Bungle in Benghazi — 15 October 2012

The Obama administration’s growing calamity stemming from the Benghazi debacle threatens to become a major factor in the election. And well it should, because I count no fewer than four major scandals arising from the event, none of which bode well for the President.

Scandal number one was the denial of security in the first place.  As we learned at the Congressional hearings on the subject last week, State Department people on the ground in Libya were pleading for more security, and were denied.  And it’s not as though they didn’t have cause for concern.  As Andrew McCarthy itemizes here, the day after the drone killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan and top operative in the al Qaeda organization last summer, terrorists in Benghazi attacked the consulate, distributing a video of the assault.  Days later the British ambassador was nearly assassinated.  There were hundreds of incidents over the previous several months, including the bombing of the International Red Cross’ headquarters.

Amid this unstable situation, higher-ups at the State Department not only did not increase security as they were pleading for, they pulled out a contingent of 15 troops under Lt. Col. Andrew Wood in August, just weeks ahead of the fateful attack.  Yet according to Charlene Lamb, the State Department official in charge of diplomat security, the consulate had “the proper number of security officers” based on intelligence and agreements between field agents and Washington.

Apparently part of the motivation to withdraw security was to establish a sense of “normalcy” in the Benghazi consulate, with security to be provided by local Libyans, who we now know were being importuned to switch sides and join the terrorists.

If this were all there was – a disastrous decision by Washington to leave the consulate inadequately protected, resulting in the death of an ambassador and three others – it would be a scandal of the first order.  But that’s only the beginning.

The second scandal is the desultory response of the administration to the attack.  After all, this was the legal equivalent of an attack on American soil, and the response of the White House so far has been to promise to catch the perpetrators and “bring them to justice.”  So they dispatched the FBI to do their forensic tests – and kept them cooling their heels in Tripoli, hundreds of miles away, for literally weeks while the half-life of useful intelligence rapidly decayed.  The reason?  It was too dangerous.  Not too dangerous for CNN, however, as they entered the site just days after the attack and found the ambassador’s diary – which confirmed his fears about security risks at the consulate.

After the first killing of an American ambassador in over 30 years, one might have expected the White House to mobilize, that an angry and engaged President would have assembled his top security team together and planned next steps, perhaps to include a commando raid to kill or capture any identifiable perpetrators (some of whom the intelligence people id’d within a day or two).  He would have spoken to the American people and reassured them that the United States does not overlook this kind of assault on our sovereignty.

Instead, the President skipped (once again) his morning security briefing and jetted off to a fund-raiser in Las Vegas.

The third scandal is the one most people are focused on, with good reason: it is the smoke screen that the administration, from the top on down, put up about this attack. It was evident from the outset that this was a planned terrorist attack, not a demonstration against an anti-Islam movie trailer that got out of hand.  The State Department had real-time communication with Benghazi as the attack unfolded, so they knew what was happening.  The intelligence community knew as well within hours that this was no movie review gone wild.  And yet, a full five days after the event, UN Ambassador Susan Rice went on five Sunday talk shows to insist that they had “no information” to the effect that it was anything other than a copycat riot to the one in Cairo the previous day that had been hijacked by extremists with unfortunate results.

Virtually none of that was true, which begs the question – where did Rice get her information?  Not from the State Department or the intelligence community, surely.  And it was not just she: press spokesman Jay Carney, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, even the President himself, persisted for weeks with the fiction that this obnoxious little move clip lay behind the murder of the ambassador and the others.

The President of the United States is the most powerful man in the world.  If he wants answers, he can get them.  People in Libya will get out of bed to tell him what they know.  CIA analysts will drop everything to analyze the chatter and sift through the evidence.  It quite simply beggars the imagination to think that five days after the attack, the official administration line was so at variance with the facts as we now know them.

Joe Biden, at his debate with Paul Ryan, said that it was the intelligence people who told them that story, and indeed, the office of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, admitted that their “initial assessment” was consistent with that interpretation. But how long could that “initial” period have been?  Certainly not five days, let alone several weeks.  More like hours.

Certainly the White House could not have expected that a duplicitous explanation of such an important event would go undetected?  Well, perhaps it could have – and this is the fourth scandal.  Remember that for the first three days after this attack, the story that dominated the press was not the death of the ambassador or the administration’s spin, but Mitt Romney’s supposed gaffe in criticizing the mealy-mouthed apology issued by the US embassy in Cairo.

The press has been totally AWOL on this burgeoning scandal, with a handful of notable, and unsurprising, exceptions.  Even as recently as last week, the New York Times buried the story about the Congressional hearings on Page 3, saving the front page for the real important issues, like Lance Armstrong’s years-old doping case.

Think of it this way: here is a story that features either sustained mendacity at the highest levels of government or staggering incompetence.  It really can’t be anything else. Why would any Pulitzer-hungry reporter pass on the opportunity for a juicy story like this?

The question rather answers itself, doesn’t it?

So there you have it.  Higher-ups at State deny a beleaguered consulate adequate security; a disengaged President flies off to politick instead of affirming our national dignity; a phalanx of spokespeople issue repeated explanations of the event that are totally divorced from the evidence; and the fourth estate takes a nap.  An ambassador is dead, and the White House still hasn’t come clean with the American people.

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