Ironically, it is Sir Walter Scott elucidating to us from nearly a century and a half ago who best reveals the Administration’s Benghazi narrative for the tangled web it was and is. Benghazi is, first and foremost, a great American tragedy that will be remembered as the second successful September 11th terrorist attack on the United States; one in which four genuinely heroic Americans lost their lives. It will also be looked back upon as the centerpiece of a serious American political scandal in which information was spun to minimize any negative impact on the President and others in positions of high responsibility in his Administration. It has emerged as a textbook example of the tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.
President Obama delivered a well-rehearsed admonishment during his second debate with Governor Romney,” that anybody on my team, whether the Secretary of State, our UN Ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as President. That’s not what I do as Commander-in-Chief.” Well, no offense, Mr. President, but that (mislead) is what you did, that’s what the Secretary of State did and that’s precisely what our Ambassador to The United Nations did. The continuous and determined effort to spin the Benghazi narrative is now well documented and quite apparent, and it is a scandal.
We will not, in this essay, second-guess what turned out to be a series of horrible decisions when our people on the ground pleaded for support during the attack in Benghazi because we recognize that bad, even horrible, judgments can be made in the midst of a deadly firefight. We’ll leave those judgments to military and intelligence analysts. However the White House’s continuously twisted narrative about Benghazi can now be meticulously laid out from end to end. It is, indeed, a tangled web.
Let us state a few simple realities regarding Benghazi.
(1) Events in Benghazi throughout 2012 indicated a need for beefed up security at our consulate and, especially, for Ambassador Stevens. This is not Monday-morning quarterbacking or second-guessing with 20/20 hindsight. It is simple common sense.
(2) In April Washington rejects requests for enhanced security made by both our head of security in Benghazi and by Ambassador Stevens himself. That same month (April 6) two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are exploded at the gate of the consulate. Stevens continues to plead for enhanced security – to no avail.
(3) In May the International Red Cross facility is attacked and the IRC pulls out of Benghazi, expressing alarm at the growing danger in Benghazi. Steven’s requests for enhanced security still rejected.
(4) On June 10th, the British abandon Benghazi following a rocket-propelled grenade attack used in an attempt to assassinate the British Ambassador. Steven’s requests for enhanced security still rejected.
(5) In August the State Department reduces US security manpower; having determined that local Libyan personnel we had trained could fill the gap. Our security people on the ground and Ambassador Stevens both advise, prophetically, that Libyan security personnel are not up to the job. Their pleas are rejected.
(6) Ambassador Stevens continues to plead (right up to the day of his death) for more security, citing the growing extremist threat, including sightings of al Qaeda flags flying in the city including on government buildings. A cable dated Sept. 11 and sent to the State Department by U.S. Embassy personnel in Tripoli only hours before the terrorists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, indicated that staff had growing concerns over security provided by Libyan militias. “Host nation security support is lacking and cannot be depended on to provide a safe and secure environment for the diplomatic mission,” it said in part.
(7) There were no demonstrations or protests at the consulate at any time before the heavily armed terrorists attacked. In fact, Ambassador Stevens concluded a meeting with a Turkish diplomat at 8:00 pm that evening (2:00 pm in Washington) and casually walked the diplomat to the gate of the compound, said good night and returned to the consulate and turned in for the night an hour later.
(8) The consulate was in immediate telephone contact with the State Department as soon as the attack commenced at 9:40 pm (3:40 pm in Washington). Various authorities including former intelligence, military and State Department officials have publicly stated that the situation rooms at the White House, the Defense Department and the CIA would have all been monitoring events in Benghazi within minutes of the attack.
(9) At 6:07 pm (Washington time) reports arrive by email while the attack is in progress that Ansar al-Sharia, an affiliate of al Qaeda, has taken credit for the attack on the consulate.
(10) Former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty call for military help during the attack, and request permission to go to the aid of the Ambassador and other personnel at the consulate. Their pleas are rejected and they are ordered to “stand down”. They ignore those orders and succeed in rescuing several US personnel from the compound before they themselves are killed.
As stated earlier in this essay, we will not presume to judge the military decision not to deploy any of our considerable military assets within striking distance of Benghazi to assist our embattled Ambassador and other personnel during the seven-hour attack. Others, far more qualified, will eventually judge those decisions. We have no reluctance, however, to address the tangled web that was spun for weeks as the administration tried, tirelessly, to maintain some, any, fiction that the ridiculous YouTube video was responsible for “a spontaneous, non planned attack on our consulate in Benghazi.
