What Difference, At This Point, Does It Make? — 11 February 2013

Back in 2008, during the Democratic presidential primary contest, Hillary Clinton famously posed this question – “when the call comes at 3:00 am, who do you want answering it?” – the implication being that the inexperienced Barack Obama would not be up to the task of managing a sudden crisis.

Well, it turns out that President Obama’s 3:00 am call actually came around 5:00pm, and we know what he did:

He told his military top brass to do everything they could, and then he went to bed.

It really seemed for a while that the Benghazi debacle would well and truly pass from the scene.  Hillary Clinton’s long-deferred Congressional testimony about it revealed nothing so much as her ability to outwit her questioners, and perhaps the reticence of Republicans to probe too deeply into the inconsistencies of her story.  For instance, when asked why she didn’t read the urgent cables from Ambassador Stevens asking for better security, she said she gets a million cables a year from the field, and can’t expect to read all of them.  When asked why the unprepared, uninformed, and – according to the President himself – irrelevant Susan Rice graced five Sunday talk shows instead of the Secretary herself, her reply was that doing news shows was not her favorite thing.

And famously, when Senator Ron Johnson asked how it came about that Ambassador Rice spent all of that Sunday morning spewing nonsense about what was a lethal terrorist attack, she indignantly shot back, “what difference does it make?”

All those dodges passed unchallenged, and the press largely sided with the pugnacious Clinton.  Not long afterward, she and President Obama had a love-fest of an interview on Sixty Minutes, during which Steve Kroft lobbed such puffballs as, “Why did you want her as secretary of state?” and “How would you characterize your relationship right now?”

Nobody but Fox News and a handful of blogs seemed to care about the catastrophe that was Benghazi.  And then we got the Senate testimony of outgoing Defense Secretary Panetta and General Martin Dempsey.  They informed us that they had precisely one conversation with the President about Benghazi, and that was at 5:00 pm at a meeting that had already been scheduled.  The President told them to do everything they could to get help to the embattled diplomats, and then checked out.  There were no further contacts with the President or any of the senior White House staff, nor with the Secretary of State for that matter.

It’s hard to find words to express adequately how shameful this is.  Put yourself  in that position.  People on your payroll are under attack in a foreign country – including a top diplomat.  Don’t you even want to know first-hand how it is going down?  Don’t you want to keep tabs on the safety of your people?  They’re dying out there, and you don’t follow up to get the latest?  The President, according to sworn testimony, was AWOL.

This testimony raises anew all the questions many of us have had about the Benghazi attack, questions that are still unanswered.  For instance, why was there no military support for the embattled annex in Benghazi, which was under sustained attack for hours after the consulate was torched?  Secretary Panetta insists that it is military doctrine that you don’t send troops blasting their way in unless they know what is happening on the ground, but that is nonsensical – it is the military’s job to move into unstable and dangerous places with scant information – and also untrue, since one of the special ops guys had “painted” an attacking installation with a laser range finder.

Also, who told the operatives in the annex to “stand down” and not come to the aid of the consulate – not once, but twice?  And why?  Fortunately for the lives of some of the consulate staff, they disobeyed those orders.  Which brings up another question – why have we never seen any of the survivors of that attack interviewed on the news?  Days after the seizure of the Algerian oil complex last month we saw witnesses giving their accounts.  Why nobody who was at Benghazi?

I’m still highly bothered by the nonsense they gave Susan Rice to disseminate on the Sunday talk shows.  Rather than ask who knew that it was really an act of terrorism, I would ask, who really thought it was a mob incensed by a video, and why?  Why have we never had an adequate explanation of how this fiction about the offensive video became the official line for two weeks afterward, in the face of facts that the Administration knew about within hours?

For the record, let’s dispense with the President’s sleight of hand regarding this interpretation: at the debate with Mitt Romney, he insisted he called it an act of terror the next day.  Here is what he actually said about the Benghazi attack:

“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. ”  Sounds like Susan Rice, there, doesn’t it?

Later, Obama describes the original 9-11 attack and the devastating effect that had on our country.  That’s when he went on to say “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.”

You decide.

My own view is that something was going on at the annex that was so secret and risky that it had to be hidden from view.  One report I read about suggests that a special operations team taking orders from John Brennan in the White House was running attack missions against Islamist factions outside the normal command structure – and that the Benghazi attack was retaliation.  Other reports indicate that agents in Benghazi were involved in gathering weapons left by the Ghadaffi government and arranging shipment to Syrian rebels in Turkey.

Whatever it was, the Obama White House has been eager to keep the truth hidden.  It suited their campaign rhetoric to paint the attack as something other than the work of the Islamic terrorists that were supposedly on the run.  It certainly helped that the press was largely, accommodatingly, disinterested.

But the reports of the President’s inexcusable dereliction of duty when diplomats were under attack means that this story will carry on.  Perhaps some day we will actually get answers.

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