It's clear from the series of emails that the White House was informed that the attack on the American embassy in Libya may have been a planned, organized terrorist attack. President Obama's critics jumped on this again supposedly as smoking gun proof that the White House engaged in a massive cover-up to keep the truth from the American people. But what was the truth? And what proof is there that Obama had conclusive evidence that the attack was the handiwork of a terrorist organization? And if so, just what terrorist organization might that have been? And even if more information about whom and what was behind the attack were known at the time, what motive would Obama have for covering up the information?
There are no clear answers to any of these questions. The emails that have been released so far in and of themselves don't provide the answers to any of these questions. But the larger question is will the Benghazi attack emails do any damage to Obama's reelection drive? The GOP, assorted websites, bloggers, and the usual anti-Obama suspects, have had a field day trying to paint the administration as inept and with a huge credibility gap at best and, at worst, deceitful. Some even liken this to Obama's Carter moment. This of course equates the Libyan debacle to the Iran hostage crisis that is generally regarded as a prime reason that Reagan got a boost in the closing days of the 1980 campaign and ultimately led to Carter being dumped from office.
There's no comparison between the two catastrophes. The Iran hostage crisis stretched over 444 days, and involved a long train of inept, failed diplomatic initiatives, a disastrous military action, all set against a fanatical nation-state that was determined to use the crisis to give America a political black eye. There was also the hint of a deal to delay the release of the hostages until after the presidential elections. None of these factors are at play in the Libyan embassy disaster.
That doesn't mean that Benghazi has no political significance in Obama's close election battle with Romney. But it will not be a significant factor. The reason for that goes beyond the issue itself. It strikes to the heart of how foreign policy issues have been reduced to the backwater, as almost after thoughts during the presidential campaign. The foreign policy debate was textbook proof of that. The Libyan embassy debacle was quickly brushed aside and while there was some talk about Iran, Israel, and China, Obama and Romney sped quickly back to domestic issues, to pound each other on who best will handle the issue of jobs and the economy. The debate was the least watched of the three debates. This further underscored the consensus point that Americans may regard Iran's potential nuclear armament with a nervous eye. But they are nerve wracked by the prospect of being jobless, under-employed, and having even less in their paychecks and pocketbooks. Gallup's "Most Important Problem" list in October amply confirmed that. In 2000, barely twenty percent of respondents listed economic issues as a prime concern. That number more than tripled in 2008 to nearly seventy percent. It proved to be the make-or-break issue to determine who would bag the White House in 2008. It made Obama and broke the GOP's John McCain. It's even more of a defining issue this election since nearly three out of four Americans ranked jobs and the economy at the top of the "problem list." It didn't much matter the gender. Nearly as many women as men said they were jittery about the economy.
If this was any other presidential election, and the potentially dynamite revelation that the incumbent president possibly fumbled the ball on a grave foreign policy disaster such as Benghazi, the challenger would have pounced on it with both feet. But Romney was virtually mute on what Obama did or didn't do about the embassy killings. He continued to pound away on his one and only theme that he -- not Obama -- can best turn the economy around.
But even if Romney had chosen to take Obama on on the questionable emails about the White House's knowledge of the Benghazi attack, it still wouldn't have much resonance.
Obama's foreign policy successes have been too pronounced to be cavalierly dismissed as inconsequential, or ridiculed as disastrous and harmful. Romney showed that by agreeing more than disagreeing with Obama on several key foreign policy initiatives. This was done partly out of the necessity to appeal to the moderate center, and partly out of the need to keep the election and the campaign focused squarely on the economy. The murderous sequence of events in Libya will likely remain clouded in controversy over whether the White House handled the crisis expertly or ineptly. But for now the Libyan embassy revelations won't hurt Obama.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.