At the second presidential debate, Barack Obama claimed that within hours of its occurrence, he referred to the September 11th attack on the American embassy inLibya as an “act of terror.” When Mitt Romney proceeded to challenge the President’s veracity on this score, moderator Candy Crowley insisted that Obama was correct.
This brief exchange is now being treated as the single most important event of the evening. Today, Crowley is as much at the center of media attention, of controversy, as are Romney and Obama.
Crowley and Obama are both correct that, within 24 hours or so of the murder of our ambassador and three others, the latter did indeed use the expression “act of terror” in connection with the Libya incident. From the Rose Garden, Obama said that “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.”
This is fine and well. Every American can sleep just a bit easier knowing that the Obama administration will not tolerate acts of terror. But Mr. President, we were still left wondering, is this act such an act?
Grammatically and logically, there is all of the difference between those propositions that are universal and those that are particular. Knowing a thing or two about all acts of terror is not the same as knowing whether any particular act deserves to be treated as a member of that class.
Objectors will claim that even though he didn’t explicitly identify the Libyan attack as an act of terror, given the context of Obama’s remarks, it is clear that he implicitly described it as such.
The problem, though, with this line of reasoning, is that not only is it not clear that this is what Obama did; the context makes it pretty clear that he did not identify the Libyan attack an act of terror.
An analogy may help here. As a college instructor, I give my students writing assignments. Now, suppose that one of my students, Bill, say, submits work that is suspiciously similar in wording to the work of another one of my students, say, Joe. It is possible that neither Bill nor Joe acted inappropriately, but it is also possible that they either plagiarized one another or a third person.
Now, I stand before my students and indignantly declare: “No acts of plagiarism will ever shake the resolve of this great institution of higher learning, alter the character, or eclipse the light of the values that it stands for.”
Given this context, all that an observer is justified in inferring is that I have zero tolerance for plagiarism and that I suspect that plagiarism may have occurred.
No one would be justified in concluding that I hold either Bill or Joe to be a plagiarist.
Similarly, all that the President’s remarks established is that his administration has zero tolerance for acts of terror and that he recognizes the possibility that the Libyan attack was an act of terror.
They most decidedly do not establish that he was convinced that it was an act of terror.
There are other considerations that render Obama’s andCrowley’s claim even more suspect.
For one, for a couple of weeks following the Libyan attack, the President’s administration insisted that it was a “spontaneous” reaction to an amateurish “anti-Islam” video made by some obscure American. This was the line regurgitated on multiple occasions by Obama’s UN ambassador, Hillary Clinton, Jay Carney, and the President himself. In fact, when Obama addressed the world via the United Nations, he mentioned this video six times. He called the Libyan attack an act of terror not once.
A spontaneous reaction, an uprising or revolt, is not an act of terror. The attack in Libya could be one or the other, but it cannot be both. Obama clearly made his choice before it was no longer possible for him to stick by it.
But there is another consideration that may be lost upon commentators.
The President has repeatedly castigated Romney for jumping to conclusions. Romney, he once said, tends to “shoot first and aim later.” Recall, Romney was excoriated by the left-wing media for pronouncing the Libya attack a terrorist attack shortly after it transpired.
Yet if Obama beat Romney to the punch and called it a terrorist attack at roughly the same time, as he and Crowley now maintain, then, we are compelled to ask, didn’t Obama shoot before aiming? Wouldn’t he be guilty of doing what he has been warning all of us against by drawing premature conclusions?
Granted, this wouldn’t be the first time that the President’s preaching contradicted his practice. But in this case, I think the more likely explanation for such a glaring contradiction is that he simply isn’t telling the truth when he said that he called out the Libya attack as an act of terror on September 12th.