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Byron York: Will Romney push Libya issue?

Posted: October 17, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 17, 2012 2:00 a.m.

In the closing days of the 2004 presidential campaign, it was reported that U.S. forces had lost track of hundreds of tons of dangerous munitions in Iraq. Democratic candidate John Kerry decided to devote the final stretch of his campaign to slamming President George W. Bush over the issue.

Perhaps one lesson of the missing-weapons episode is that seizing on a last-minute event probably doesn’t change the long-established dynamics of a race.

That’s something Mitt Romney’s supporters are keeping in mind as they consider new and damaging information about the Obama administration’s handling of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead.

Evidence is mounting daily that the Obama administration not only mishandled the security issue in Libya, but that top administration figures -- from the secretary of state to the U.N. ambassador to the president himself -- pushed a version of events that the administration knew was untrue.

Given all that, there are those in Romney’s extended circle of aides and advisers who want to see the candidate come out swinging against Obama on the Libya issue. And then there are those who counsel holding back. The advocates of restraint are winning.

The case for coming out swinging: The scandal is both significant and revealing. Obama’s top aides have wanted the public to believe that the fight against al-Qaida pretty much ended with the death of Osama bin Laden. And in their desire to present the chaotic, dangerous situation in Libya as “normal,” they dangerously underemphasized security for Ambassador Stevens and his staff. Then they misled the public about it.

The case for holding back: The Libya story is moving forward on its own, pressed by Republican Rep. Darrell Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (an active Romney surrogate), who are running the House investigation. The recent House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing put some of the basic facts of the story into wide circulation. It’s bad news for the Obama administration, and it doesn’t need a push from the Romney campaign. And besides, the race is still fundamentally about the economy.

That’s all true, but it’s also true that there are still many details that might well seize the public imagination, if only the public knew them. For example, Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Mike Kelly, a member of the House committee, wrote recently that just days after the State Department denied funding for the Libya embassy to continue using an airplane for security, it approved a request from U.S. diplomats in Vienna to spend $108,000 to buy a charging station for their new fleet of Chevy Volts -- part of what the Obama administration calls the “greening of the embassy.”

It’s up to Mitt Romney to step back, to remember cases like those missing Iraqi munitions in 2004, and decide what course is best for the presidential campaign. At the moment, the cautious position is winning the day.

Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.


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