The second presidential debate is over, and to almost no one's surprise, the president gave a better performance than he did last week. Snap polls after the debate, in fact, said the president performed narrowly better than Mitt Romney. At least in part, I'm guessing the president scored a few points on his impassioned defense of his response to the attack on our embassy in Libya.
The problem for the president, however, is that his statements about Libya - like so much of his rhetoric - soared much higher than the facts will support. And, with almost three weeks remaining in the race and next week's debate based solely on foreign policy, the president has elevated this issue in a way Romney never could.
Here are the facts: An enemy combatant, on U.S. property, attacked and killed four Americans in Libya. It was not a random act of violence or a civil protest that got out of control. It was a premeditated act of aggression, by an enemy of the United States, against innocent and largely defenseless representatives of our government.
Yet for days and weeks after the event, the president and his aides went on every major news show and said what happened in Libya was a response to an anti-Islamic video produced in the United States. Almost two weeks after the tragic attack, the president went to the United Nations and gave a speech where he repeatedly said the attack on our embassy was caused by protesters expressing their outrage at the incendiary video.
And here's what the president was still saying nine days after the attacks: "What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests."
Well, as it turns out that's not what happened at all. In fact, there was no protest and no angry mob of demonstrators. Not a single one. According to the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, who gave congressional testimony just one day later, the four Americans "were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy. ... At this point, what I would say is that a number of different elements appear to have been involved in the attack, including individuals connected to militant groups that are prevalent in eastern Libya, particularly the Benghazi area, as well we are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al-Qaida or al-Qaida affiliates, in particular al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb."
Unfortunately, you don't need a Ph.D. in history to know that this story is not going away and the people who committed this attack are not going away. And it's not just a story about whether our State Department failed to provide adequate security to our diplomats. Or a story about whether the president stuck to a story about the attack being provoked by a video made in the United States when plenty of people in government knew better.
The real story is our president's response - or his lack of a response - in the face of an attack on our country. And that lack of a national response to these acts of aggression continues, despite the president's debate rhetoric.
Going into Tuesday's debate, there was a great deal of speculation that the administration did not want to acknowledge that these attacks were led by a terrorist organization for fear that it wouldn't comport with the president's campaign narrative that he has reduced the threat we face from militant Islam.
Given the facts, I don't think that's the case at all.
I think the president clearly knew what really happened in Libya. I also don't think he tried to cover it up. What he has done instead is try and explain it based on how he sees the world.
In the president's view, we have differences with parts of the Islamic world that can be resolved if we just understand their point of view and put our faith in diplomacy - a view that many long have thought was extremely naïve.
In fairness to the president, the threats we face from militant Islamists were not of his making. But in fairness to the truth, neither the president's policies nor his olive-branch speeches to the Muslin world nor the killing of Osama bin Laden has done anything to placate our enemies or reduce their hatred for the United States and our way of life.
So now, just as we are learning that we can't talk our way out of a bad economy, I believe the terrorist attack in Libya has made it increasingly clear that words alone cannot keep us safe from threats we face around the world.
Clear, that is, to a whole lot of people except the president.