The three State Department officials who resigned today in the wake of the release of a scathing report on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya will probably be the only ones held accountable for that disaster. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is conveniently laid up due to a concussion and won’t testify before a congressional committee on the issue, just as she avoided being called to account in the aftermath of the murders even though she issued a statement saying she took “full responsibility” for what happened.
As Seth wrote earlier today, Clinton, who is resigning soon anyway, has managed to maintain a reputation as a successful secretary of state despite a record that can only be characterized as unremarkable at best. A more harsh assessment would say that she has failed on virtually every major issue, whether it was relations with Russia, the Middle East peace process, or stopping Iran’s nuclear program. The Benghazi debacle is just the frosting on the cake on four years in which Clinton skated by on her reputation and a press corps determined to flatter her. She was unable to achieve any real successes, but also was clearly subordinate to the White House rather than being the person calling the shots on policy.
While it’s clear that in the short run Clinton will escape the public opprobrium she deserves for presiding over the Benghazi fiasco, it would be wrong to assume that this is the last we will hear of it. If, as many expect, she runs for president in 2016, Democratic opponents will clobber her with the account of how her department ignored pleas for more security in Benghazi and then spread misleading stories about a terrorist attack being nothing more than film criticism run amok.
For a military hero and able public servant such as David Petraeus to have to end his service to the country on the sort of disturbing note that his letter of resignation sounded is nothing short of a tragedy. For anyone in charge of U.S. intelligence to behave as he said did shows poor judgment that rightly required the president to accept his resignation. But that ought not to detract from a career that deserves to be remembered with honor by a grateful country.
But the avalanche of press coverage that Petraeus attracted in the hours after his announcement ought to bring into focus a far more important story that most of the same media has ignored: the Benghazi fiasco. It speaks volumes about the current state of contemporary American journalism that a sex scandal generated far more interest from broadcast networks and the press than the questions of whether the administration failed to aid Americans besieged in Libya or why the government stuck to a bogus story about a video instead of admitting that terrorists were responsible.
As Max wrote on Friday, the explanations for the Pentagon to act in time to save the Americans trapped in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on 9/11/12 are unraveling the more we learn about what happened and the real-time information that was available to decision makers. But though the facts about the incident continue to dribble out, the response from most of the mainstream media to this scandal remains one of indifference. Indeed, to listen to many liberal pundits, once President Obama put the issue to sleep in the second presidential debate with a significant assist from CNN’s Candy Crowley, the only people who continue to think about the issue are right-wing nutcases. That the president responded by “taking offense” to a question on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” about the information he and other senior officials might have known about the situation shows he thinks he can get away with the same sort of grandstanding he exhibited at that debate.
If the president’s campaign was counting on their cheerleaders in the mainstream media having their back on Libya, they were right. The latest developments in the story have gotten little or no play in major newspapers or networks other than Fox. Though foreign policy was never going to be a decisive factor in the presidential election, the relative silence about Benghazi has ensured that although the president says he “takes responsibility” for what happened, there is little chance he will be held accountable in any meaningful way about it before the presidential election. But like some other scandals that have been percolating below the radar, this is one more that will hang over the administration in the months and years to come. The best that can be said for the president is that if he wins next week, Benghazi will be added to the list that already contains items like the cyber-war security leaks and the “Fast and Furious” scandal that will haunt his second term. If he loses, it ensures the GOP will be able to continue to haul administration figures over the coals over these failures with impunity.
The father of Tyrone Woods, the ex-Navy SEAL who died while trying to defend Ambassador Chris Stevens in the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, made the rounds of some radio shows yesterday, and the tale he told of his meetings with top administration officials doesn’t put any of them in a flattering light. Speaking to radio talkers Glenn Beck and Lars Larson, Charles Woods expressed his belief that, given the revelations about real-time intelligence about the attack being funneled to Washington, it’s clear that someone gave an order not to save those trapped in the consulate by the terrorists.
But as upset as he is about the failure of the administration to come clean about what happened, his account of his personal contacts with them is just as bad. He described President Obama’s condolences as insincere, said Vice President Joe Biden made a wildly inappropriate remark about his son and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised that, “we’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video.”
According to the latest White House-advancing spin, the CIA thought there was a protest outside the Benghazi consulate for 11 entire days after the attack. This is amazing. Apparently the media has access to better intelligence than the CIA, since the general public found out the protest didn’t exist just two days after the attack, via McClatchy.
