Secretary Clinton will have to explain why the State Department did not heed requests for greater security, both before and during the attack. And she is beginning to grasp — and so especially is her husband — that the administration is hanging the disaster around her neck. She crudely blamed the attacks on our embassies in the Middle East on the video (with caskets of our dead as backdrop), reminding us that a few months earlier she had crudely giggled about the murder of Qaddafi (“We came, we saw, Qaddafi died”). All in all, her performance during this disaster has been disappointing, and more so with each new disclosure.
Then we come to Ambassador Rice, who apparently was being groomed to succeed Secretary of State Clinton. As part of that trajectory, she was to be point woman for the administration’s spontaneous-mob narrative. That meant that on at least five different occasions Rice hit the Sunday talk shows, apparently to showcase her rhetorical skills, insisting that the attacks in Cairo and Benghazi were ad hoc assaults that had nothing to do with U.S. foreign policy, anti-American animosity, or mistakes in American security preparation. Whether through ignorance or by design, Ambassador Rice repeatedly told an untruth, and did so with energy and dogmatic insistence. Her problem, then, is not just that what she insisted was true was clearly not, but also the unambiguous and forceful manner in which she wove her story. That she suddenly appeared from obscurity to play the sophist, and then retreated back into anonymity, suggests that her diplomatic career will be soon coming to an end.
Next is the matter of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. His insistence that a mob had caused the mayhem is one untruth or mischaracterization too many — and a wrong assessment that trumps even his earlier absurdities, such as that the Muslim Brotherhood is largely a secular organization or that Qaddafi would not fall from power. Politicians and bureaucrats err all the time; but when intelligence officers do not appear to have intelligence, then they too usually quietly disappear into comfortable retirement.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey at some point supposedly received information about the attack in real time. Why — given the supposed directive of the president to do “whatever we need to” to save our people — he did not order military assistance will have to be explained. Uncertain conditions will not do, because that is what militaries do: go into uncertain conditions to save lives and defeat the enemy. Armchair tacticians will argue that planes and teams could have been sent and then called off near arrival time if that was what circumstances seemed to warrant; that option would have been wiser than sending no one and thereby ensuring that the compound and annex would be overrun. And because General Dempsey has not been shy in weighing in on matters political by warning retired servicemen not to comment on contemporary politics (General Wesley Clark apparently excepted), and because he has phoned a Florida pastor to tell him to tone down his anti-Islamic rhetoric, the public will all the more expect an explanation. If the chairman can lecture both civilians and retired officers on proper behavior, then he should be able as well to explain why he did not heed the president’s order to do “whatever we need to do.”
CIA Director David Petraeus is now by implication being faulted. A brief communiqué that the CIA did not refuse pleas for assistance was prompted by anonymous administration officials’ allegations that it was our intelligence agencies, not the State Department or White House officials, that prevented assistance to our diplomatic mission. At some point Petraeus will probably have to use all his influence and power to correct the administration’s narrative, which is apparently intended to shift culpability to him and his agency. General Petraeus, by his singular record, probably should have been made either chairman of the Joint Chiefs or NATO supreme commander; he apparently received neither offer. After pulling off the surge in Iraq, he was redeployed into Afghanistan under far different — and more difficult — circumstances that limited his range of options, and he had to give up his nominally superior billet as CENTCOM commander. When he took on the CIA job, he apparently was asked to retire from the military. There is a pattern here: selfless service to the United States, but recently in the context of a politicized administration that has used the enormous prestige of Petraeus in ways that have reduced his influence. Directing responsibility away from the administration to the CIA is more of the same, and it puts a historic figure like Petraeus in an unfair predicament.
Benghazi was a disaster, whose graphic details most Americans do not fully know and, in some sense understandably, do not wish to relive. Still, we await two simple clarifications: an administration timeline of exactly who was notified, in what manner, and when on the night of the attack, and a full release of all information detailing the administration reaction to the murders, from the hours in which the attack occurred to the present day.
Without that honesty, those responsible will only continue to weave their tangled Libyan web.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom.