Oh What a Tangled Web
What did Obama know and when did he know it?

President Barack Obama and General David Petraeus in 2012


Victor Davis Hanson

Why did we even have a consulate — or a CIA annex — in Benghazi in the first place?

Who really knows? Most nations and non-governmental organizations had long ago pulled their personnel out of their main stations in Tripoli, let alone Benghazi. But the truth again probably will be inconvenient to a president who ran in 2008 on a new transparency in foreign policy, an end to the Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism protocols, a suspicion of past CIA behaviors both abroad and at Guantanamo, and a blanket dislike of private “contractors,” veritable merchants of death who profit from the mayhem of war. Given the administration’s desire to help the opposition to Bashar Assad in Syria, given our newfound compatibility with Turkey, now an archenemy of a once “no problems” and “reformist” Syria, and given the vast and mostly unaccounted-for Qaddafi weapons arsenal, it might seem logical to have a program that would “secure” these dangerous weapons. And why not at the same time repackage them, through hired non-governmental contractors, as anonymous donations to the Syrian opposition — perhaps with the help of Turkish transit?

But such a policy, if disclosed, was fraught with danger in general and for the reformist Obama in particular. With a Nobel Peace Prize laureate as president, Americans now do not use consulates in obscure places as fronts for CIA arms-smuggling operations. We do not send weapons covertly to groups whose actual affiliations and ideologies we are not yet certain are legitimate or in U.S. interests. We do not employ Blackwater-like private mercenaries under cover to offer plausible deniability. We do not use our ambassadors to facilitate covert arms transfers and smuggling. And we certainly do not expose U.S. personnel to unacceptable risks abroad for the sake of non-transparent objectives of both dubious utility and questionable morality.

How is the Benghazi matter connected to David Petraeus and the question of female fraternization with top officers and officials?

In many ways. First, pre-election, the U.S media had decided that Libya was taboo. Those who dissented were immediately blasted as politicizing a national tragedy or, in Romney’s case, using national disaster as a cheap campaign ploy. The prurient sexual matter inadvertently directed media attention to the CIA director — who also happens to be the most renowned American soldier since Matthew Ridgway — and by extension to Benghazi. The administration’s narrative about the Petraeus resignation, like its Benghazi narrative, simply asks the American people to believe something that they cannot suppose to be true.

Most do accept the FBI Keystone Cops story that Jill Kelley’s worry over anonymous angry e-mails prompted her call to a friendly agent, who set in motion a full-scale FBI investigation, which, in turn, discovered secret e-mails between Petraeus and biographer Paula Broadwell, which, in a further turn, made it clear, inter alia, that the two were having a romantic affair.

Sometime in late summer, the FBI passed on to Justice Department officials its discovery of the Petraeus affair, suggesting, among other things, that Broadwell was in possession of, or at least knew about, classified information. We are supposed to believe that the Justice Department noted that information, but when it finally passed it on to Attorney General Holder in late summer, he chose not to tell the president of the findings. Indeed, Obama supposedly did not learn about Petraeus until the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, asked Petraeus to resign three days after the election, on a Friday afternoon, the usual time for press releases concerning inconvenient developments.

More important, Petraeus himself had supposedly gone on record shortly after the 9/11 attacks as saying that the violence grew out of a spontaneous demonstration gone awry, rather than being a preplanned terrorist hit using mortars and machine guns. If Petraeus did say that, it was somewhat surprising — given that his own CIA personnel on the ground in Libya had informed him otherwise. Petraeus’s purported initial analysis likewise was not supported by live-feed videos that showed gunmen, not demonstrators, attacking Americans, and it was also at odds with the monitoring of jihadist websites that were already boasting of a successful hit on Americans — but it was entirely consistent with what administration officials like Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, James Clapper, and Barack Obama were insisting upon.

So the natural question arises: Why would David Petraeus, the seasoned veteran who had fought insurgency and terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, offer a blurred analysis that differed from what his common sense, reports from his own subordinates, live video feeds, and jihadist braggadocio all seemed to confirm? More curious still, after his resignation, Petraeus testified to a congressional committee that he had in fact confirmed a terrorist attack all along, only to see his agency’s accurate preliminary analysis modified by others — in the sense of sanitized White House talking points that made no mention of a preplanned al-Qaeda attack. That is quite a tangled web, when the U.S. government can neither protect its personnel nor explain why it cannot.