Sources tell the Wall Street Journal that our intelligence officials are so clueless that they clung to the idea that there were protests outside the consulate, even after savvier Obama advisors became skeptical and started raising questions:
President Barack Obama was told in his daily intelligence briefing for more than a week after the consulate siege in Benghazi that the assault grew out of a spontaneous protest, despite conflicting reports from witnesses and other sources that began to cast doubt on the accuracy of that assessment almost from the start.
New details about the contents of the President’s Daily Brief, which haven’t been reported previously, show that the Central Intelligence Agency didn’t adjust the classified assessment until Sept. 22, fueling tensions between the administration and the agency. …
That weekend, officials at the office of the Director of National Intelligence began to seriously question the accuracy of the assessment after receiving new information Sept. 15 and Sept. 16 from sources that suggested the consulate attack wasn’t preceded by a protest.
Despite the building doubts at the office of the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA stuck by its assessment during a deputies-level meeting at the White House on Sept. 17.
Even after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reportedly began to question the CIA’s account on September 15, the CIA allegedly refused to back down on the “spontaneous protest” claim until September 22. Question: The DNI compiles the presidential daily briefings from CIA intel, so how could it conclude the “spontaneous protest” line was wrong before the CIA did? And why would the CIA cling to a narrative if it had a preponderance of evidence contradicting it?
Both parties agreed upon the terms and rules for the presidential debates. But right now, the Obama campaign has to be kicking itself for going along with a schedule that devoted the last of the three encounters between President Obama and Mitt Romney to foreign policy. The Democrats have acted as if security and defense issues were a strength for them throughout the year, but it’s doubtful that the president thinks a foreign policy pitch is his best closing argument for the American people with only a couple of weeks left before the election.
That’s not just because the Benghazi terror attack has compromised the president’s stance as the man with an impeccable security record, but also because a debate that doesn’t allow him to deploy his class warfare and “war on women” themes is one that isn’t likely to help him pick up the votes he needs to secure re-election. Even worse, it gives Romney an opportunity to recoup his losses from the last debate in which he flubbed a question on Libya that he should have been able to use to hammer the president. While Democrats may hope the president repeats his aggressive performance from the second debate rather than his lackluster first debate, Monday night’s topic is a handicap that comes at just the moment when he needs a game changing victory to reverse Romney’s momentum.
President Obama went ballistic during the presidential debate at Hofstra University when Mitt Romney questioned the conduct of the administration in its reaction to the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya:
And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. 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.
It was potentially a strong moment for the president as he was able, at least for the moment, to deflect concern about the administration’s failure in Libya and turn into a question of whether Romney overstepped the mark in his criticism. But a dispassionate look at the question on which the president made his grandstand play shows that his administration stands guilty of doing exactly what he denied.
If the Obama administration thought the questions over the Benghazi attack would die down after Hillary Clinton took full responsibility for it, they were wrong. Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte released the following statement in response to Clinton’s comment:
“We have just learned that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has claimed full responsibility for any failure to secure our people and our Consulate in Benghazi prior to the attack of September 11, 2012. This is a laudable gesture, especially when the White House is trying to avoid any responsibility whatsoever.
“However, we must remember that the events of September 11 were preceded by an escalating pattern of attacks this year in Benghazi, including a bomb that was thrown into our Consulate in April, another explosive device that was detonated outside of our Consulate in June, and an assassination attempt on the British Ambassador. If the President was truly not aware of this rising threat level in Benghazi, then we have lost confidence in his national security team, whose responsibility it is to keep the President informed. But if the President was aware of these earlier attacks in Benghazi prior to the events of September 11, 2012, then he bears full responsibility for any security failures that occurred. The security of Americans serving our nation everywhere in the world is ultimately the job of the Commander-in-Chief. The buck stops there.
At Time, Michael Crowley wonders why Republicans are still calling for Obama to take responsibility, instead of just accepting Clinton’s mea culpa:
The Secretary of State has been an archvillain of Republican campaigns for decades now. And when it comes to the debate over security in Benghazi, it would seem that the buck should stop with her. But suddenly it doesn’t suit the GOP to attack Clinton. Her approval ratings are sky-high. Romney already has a problem with female voters. And Hillary’s not on the ballot this November. The GOP wants to concentrate its political attacks on Obama, even at the cost of sounding nonsensical.
