When “No Acts of Terror” Actually Means “This Act of Terror”

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TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP / Getty Images

President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney engage in finger-pointing during Tuesday night's debate on Long Island.

When bad things happen, it’s human nature to accentuate the positive, as Johnny Mercer put it. That’s precisely what the Obama Administration did following the September 11 killing of U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three fellow Americans in a terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

The Administration spent days trying – hoping – that an inflammatory U.S. anti-Muslim video sparked a spontaneous attack. Even as it became clear that it was a sophisticated planned strike by militias possibly linked to al Qaeda, the Administration continued to blame the video.

In Tuesday night’s second presidential debate, we also learned that President Obama isn’t beyond twisting what he said then to make him sound better now:

Obama: The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people in the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime…

Romney: I think interesting the president just said something which – which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror.

Obama: That’s what I said.

Romney: You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, it was an act of terror? It was not a spontaneous demonstration, is that what you’re saying?

Obama: Please proceed governor.

Romney: I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the President 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.

Obama: Get the transcript.

So we did. According to that transcript, here’s what Obama said in the Rose Garden Sept. 12 at the end of his five-minute statement:

As Americans, let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it, and in some cases, lay down their lives for it. Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those both civilian and military who represent us around the globe. No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.

Pretty weak reed.

We also learned that Mitt Romney can’t shake the stink he generated by jumping on the attacks in Benghazi and Cairo before the smoke, literally, had cleared.

“While we were still dealing with our diplomats being threatened, Governor Romney put out a press release, trying to make political points, and that’s not how a commander-in-chief operates,” Obama snarled. “You don’t turn national security into a political issue — certainly not right when it’s happening.”

Romney, in turn, accused Obama with putting partisan politics above national security. “On the day following the assassination of the United States ambassador, the first time that’s happened since 1979 — when we have four Americans killed there, when apparently we didn’t know what happened, that the President, the day after that happened, flies to Las Vegas for a political fund-raiser, then the next day to Colorado for another event, other political event,” he countered.

It was in Colorado, two days after the attack, that Obama more explicitly linked it to terrorism:

So what I want all of you to know is that we are going to bring those who killed our fellow Americans to justice. I want people around the world to hear me: to all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished. It will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America.

Think of it as a he-said, he-said debate.

That question about Libyan security, or the lack of it, was the only one Tuesday night that dealt with national-security matters. “I’m happy,” Obama as he and Romney wrestled over Libya, “to have a longer conversation about foreign policy.”

He’ll get his wish next Monday night when the two square off on the topic in Boca Raton, Fla. But if the tension between the two candidates – which seemed to spike when responding to the Libya question – is repeated during the foreign-policy session, it could turn into yet another lengthy engagement without a clear victor.