Obama: Attack won’t break bonds between U.S., Libya
President Obama addressed the attacks on the American embassy in Cairo, and the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in a “press conference” where he didn’t take any questions. He made a point of keeping Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at his side, even though she had issued her own statement just a few minutes before. This might have been meant as a gesture of confidence in Clinton, who is coming under fire for the State Department’s confused and decidedly equivocal response to the attacks.
Clinton’s statement was primarily meant to emphasize outrage at the violence of the attacks, while somewhat walking back the apologetics to Islam that she, and embassy staff, were defiantly “standing behind” only a few hours ago. Obama continued the same trend, once again mixing an apology to Islamic religious sensibilities into his remarks, while seeking to highlight the Administration’s insistence that violence in response to offensive speech is unacceptable.
“The United States condemns, in the strongest terms, this outrageous and shocking attack,” declared Obama, after summarizing the events leading to the murder of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. He said his government was working with the government of Libya to apprehend the perpetrators of this attack, and that he has directed embassies around the world to increase their security measures.
But then came the qualifications, delivered before Obama’s unequivocal denunciation of violence. “Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths,” said the President. “We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence. None. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts.”
Obama cited Libyans standing up to denounce the embassy attack, and vowed that “this attack will not break the bonds between the United States and Libya.” He praised Libyan security forces for acting to repel the attack. He also said Libyans conveyed Ambassador Stevens’ body to the hospital, “where we tragically learned that he had died.”
The President hailed the “skill, courage, and resolve” of the slain ambassador, noting the irony of his death in Benghazi, a city had done so much to save. “He worked tirelessly to support this young democracy, and I think both Secretary Clinton and I relied deeply upon his knowledge of the situation on the ground there. He was a role model to all he worked with, and inspired young diplomats to follow in his footsteps.”
Obama then spoke at length about how “yesterday was a painful day for our nation, as we marked the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.” He recounted his own activities throughout the day, including a visit to the Arlington cemetery, in detail.
“As Americans, let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people willing to fight for it, stand up for it, and in some cases lay down their lives for it,” President Obama said. “The country is only as strong as the character of our people, and the service of those, both civilian and military, who represent us around the globe. No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the great values we stand for.”
He promised an unwavering commitment to bring the killers to justice, and promised to continue the work of the slain Americans “seeking a stronger America, and a better world for all of our children.” Obama’s delivery was thin and bloodless, with a bit of mumbling during what should have been rhetorical flourishes. He departed the stage without taking a single question, as a reporter tried to ask him if the embassy attacks constituted an act of war.
Update: There have been some conflicting reports of the other American casualties in Libya beyond the ambassador, including some accounts that two of them were Marines killed in action. I have changed the reference to the other casualties to reflect this ambiguity.