How is that nonsensical?
This is nothing short of disastrous for President Obama. After dodging responsibility for the Benghazi attack for over a month, pointing fingers at everything from the State Department to the intelligence community, the White House is outclassed by…Hillary Clinton. By taking the blame now, Hillary effectively 1.) Undermined Obama’s leadership, 2.) Put pressure on him right before a major debate to take the heat:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday tried to douse a political firestorm around the deadly assault on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, saying she is responsible for the security of American diplomatic outposts.
“I take responsibility” for the protection of U.S. diplomats Clinton said during a visit to Peru. But she said an investigation now under way will ultimately determine what happened in the attack that left four Americans dead. …
Clinton said President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are not involved in security decisions.
“I want to avoid some kind of political gotcha,” she added, noting that it is close to the election.
This puts Obama in an incredibly uncomfortable position.
The White House has clarified Vice President Biden’s comment that he wasn’t aware of security requests, saying he was speaking for himself and President Obama, not the State Department. But they still haven’t explained Biden’s even more troubling claim that the intelligence community told the White House there were protesters outside the Benghazi embassy:
MS. RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on for weeks?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because that’s exactly what we were told —
MS. RADDATZ: By who?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: — by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment.
When the Obama administration rolled out its initial “blame the video” storyline in the days after the attack, they strongly implied that there was a protest outside the Benghazi consulate, but usually avoided stating it explicitly. If you listen to Jay Carney, Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, they tended to use vague words like “spontaneous reaction” and “unrest.” When they did use the word “protests,” it was usually in reference to the demonstrations across the Muslim world, not Benghazi specifically.
The vice presidential debate opened with a question about the Libyan consulate attack. While that section of the evening probably didn’t figure heavily in forming opinions about whether Vice President Biden or Paul Ryan prevailed, it did provide an interesting twist in the unfolding tale of administration prevarications about the murders in Benghazi.
In response to a pointed question from moderator Martha Raddatz about what he and the president knew about the Benghazi attack, Biden threw the intelligence community and the State Department under the bus. The vice president claimed that the story the administration put out about the terrorist attack on the consulate and the murder of the U.S. ambassador being part of the fallout from a controversial anti-Muslim video was the fault of the intelligence they were given. But rather than put the issue to bed, it raises even more troubling questions not only about the security disaster but also about the lack of leadership shown by senior administration officials, including the president. It also contradicts State Department testimony and other comments from intelligence officials that they knew it was a terror attack within 24 hours of it happening.
As he has done many times in recent years, ABC’s Jake Tapper hit the nail on the head when he asked White House spokesman Jay Carney yesterday whether President Obama hadn’t done exactly what he and other Democrats and liberals accused Mitt Romney of doing:
TAPPER: President Obama, shortly after the attack told “60 Minutes” that regarding Mitt Romney’s response to the attacks, specifically in Egypt, the president said that Romney has a tendency to “shoot first and aim later.” Given the fact that so much was made out of the video that apparently had absolutely nothing to do with the attack in Benghazi, that there wasn’t even a protest outside the Benghazi post, didn’t President Obama shoot first and aim later?
CARNEY: First of all, Jake, I think your assessment of what we know now is not complete, but I would simply say that the -
TAPPER: I’m just going by what the State Department said yesterday.
CARNEY: Look, there is no question that in the region, including in Cairo, there were demonstrations reacting to the release of that video, and I will leave it to those who are testifying on the hill to -
TAPPER: You said yesterday there was no protest? I’m talking about in Benghazi.
This was yet another cringe-inducing moment from a White House that is allergic to the truth. But Tapper’s question hits an important political point that has been ignored, as the country seeks answers to the questions about the Benghazi attack that the Obama foreign policy team still finds itself incapable of answering honestly. Mitt Romney is still taking abuse from those who claim he was wrong to criticize the administration’s behavior in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi disaster as well as the assault on the U.S. embassy in Cairo. The Republican spoke out before all the information about both incidents was aired. In retrospect, that was a mistake. But it pales in comparison to the many deceptive statements from the president, the secretary of state and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations that were not only wrong but part of what appears to have been a campaign of deception aimed at distracting the American people from a major security breakdown.
