For my money, the most dramatic moment of Tuesday night's presidential debate came when one of the "undecided voters" brought up the issue of Libya, which ought to have been a tough moment for the president. Here's the video, and here's how it went down on paper:
QUESTION: We were sitting around, talking about Libya, and we were
reading and became aware of reports that the State Department refused
extra security for our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the attacks
that killed four Americans.
Who was it that denied enhanced security and why?
Well, let me first of all talk about our diplomats, because they serve
all around the world and do an incredible job in a very dangerous
situation. And these aren't just representatives of the United States,
they are my representatives. I send them there, oftentimes into harm's
way. I know these folks and I know their families. So nobody is more
concerned about their safety and security than I am.
So as soon
as we found out that the Benghazi consulate was being overrun, I was on
the phone with my national security team and I gave them three
Number one, beef up our security and procedures, not just in Libya, but at every embassy and consulate in the region.
two, investigate exactly what happened, regardless of where the facts
lead us, to make sure folks are held accountable and it doesn't happen
And number three, we are going to find out who did this
and we're going to hunt them down, because one of the things that I've
said throughout my presidency is when folks mess with Americans, we go
OBAMA: Now Governor Romney had a very different
response. 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. You
don't turn national security into a political issue. Certainly not right
when it's happening. And people -- not everybody agrees with some of
the decisions I've made. But when it comes to our national security, I
mean what I say. I said I'd end the war in Libya -- in -- in Iraq, and I
I said that we'd go after al-Qaeda and bin Laden, we have. I
said we'd transition out of Afghanistan, and start making sure that
Afghans are responsible for their own security, that's what I'm doing.
And when it comes to this issue, when I say that we are going to find
out exactly what happened, everybody will be held accountable. And I am
ultimately responsible for what's taking place there because these are
my folks, and I'm the one who has to greet those coffins when they come
home. You know that I mean what I say.
CROWLEY: Mr. President, I'm going to move us along. Governor?
Thank you Kerry for your question, it's an important one. And -- and I
-- I think the president just said correctly that the buck does stop at
his desk and -- and he takes responsibility for -- for that -- for the
failure in providing those security resources, and -- and those terrible
things may well happen from time to time. I -- I'm -- I feel very
deeply sympathetic for the families of those who lost loved ones. And
today there's a memorial service for one of those that was lost in this
tragedy. We -- we think of their families and care for them deeply.
There were other issues associated with this -- with this tragedy. There
were many days that passed before we knew whether this was a
spontaneous demonstration, or actually whether it was a terrorist
ROMNEY: And there was no demonstration involved. It was a
terrorist attack and it took a long time for that to be told to the
American people. Whether there was some misleading, or instead whether
we just didn't know what happened, you have to ask yourself why didn't
we know five days later when the ambassador to the United Nations went
on TV to say that this was a demonstration. How could we have not known?
But I find more troubling than this, that on -- on the day
following the assassination of the United States ambassador, the first
time that's happened since 1979, when -- 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.
I think these -- these actions taken by a
president and a leader have symbolic significance and perhaps even
material significance in that you'd hope that during that time we could
call in the people who were actually eyewitnesses. We've read their
accounts now about what happened. It was very clear this was not a
demonstration. This was an attack by terrorists.
And this calls
into question the president's whole policy in the Middle East. Look
what's happening in Syria, in Egypt, now in Libya. Consider the distance
between ourselves and -- and Israel, the president said that -- that he
was going to put daylight between us and Israel.
We have Iran
four years closer to a nuclear bomb. Syria -- Syria's not just a tragedy
of 30,000 civilians being killed by a military, but also a strategic --
strategically significant player for America.
policies throughout the Middle East began with an apology tour and --
and -- and pursue a strategy of leading from behind, and this strategy
is unraveling before our very eyes.
CROWLEY: Because we're --
we're closing in, I want to still get a lot of people in. I want to ask
you something, Mr. President, and then have the governor just quickly.
secretary of state, as I'm sure you know, has said that she takes full
responsibility for the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
Does the buck stop with your secretary of state as far as what went on
OBAMA: Secretary Clinton has done an extraordinary job. But
she works for me. I'm the president and I'm always responsible, and
that's why nobody's more interested in finding out exactly what happened
than I do.
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
And then a few days later, I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families.
the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the Secretary of State,
our U.N. Ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead
when we've lost four of our own, governor, is offensive. That's not what
we do. That's not what I do as president, that's not what I do as
Commander in Chief.
CROWLEY: Governor, if you want to...
ROMNEY: Yes, I -- I...
CROWLEY: ... quickly to this please.
I -- 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.
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
OBAMA: Get the transcript.
CROWLEY: It -- it -- it -- he did in fact, sir. So let me -- let me call it an act of terror...
OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?
He -- he did call it an act of terror. It did as well take -- it did as
well take two weeks or so for the whole idea there being a riot out
there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.
This -- the administration -- the administration indicated this was a
reaction to a video and was a spontaneous reaction.
CROWLEY: It did.
It took them a long time to say this was a terrorist act by a terrorist
group. And to suggest -- am I incorrect in that regard, on Sunday, the
-- your secretary --
ROMNEY: Excuse me. The ambassador of the United Nations went on the Sunday television shows and spoke about how --
OBAMA: Candy, I'm --
ROMNEY: -- this was a spontaneous --
CROWLEY: Mr. President, let me --
OBAMA: I'm happy to have a longer conversation --
CROWLEY: I know you --
OBAMA: -- about foreign policy.
CROWLEY: Absolutely. But I want to -- I want to move you on and also --
OBAMA: OK. I'm happy to do that, too.