The Jimmy Carter Strategy? Really?

Oct 1 2012 @ 12:20pm

Yes, that's apparently the latest desperate idea from the Romney campaign:

The source described the Republicans as chortling with glee that the Obama administration "definitely had intel" about the attack before it happened. "Intelligence can be graded in different ways," he added, "and sometimes A and B don’t get connected. But [the Romney campaign] will try to paint it to look like Obama had advance knowledge of the attack and is weak on terrorism."

He said they were jubilant about their new strategy and said they intended to portray Obama as a helpless, Jimmy Carter-like president and to equate the tragedy in Libya with President Carter’s failed attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980. "They are so excited about it," he said. "Over and over again they talked about how it would be just like Jimmy Carter’s failed raid. They feel it is going to give them a last-minute landslide in the election."

What's amazing to me is that they are still trying to reconjure Reagan's 1980 campaign! The man has been turned into a God and his policies and electoral tactics are like some kind of eternal creed to which these lost souls subscribe. But using the recent mess in Libya as Obama's equivalent of Carter's helicopter crash? Please. Obama had one such moment – and he killed Osama bin Laden, something Dick Cheney couldn't do however many people he had tortured. And yet today's aspic-GOP have nowhere but 1980 to turn. Marc Lynch rolls his eyes:

[I]n what passes for foreign policy debate six weeks before a presidential election, Republicans are focused on selectively parsing words to concoct a fantasy of the greatest scandal in American history — worse than Watergate! As dangerous as the failure to connect dots before 9/11! Grounds for impeachment! The political calculations here are almost painfully transparent, as the Romney campaign desperately flails about for a way to attack Obama on foreign policy and change the subject to anything which doesn't include the phrase "47 percent." The media, bored with the current electoral narrative and always infatuated with sensational images of Muslim rage and the hint of scandal, is happy to play along. Such is policy debate during election season.

The focus of the "BenghaziGate" narrative has been on the conflicting narratives offered by Obama administration officials about what happened. The administration, they argue, intentionally played down the terrorism dimension of the attack for political reasons. A fair reading of administration statements would suggest confusion in the initial fog of war, with conflicting information and carefully guarded assessments which were updated as more evidence came in. Frankly, I don't think the administration did a particularly good job of communicating their stance, or coordinating their message across different officials, and they did seem oddly defensive and reactive as the media narrative gathered steam. But as "scandals" go this is weak stuff indeed.  

The real questions:

Was this an opportunistic attack by local extremists, or an attack coordinated with and supported by the remnants of al Qaeda Central? Even if it was opportunistic and unplanned, will its success become a model for future attacks? Will the Libyan government and the popular movements to disarm militias be strong enough to successfully establish state control? What is the significance of the fizzling of the protests across most of the region, and the crackdown by elected governments on the groups behind them? What about other governments faced with potentially emergent extremist groups, from Tunisia and Egypt to farther afield? How could the United States effectively work with those governments to meet such challenges? And at home, does Romney support Arab democracy along with long-time advocates in his party such as John McCain and Bill Kristol, or does he side with those on the GOP right more fearful of the empowerment of Islamists? I certainly don't know the answers to all these questions, even if most contributors to the "debate" seem to have such perfect information.