Libya’s prime minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur — who was voted in on Sept. 12 — was removed in a no-confidence vote on Sunday. As the Washington Post reports, this could mean further delays for the FBI investigation into the Benghazi attack:
The decision by Libya’s legislature means that the government may remain without permanent, democratically-elected leadership for many weeks. But without a government in place, the investigation into the attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans may be a low priority for Libyans. The extent to which the U.S. part of the investigation can operate freely in Libya also may be hampered by the domestic political chaos.
All of the back and forth over whether the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi was or was not a “terrorist” attack (can there be any doubt that it was?) has obscured attention from the real issue: Why wasn’t the consulate in Benghazi afforded better protection? There was obviously a grave breach of security. The Washington Post reveals the depth of unpreparedness:
U.S. officials appear to have underestimated the threat facing both the ambassador and other Americans. They had not reinforced the U.S. diplomatic outpost there to meet strict safety standards for government buildings overseas. Nor had they posted a U.S. Marine detachment, as at other diplomatic sites in high-threat regions.
A U.S. military team assigned to establish security at the new embassy in Tripoli, in a previously undisclosed detail, was never instructed to fortify the temporary hub in the east. Instead, a small local guard force was hired by a British private security firm as part of a contract worth less than half of what it costs to deploy a single U.S. service member in a war zone for a year.
Now that the Obama administration’s initial narrative that the Benghazi assault was a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam film has collapsed, the new spin from the White House is that President Obama has actually called it a terrorist attack all along.
“Well, first of all, Candy, as you know, the President called it an act of terror the day after it happened,” David Axelrod told CNN’s Candy Crowley this morning, referring to a speech Obama made in the Rose Garden on Sept. 12.
Axelrod’s claim has been pushed by journalists over the past few days, most notably Josh Gerstein at Politico, in a blog post headlined “Obama talked of Libya attack as ‘terror’ 2 weeks ago”:
Despite a drumbeat from the right and even independent fact-checkers that President Barack Obama has been unwilling to label as terrorism the attack on a United States diplomatic mission in Libya, the president indicated just a day after the killing of the American ambassador there that the assault was part of a series of “acts of terror” the U.S. has faced.
Mark Landler made the same claim in an otherwise solid article at the New York Times:
The White House maintains that its account changed as intelligence agencies gathered more details about the attack, not from any desire to diminish its gravity. Mr. Obama, his aides point out, labeled the assault an “act of terror” in his first public response, in the Rose Garden, a day after it happened.
Gerstein and Landler are simply wrong on this.
A tipping point in the ongoing efforts by the Obama administration to downplay the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya may have been reached this weekend. After weeks of placidly regurgitating the White House spin on the Libya attack, the headlines on the front page of the New York Times showed that even the leading liberal cheerleader for the president understood the game was over: “Shifting Reports on Libya Killings May Cost Obama; An Opening for Romney; Intelligence Aides Say Attack on Compound Was ‘Organized.’”
That sums the situation up nicely, but the Times has it slightly wrong about the “Opening for Romney” it references. A proper understanding of what we have learned in the last 18 days is not that Mitt Romney’s campaign may have been given an opportunity to exploit the president’s shortcomings, but that the poor conduct of the administration in the aftermath of the Libya attack may have been motivated by their cynical political efforts to cover up a disaster of their own making. The refusal to talk about terror comes from a strategy in which the president’s re-election rests in part on promoting the idea that Obama won the war on al-Qaeda the day Osama bin Laden died. It isn’t Romney who has been playing politics on Libya but the president and his handlers.
The Romney campaign spent Tuesday criticizing Obama for referring to the riots and embassy attacks across the Muslim world as “bumps in the road.” But now the mother of one of the former Navy SEALs killing in Libya said she agrees with the road-bump characterization, and is sad to see the incident politicized, according to the Boston Herald:
The mother of a former Navy SEAL from Winchester killed in Libya said it is “very sad” that her son’s death was being used as political theater yesterday — and she agreed with President Obama’s controversial assessment that the latest round of deadly troubles in the region constitute “bumps in the road.”
She said every day, men like her son are making a difference for those who live in that region.
