is not the case today.”
Another Insider quipped: “Could he do any worse than the Bush and Obama administrations?”