Those in the media and on the left who are dismissing the importance of the Obama administration’s mishandling of the Benghazi attack’s aftermath should jog their memories. A strikingly similar story from across the pond proves that honesty in the wake of terrorist attacks matters to voters.
On March 11, 2004, an al-Qaida terrorist cell bombed the commuter train system in Madrid, Spain. Nearly 200 people were killed.
The attack came just three days before Spain’s prime ministerial election. At the time, incumbent Jose Maria Aznar was enjoying a small lead in the polls. But the attack changed everything — and Aznar ended up losing to challenger Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero by five points.
Today, the consensus is that Aznar lost the election because of his mishandling and misrepresentation of the Madrid bombings. Aznar and his party claimed the bombings were the work of a Basque separatist organization, despite evidence to the contrary. The theory is that because Spain had recently entered the Iraq War — something that was unpopular with the Spanish electorate at the time — Aznar believed that admitting al-Qaida was behind the attack would damage his re-election chances.
The parallel between the Madrid bombings and the Benghazi attack is obvious. Like the Madrid bombings, the Benghazi attack happened in the midst of a heated campaign season and was followed by confusion, false assertions, and — worse — misrepresentations by the very political leaders asking for the electorate’s trust.
At the very least, the Obama administration bungled its response to the Benghazi attack. And the more information about the attack that surfaces, the worse President Obama looks. Forget Candy Crowley’s botched debate fact check; the onus is on the president to be forthcoming in what he knew and when he knew it.
As Obama is keen on saying these days, it’s about trust.
The fact is that President Obama and other administration officials — including U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney — blamed the attack on an American even though they had enough information to know it was a coordinated act of terrorism against Americans.
In his speech to the U.N. on September 25, two weeks after the attack, Obama described the attackers as “killers” rather than “terrorists,” and referenced the YouTube video that was supposedly responsible.
Why was he not more forthcoming and transparent? The American people deserve answers before they go to the polls.
But fortunately for the president, the Benghazi scandal is being buried under stories about the state of the race in Ohio, cherry-picked early-voting numbers, and regrettable sound bites about abortion.
Unlike the Madrid bombings, the Benghazi attack happened two months before Election Day. This should give voters a chance to evaluate the facts and decide what implications this incident and possible cover-up should have on Obama’s re-election bid.
In Spain, the mishandling of a national tragedy cost an incumbent the election. Will the same thing happen here?
Travis Burk is a media and political consultant. A graduate of the University of Southern California, he has an extensive background in politics and government. He is a veteran of the Bush-Cheney ’04 and Rick Scott for Florida war rooms, served in the Bush administration and is a former press secretary in the U.S. House of Representatives. Follow him on twitter @TABurk.
Joe Kildea is a media and rapid response consultant. Previously, Joe was Managing Editor at The Daily Caller. On the campaign trail, Joe was war room manager for Bush-Cheney ’04 and rapid response director for Rick Scott for Governor. In government, Joe served in the Bush administration in the White House Press Office. A proud Hoya, Joe holds a B.S.B.A. and J.D. from Georgetown and is a native Washingtonian. Follow him on twitter @Kildea.