“Those people, not only there, but other places, are under horrid dictatorships,” Barbara Doherty told the Herald yesterday. “They’re very angry. They’re poor. It is a little bump in the road. They are making progress. You can’t expect it to happen in one night. Progress is slow.”
That will probably settle it for the media, which, as John wrote in his New York Post column, was already trying to ignore Obama’s indelicate comment anyway. How long do you think it will take for the press to turn this into a Romney-gaffe story? Maybe we can look forward to another round of breathless “did Romney jump the gun?” headlines.
Such is the nature of the 24/7 news cycle that you might think last week’s attack on the U.S. embassies in Libya, Egypt and Yemen had occurred sometime during the Eisenhower administration. The overwhelming attention devoted to Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” video story in the mainstream media has seemed to relegate the impact of the unraveling of American foreign policy in the Middle East to sidebar status. The disproportionate attention the liberal media has given Romney’s video may damage his campaign, but let’s not be deceived into thinking that this week’s story trumps last week’s or at least consigns it to be merely dropped down the memory hole.
The widespread attacks on American outposts in the region are a sign of what had already been obvious to serious observers: President Obama’s four-year effort to ingratiate the Arab and Muslim world has been a dismal failure. It’s not just that the president’s hubristic belief that his personal iconic status could change views about the United States have proven to be so much more self-delusion. It’s also that the White House’s unwillingness to accept that al-Qaeda is alive and well and planning terror attacks on vital U.S. targets — warnings about which have been ignored — in countries like Libya illustrates that the “Bin Laden is dead” mantra asserting the triumph of Obama’s foreign and defense policies is largely fiction. Last week’s attacks were emblematic of a catastrophic chapter in the history of American foreign policy. By comparison, Romney’s gaffe is a mere footnote to the story of this year’s presidential campaign.
Yesterday, when most of the mainstream media busied themselves pounding Mitt Romney for having the chutzpah to denounce the initial apology for American freedom of speech issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, they were missing a much more important story. As Islamist attacks on the U.S. escalated throughout the Middle East, it became apparent that the Obama administration’s recent bout of back slapping celebration over its foreign and defense policy was completely unjustified. Not only were the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department sleeping while terrorist forces plotted a full-scale assault on our mission in Benghazi, Libya but other al Qaeda operatives were at work throughout the region plotting mischief.
As the New York Times reports today, the assault on the U.S. embassy in Sana, Yemen was apparently fomented by one Abdul Majid al-Zandani, whom they describe as, “a onetime mentor to Osama bin Laden” and someone who, “was named a ‘specially designated global terrorist’ by the United States Treasury Department in 2004.” Would it be considered in bad taste to ask why, if the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism policy is such a raging success, such a person is still on the loose? Equally interesting is the answer to the question of how it is that in Libya, a country where American influence is supposed to be currently strong, this administration found itself surprised by the appearance of armed foes. Though Democrats spent the last week furiously patting themselves on the back for having such a tough and successful leader at the helm, it appears that not only is the country just as unpopular in the Middle East as it was when George W. Bush was president, but that the security situation there may be rapidly unraveling. Though no one in Washington is allowed to say the phrase “war on terror” anymore, it appears that Islamists have no trouble in continuing their war on America.
Pundits and many in the foreign policy establishment are slamming Mitt Romney today for taking issue with Obama administration statements about attacks on U.S. diplomats and embassies in Libya and Egypt. Their assumption is that in the wake of a tragedy involving the deaths of U.S. personnel, Romney should have held his tongue rather than wading into the controversy and, in the opinion of those critical of his stance, politicizing something that is beyond politics. For some liberals, this will not just reinforce the message of the Democratic National Convention that Romney is not qualified to speak on foreign policy. They hope this will be a turning point in which a close race will turn into a cakewalk for President Obama.
It remains to be seen whether they will turn out to be right. In his statement at the White House this morning, the president sounded and looked presidential when he eulogized Ambassador Chris Stevens and the other Americans. Presidents are at their best when they play commander-in-chief, but the idea that the administration’s mistakes should be treated as out of bounds for Romney is absurd. Contrary to the Democrats’ talking points, President Obama’s foreign policy is a disaster in the making. Though he must be careful, Romney would be a fool to sit by quietly and allow these events to pass without comment, as Islamists rampage in Egypt and Libya while the president snubs Israel and allows Iran to drift toward a nuclear weapon without a serious effort to stop it.