Obama admin recalibrating Benghazi narrative — again — before FP debate?

posted at 5:31 pm on October 20, 2012 by Erika Johnsen

Since it now appears that the first two presidential debates did very much indeed have a resounding effect on the state of the race, Team O can’t afford to take any chances with Monday’s foreign-policy debate. Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s narrative on the president’s foreign-policy record has long been that all of those drone strikes and the death of Osama bin Laden have vastly deteriorated the strength and coordination of terrorism in the Middle East, and the attacks on the consulate in Benghazi and the death of four Americans on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 put something of a damper on that narrative.

Now it looks like the White House might be trying to rejigger that narrative yet again align more favorably with President Obama’s self-stated successes, do some damage control on his administration’s incompetent and bungled response to repeated security threats in the region, and may be most particularly looking get any “al Qaeda”-related language out of the Libya story. Fox News reported last night:

The intelligence community on Friday once again modified its assessment of what caused the deadly terror attack last month on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya – returning in part to claims that the violence was in reaction to a protest at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo over an anti-Islam film.

At the same time, the latest assessment acknowledged there was no actual protest in Benghazi at the time of the attack and that “extremist” elements were likely involved. …

The latest assessment appears to fall somewhere between the flawed account U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice gave on Sept. 16 claiming the attack was “spontaneous” and a subsequent revision on Sept. 28 by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper claiming it was a coordinated terror attack.

Then, as Stephen Hayes summarized at the Weekly Standard this morning,

The administration’s new line takes shape in two articles out Saturday, one in the Los Angeles Times and the other by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. The Times piece reports that there is no evidence of an al Qaeda role in the attack. The Ignatius column makes a directly political argument, claiming that “the Romney campaign may have misfired with its suggestion that statements by President Obama and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice about the Benghazi attacks weren’t supported by intelligence, according to documents provided by a senior intelligence official.”

If this is the best the Obama administration can offer in its defense, they’re in trouble. The Times story is almost certainly wrong and the central part of the Ignatius “scoop” isn’t a scoop at all.

As Hayes goes on to point out, this new intelligence claiming that there is no evidence that al Qaeda was involved in the attacks, directly contradicts earlier reports and evidence claiming that al Qaeda and/or affiliates may very well have been involved in the attacks — and either way, none of this gets around the undeniable fact that the Obama administration failed to deal with longstanding security concerns.

It’s really quite jarring that Team Obama can accuse Mitt Romney & friends of trying to distort the Benghazi situation for political purposes, when it is abundantly clear that that is what’s going on with the White House here. This is raising some serious questions in the intelligence community and from Congress about the White House’s manipulative handling of the situation, and certain Republicans (rightly) aren’t going to let this go, per Politico:

The chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security late Friday demanded President Barack Obama release the intelligence reports behind the administration’s evolving explanation for the  burning of the Benghazi consulate.

In a letter, Peter King (R-N.Y) echoed fellow House Republicans’ calls in  demanding the release of intelligence that led the administration to initially conclude protests over an inflammatory Internet film led to the attack, and  “subsequent Intelligence Community analyses which led your Administration to determine that the events of September 11, 2012 represented a terrorist attack.” …

In a letter to President Barack Obama sent earlier Friday,  Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) called for a “full and immediate account”  of the administration’s decisions leading up to and in the wake of the  attack. …

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