Fox News spreads new Obama myths

The network spreads false rumors about the president's national security policy

Topics: Libya embassy attack, Libya, Egypt, Blogs,

In an attempt to paint President Obama as weak or even “dangerous” on foreign policy, as Rep. Michele Bachmann said this morning at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, conservative pundits have seized on two myths about Obama’s handling of national security, which have spread like wildfire through the right-wing blogosphere and onto the airwaves at Fox News.

The first states that Obama, via his ambassador in Egypt, ordered Marine guards at the Cairo embassy to go without live ammunition. The meme started as a rumor on a Web forum for Marines, which was picked up by a defense blog and then the conservative Washington Free Beacon. From there it spread to dozens of other right-wing blogs before making it to Fox News last night.

The claim is not only false, but completely misunderstands the role of Marine guards at diplomatic posts. “The Marines on duty at Embassy Cairo had ammunition in their weapons,  as they always do at all our Missions overseas when they are on duty,” a senior State Department official, speaking on background because they were not authorized to speak with the press, told Salon.  Mother Jones’ Adam Weinstein also obtained a memo from the Marine Corps’ congressional liaison that said the same. Later, a Pentagon spokesperson told Fox News, “The ambassador and RSO (Regional Security Officer) have been completely and appropriately engaged with the security situation. No restrictions on weapons or weapons status have been imposed.”

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Meanwhile, despite popular conception, the primary mission of Marine Guards at the embassies is to protect classified information, not personnel. Diplomatic posts only have tiny detachments of Marines, while they may hire hundreds of private security guards. There are only 1,100 Marine Security Guards worldwide stationed at over 100 diplomatic posts, so force sizes for each may number in the single digits. For example, a book published by the American Foreign Service Association meant to provide a window in embassy operations profiled a security officer in Manila, Philippines, who oversaw 250 locally hired guards and just seven Marines.

The other meme comes from former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen, who has, since the demise of the Bush administration, fashioned himself as a foreign policy expert and chief antagonist of Obama anti-terror policies. Coming after a long line of other specious, nakedly partisan and easily discredited accusations comes this: Obama has skipped almost half of his presidential daily intelligence briefings. Columnist Dana Milbank, who is employed by the same Washington Post that published Thiessen’s briefing nonsense, easily dispatched with this:

In reality, Obama didn’t “attend” these meetings, because there were no meetings to attend: The oral briefings had been mostly replaced by daily exchanges in which Obama reads the materials and poses written questions and comments to intelligence officials. This is how it was done in the Clinton administration, before Bush decided he would prefer to read less. Bush’s results — Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and the failure to find Osama bin Laden — suggest this was not an obvious improvement.

This, too, got the Fox News treatment sadly, but not surprisingly.

Alex Seitz-Wald

Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at aseitz-wald@salon.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

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