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On Benghazi, Obama vs. Republicans again

May 24, 2013|By Michael McGough | This post has been updated as indicated below.

Maybe because President Obama said so many other things in his speech Thursday -- about drones, Guantanamo and a “new phase” in the war against terrorism -- a reference to Benghazi didn’t attract much attention. But, at the risk of over-interpretation, it struck me as another attempt by the president to counter the Republican claim that he refused to recognize Benghazi as a terrorist attack.

Here’s what Obama said: “Now, make no mistake, our nation is still threatened by terrorists. From Benghazi to Boston, we have been tragically reminded of that truth. But we have to recognize that the threat has shifted and evolved from the one that came to our shores on 9/11.”

You’ll remember the presidential debate at which Mitt Romney claimed that “it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.”  Romney was responding to this quote from Obama: “The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened [and] that this was an act of terror.”  Republicans went wild, pointing out that Obama hadn’t used the exact phrase “this was an act of terror.

What he actually said on the day after the attack was this: “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.”

Given the context, it was a distinction without a difference. But the Republicans’ objection makes a bit more sense when you realize that by “act of terror” they meant “act of terror by Al Qaeda.” According to the (still prevalent) GOP conspiracy theory, Obama was desperate to disguise the fact that the Benghazi attack was the work of an organized terrorist group lest it undermine his claim to have decimated Al Qaeda. For the same reason, they maintain, the administration concocted the theory that the attack was inspired by a protest over an anti-Islamic video.

Obama’s decision to bracket Benghazi with Boston looks like an attempt to put another dent in that narrative. The clincher is in this quotation from his speech Thursday: “Today, the core of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on the path to defeat. Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us. They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston.”

Take that, Republicans.

[Updated on May 25 at 11:34 a.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that Obama's description of his remarks in the Rose Garden was a response to the quotation from Romney.]

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