Is Benghazi a Game-Changer for Romney?

The 2012 U.S. presidential election has been a fight about domestic policy. The economy and healthcare dominate the agenda, and foreign policy has scarcely been an issue on the campaign trail. In Ohio, a key swing state, only a quarter of voters viewed foreign policy as extremely important to their vote.

And why would voters worry about it? Osama bin Laden is dead. Unpopular wars are drawing to a close.  Sure, Mitt Romney asserted at the Republican National Convention that President Obama “has thrown allies like Israel under the bus,” “abandoned” Poland, and been weak on Iran. But these arguments came 32 minutes into his speech. Were the people of America even still listening?

On September 11th, Americans started paying attention. Eleven years after the Twin Towers fell, militants stormed the American embassies across the Middle East and murdered Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Libya. These Americans died on President Obama’s watch, and Mitt Romney won’t let him forget it.

In an editorial in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, Romney claimed that Obama has not only “allowed [U.S.] leadership to atrophy,” but that the president also “seeks to downplay the significance of the calamities of the past few weeks.” In short, the president is weak and unwilling to face the consequences of his actions.

The new allegations might stick. The Obama administration is facing pressure not only from Republicans, but even political satirist Jon Stewart criticized the administration for its “duck and cover-up” response to the attacks. If comedians think the administration failed, likely, so do voters.

The Obama administration could recover from embarrassment with swift action, but such a response is unlikely. Instead of going to the site of the murders in Benghazi, U.S. investigators are camped out in Tripoli, and the State Department has withdrawn its presence from the city. This reaction does little to dispel Romney’s accusations of the administration’s weakness.

Still, this storm may blow over in the coming weeks. Nearly a month after the attacks, a Reuters/Ipsos poll shows Obama winning by a 13 percent margin on the issue of terrorism.

Moreover, the rhythm of the campaign is pushing Libya off the agenda. President Obama and Mitt Romney meet tonight for the first of three presidential debates. The first debate will focus solely on domestic policy, and it will be nearly two weeks before the candidates have a chance to face-off on foreign issues. By then, the citizens of Ohio may not remember what happened Benghazi, or they simply may not care.

Published 03 October 2012

Author Kristīne Bērziņa