Published for Foreign Policy Shadow Government, September 13, 2012

The immediate responses to the Libya tragedy have been instructive, and have played out on three levels: tactical, political, and strategic.

The Obama administration has been mostly focused on the tactical: moving drones, beefing up diplomatic security, vowing to find the perpetrators, and, as fears of potential mob violence were mounting, tweeting sentiments aimed at defusing a riot. The tactical responses haven’t been flawless, but most of them made sense. The tweets have come in for criticism, not without justification, but I have some sympathy for President Obama’s observation that when a riot might be forming outside one’s office a certain amount of panic is understandable. There will be time afterwards to review the tactics leading up to the tragedy and perhaps we will learn that warnings went unheeded or security went unprovided for. But assuming no such findings, the Obama administration’s tactical response has seemed mostly defensible. There is no corresponding opportunity for tactics from the Romney team since they are not in power.

The Obama campaign, which includes surrogates and supporters in the media/blogosphere, has focused almost entirely on a political response, launching a blistering and relentlessly partisan attack on Governor Romney for his early comments on the crisis. I recognize that in the midst of a campaign, particularly in a week devoted to attacking Romney on national security grounds, one should expect a partisan response, but even so the vehemence of the anti-Romney attacks is quite striking. Now Obama supporters would claim that they are merely responding to Romney’s own critique — and they could point to second-guessing by Republicans as proof that Romney crossed a line — but the Obama campaign’s response is far too unhinged and opportunistic and orchestrated to be blamed entirely on Romney.

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