As stated above, there were no demonstrations at the embassy before the attack. Senior officials at the State Department quickly disavowed (contradicting Secretary of State Clinton) any notion that anyone at the department had ever connected the attack to the YouTube Video.
The President’s claim during his debate with Governor Romney that he had declared the attack to be an act of terrorism in his Rose Garden remarks the day after the attack does not stand up to scrutiny. It wasn’t until the tenth paragraph of his prepared remarks that he mentioned the word terrorism and the context was a generic reference, i.e., “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for”. Earlier in his remarks, however, he stressed, “Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence. None. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts.” Thus, there is a confluence of emphasis between his Rose Garden remarks rejecting all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others and his statement several paragraphs later that, “no act of terrorism will ever shake the resolve of this great nation…”
One could give the President the benefit of the doubt, as did Katie Couric of ABC News when she said Obama’s remarks were subject to interpretation. That is, until one considers the determined drumbeat from the Administration about the YouTube video and the spontaneous eruption it caused during a protest that actually never occurred at the consulate. The same day as the President’s Rose Garden speech, Secretary Clinton speaks at the State Department to condemn the attack in Benghazi and to praise the victims as “heroes.” She again makes reference to the anti-Muslim video. “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior, along with the protest that took place at our Embassy in Cairo yesterday, as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. America’s commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear — there is no justification for this, none.”
The following day: CNN reports that unnamed “State Department officials” say the incident in Benghazi was a “clearly planned military-type attack” unrelated to the anti-Muslim movie. It was not an innocent mob,” one senior official said. “…This was a clearly planned military-type attack.”
At the same time, Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif, is calling the alleged YouTube Video connection “preposterous”. Libyan intelligence states that al Qaeda affiliated foreigners infiltrated Libya during the months preceding the attack and recruited Libyan extremists to carry it out, a determination that would have come as no surprise to Ambassador Stevens.
President Obama, meanwhile, delivers his weekly radio address and discusses the Benghazi attack. He makes no mention of terror, terrorists or extremists. He does talk about the anti-Muslim film and “every angry mob” that it inspired in pockets of the Middle East.
White House Press Secretary Carney, during a press briefing, denies reports now flowing in from various sources that it was a preplanned attack. “I have seen that report, and the story is absolutely wrong. We were not aware of any actionable intelligence indicating that an attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was planned or imminent. That report is false.” Later in that same briefing, Carney is told that Pentagon officials informed members of Congress at a closed-door meeting that the Benghazi attack was a planned terrorist attack. Carney said the matter is being investigated but White House officials “don’t have and did not have concrete evidence to suggest that this was not in reaction to the film.”
Now, five days into the imbroglio comes UN Ambassador Susan Rice hawking the same story on virtually every Sunday Morning talk show. She tells the nation, “Our current assessment is what happened in Benghazi was, in fact, initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, prompted by the video.” During an interview on Fox News Channel the same day, she attributes the Benghazi attack to a protest gone wrong (except there had never been such a protest).
A full week after the attack (and the Rose Garden speech) the President appears on the David Letterman Late Show. He is asked about the attack and he condemns the video. “Here’s what happened,” he says “extremists and terrorists used this as an excuse to attack a variety of our embassies, including the consulate in Libya.” He also said, “As offensive as this video was and, obviously, we’ve denounced it and the United States government had nothing to do with it. That’s never an excuse for violence.”
Earlier the same day, White House Press Secretary Carney is asked about Magariaf’s assessment that the video had nothing to do with the terrorist attack in Benghazi. He replies, “… at this time, as Ambassador Rice said and as I said, our understanding and our belief based on the information we have is it was the video that caused the unrest in Cairo, and the unrest in Cairo precipitated some of the unrest in Benghazi and elsewhere.”
We could, of course, go on and on. It is a huge and tangled web. Two weeks after the attack, the President addresses the United Nations. He praises Chris Stevens as “the best of America” and condemns the anti-Muslim video as “crude and disgusting.” He does not describe the Benghazi attack as a terrorist attack.
Someday we may know why the Administration wove such a tangled web about Benghazi. Perhaps, it was because the notion of a well-planned terrorist attack on the anniversary of 9/11 was so contrary to the President’s re-election narrative about al Qaeda being decimated. Perhaps it was because the Administration turned a deaf ear to Ambassador Steven’s pleas for more security, and perhaps it was because it did not reflect well upon the military’s lack of response (and that of the Commander-in-Chief) to Ty Woods desperate calls for back up at the height of the attack.
People ask whether the Obama re-election campaign can survive Benghazi. We think a better question is — Should it?