By Juan Williams - 10/22/12 09:00 AM EDT
With the presidential candidates preparing for Monday’s final debate on foreign policy, it is time for American journalism to hit pause on the political spin cycle and — without taking sides — make three corrections to the record about the campaign’s most controversial foreign policy topic: the murder of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya.
The first correction is to the charge that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice lied to the American people in the days after the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.
Rice told television interviewers the violence grew out of a spontaneous demonstration, prompted by an American anti-Muslim video.
She was not the only one relying on those initial intelligence reports.
Two days after the attack, CIA Director David Petraeus briefed the House Intelligence Committee. Petraeus told lawmakers the best intelligence showed it was a demonstration sparked by the video that got out of hand, according to Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), the panel’s ranking Democrat.
Patrick Kennedy, the Undersecretary of State for Management, also said — in testimony before Congress earlier this month — that anyone would have said exactly what Rice said based on the intelligence available at the time.
Some U.S. officials have said they never believed the attack was mounted by a disorganized mob, but that was not the official assessment.
The spin-free truth is that Rice accurately stated what U.S. intelligence showed at the time, and stressed that there was an ongoing investigation where conclusions were subject to change.
Now for the second correction.
It is being charged that requests for extra security in Benghazi were denied by the administration.
The suggestion is that the attack would have been stopped, and the ambassador still alive, if the requests had been granted.
But at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this month, Charlene Lamb, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and head of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, testified that the request was for added security in Tripoli, the capital of Libya, and not Benghazi.
The added manpower would have been based 400 miles away from the violence.
In addition, U.S. security officials report more guards could not have repelled heavy weapons used by the attackers.
The Wall Street Journal has reported “a four-man team of armed guards protecting the perimeter and four unarmed Libyan guards inside to screen visitors.”
In addition, "Besides the four armed Libyans outside, five armed State Department diplomatic security officers were at the consulate.”
There is an air of hypocrisy about this second charge from Republican critics.
House Republicans voted to cut nearly $300 million in funding from Embassy Security as part of their most recent budget.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) conceded this in a CNN interview.
“Absolutely. Look, we have to make priorities and choices in this country… When you’re in tough economic times, you have to make difficult choices how to prioritize this.”
The third and final correction comes in response to the charge that the attack on Benghazi is evidence that al Qaeda is resurgent.
The Romney campaign argues that, notwithstanding the Obama administration’s claims, the threat from al Qaeda has not significantly diminished despite the death of Osama bin Laden.
The reality is that missions authorized by the Obama administration have killed the top commanders of the terrorist group, including bin Laden.
In addition, President Obama’s drone strikes targeting al Qaeda members have decimated the remaining members of the group.
Tommy Vietor, a National Secretary Council spokesman, explains the impact.
“Our assessment that we have decimated al Qaeda leadership is unchanged. Dozens of their senior leadership have been taken off the battlefield as a result of the president's anti-terror policies,” Vietor said.
“We know affiliates like al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula will seek to target us and that's why we go after them relentlessly."
This is a key point.
No one is arguing that all Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is gone.
There are still radical groups intent on killing Americans. As one incarnation of al Qaeda is smashed, another one may emerge.
Young Islamic radicals are currently a threat in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, but they are not the same terrorists that attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.
Once the political spin stops, the bottom line is there is no evidence so far to support the Romney camp’s claim of incompetence or a cover-up by the administration. There is only a tragic attack on the United States, our understanding of which is becoming clearer as new intelligence comes to light.
Win at all costs and apologize later is the rule in political campaigns, and the GOP has seen Obama’s approval rating on foreign policy fall in the aftermath of the Libya attack.
But this is one political strategy that is based on deliberate misinformation about the Benghazi assault.
Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.