On Sunday, the White House narrative on the assassination of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi was that they died in a protest that “spun out of control,” as UN Ambassador Susan Rice insisted on multiple talk shows. That narrative hasn’t even lasted out the week. By Wednesday, officials in the US government began acknowledging that the so-called “riot” at the consulate in Libya had elements of planning and heavy weapons; by yesterday, Barack Obama himself refused to answer questions about the nature of the attack. There may not have even been a protest at the consulate before the attack.
Today, The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake looks at the collapse of the Obama narrative on the attack, and the questions it raises about the administration’s handling of consular security in an area known to be rife with Islamist militias and terrorists:
Now there is mounting evidence that the White House’s initial portrayal of the attacks as a mere outgrowth of protest was incorrect—or, at the very least, incomplete. The administration’s story itself has recently begun to shift, with Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center, telling Congress on Wednesday that the attackers may have had links to Al Qaeda and Carney characterizing the incident as a “terrorist attack.” (Hillary Clinton announced on Thursday that she was putting together a panel to look into the incident.)
But other indications that the White House’s early narrative was faulty are also beginning to emerge. One current U.S. intelligence officer working on the investigation into the incident told The Daily Beast that the attackers had staked out and monitored the U.S. consulate in Benghazi before the attack, a move that suggests pre-planning.
What’s more, two U.S. intelligence officials told The Daily Beast that the intelligence community is currently analyzing an intercept between a Libyan politician whose sympathies are with al Qaeda and the Libyan militia known as the February 17 Brigade—which had been charged with providing local security to the consulate. In the intercept, the Libyan politician apparently asks an officer in the brigade to have his men stand down for a pending attack—another piece of evidence implying the violence was planned in advance.
This leads to all sorts of questions about the White House’s actions, before and after the assassination. First, Benghazi is located in the eastern part of Libya, an area where al-Qaeda and other Islamist militias have operated years before the fall of Moammar Qaddafi. The fall of the previous regime has made operation even easier for these groups, and they didn’t have too much difficulty before; many of the AQ recruits in Iraq between 2003 and the surge came from this area of Libya. On the anniversary of 9/11, one would have expected the US to have anticipated an attack attempt and provided extra security for its diplomatic missions in Muslim nations, but especially Benghazi.
This might explain the rush to blame the entire mess on a weeks-old YouTube video. Thanks to that rush to judgment, the White House was able to initially deflect criticism of its security failure to the filmmakers — and claim that its Middle East policy wasn’t to blame for the assassination and the other riots. That narrative has collapsed, too, writes Charles Krauthammer:
It’s now three years since the Cairo speech. Look around. The Islamic world is convulsed with an explosion of anti-Americanism. From Tunisiato Lebanon, American schools, businesses anddiplomatic facilities set ablaze. A U.S. ambassador and three others murdered in Benghazi. The black flag of Salafism, of which al-Qaeda is a prominent element, raised over our embassies in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Sudan.
The administration, staggered and confused,blames it all on a 14-minute trailer for a film no one has seen and may not even exist.
What else can it say? Admit that its doctrinal premises were supremely naive and its policies deeply corrosive to American influence? …
Islamists rise across North Africa from Mali to Egypt. Iran repeatedly defies U.S. demands on nuclear enrichment, then, as a measure of its contempt for what America thinks, openly admits that its Revolutionary Guards are deployed in Syria. Russia, after arming Assad, warns America to stay out, while the secretary of state delivers vapid lectures about Assad “meeting” his international “obligations.” The Gulf states beg America to act on Iran; Obama strains mightily to restrain . . . Israel.
Sovereign U.S. territory is breached and U.S. interests are burned. And what is the official response? One administration denunciation after another — of a movie trailer! A request to Google to “review” the trailer’s presence on YouTube. And a sheriff’s deputies’ midnight “voluntary interview” with the suspected filmmaker. This in the land of the First Amendment.
Don’t expect Obama to take ownership of this narrative collapse. In fact, the administration has already offered up its patsy on the altars of five Sunday talk shows last week:
Some wondered why the White House sent a UN Ambassador — who had no direct connection to anything related to the story — out to sell the “protest spun out of control” message. Answer: Susan Rice is a lot more expendable than Hillary Clinton, who as Secretary of State should have been the one explaining the week’s events, not the UN Ambassador. Obama sent Rice out to be made a fool — and one has to wonder whether Rice volunteered for that assignment, or Hillary refused it.