President Barack Obama told comedian Jon Stewart Thursday that the way his administration handled the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya was “not optimal.”
The understatement came during Obama’s election-trail conversation on Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” which is built on sardonic and flippant humor.
“Here’s what I’ll say: If four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal. We’re going to fix it. All of it,” Obama said during the show’s Oct. 18 taping, according to press pool reporters from The Washington post and the Los Angeles Times who were along for the interview.
In what may be a policy shift, Obama hinted at a concession that the Benghazi attackers were linked to al-Qaida. “It’s true that al-Qaida is still active, at least sort of remnants of it are staging in other parts of North Africa and the Middle East,” he told Stewart, who is a supporter of Obama.
Stewart gently quizzed Obama about his reaction to the Sept. 11 assault on the Benghazi facility, which killed ambassador Chris Stevens, an aide and two guards.
Obama’s “not optimal” comment came after Stewart nudged him to acknowledge a management problem in his administration prior to the attack.
“Is part of the investigation helping the communication between these divisions? Not just what happened in Benghazi, but what happened within. Because I would say, even you would admit, it was not the optimal response, at least to the American people, as far as all of us being on the same page,” Stewart asked.
When Stewart later asked the president about “confusion in the administration” following the Benghazi attack, Obama retorted that “we weren’t confused about the fact that four Americans had been killed,” according to a press pool report.
“I wasn’t confused about the fact that we needed to ramp up diplomatic security around the world. … I wasn’t confused about the fact that we had to investigate exactly what happened so it gets fixed. … I wasn’t confused about the fact that we’re going to hunt down whoever did it,” he insisted.
Obama did not comment on the criticism that he has sought to obscure his policy failures by blaming the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Libya on a surprise protest. (OPINION: Asking the wrong questions about Libya)
During the weeks immediately following the attack, Obama’s aides suggested the attack was caused by a protest against a California-made YouTube video that mocked the Muslim prophet Mohammed, rather than being a planned attack by a militant jihadi group.
State Department officials have since said there was no protest prior to the attack.
Obama’s aides admitted Sept. 19 that the attack was a terror strike, but continue to insist the video may have provided part of the militants’ motivation.
Gov. Mitt Romney and other GOP advocates say Obama is using the claim about the video to distract attention from the growing power of Islamist and jihadi groups amid his Muslim outreach policy’s failures.
That policy was announced in Obama’s 2009 “new beginning” speech in Cairo, Egypt.
Obama’s acknowledgment to Stewart of al-Qaida groups’ activity in North Africa may reflect revised intelligence estimates, a new White House assessment or an election-trail concession to GOP criticisms.