Three weeks after an attack in Libya killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, we now know that it did not spring from a spontaneous protest, spurred by an anti-Muslim video, as the Obama administration originally described it. In fact, every aspect of the early account — peddled most prominently by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice — has unraveled.
This, then, was not one of those failures that is only visible in retrospect. It was a predictable vulnerability that the State Department failed to protect against. And for the sake of Americans in other foreign outposts, that calls for much closer scrutiny than the administration has been willing to allow.
Facing skepticism from members of Congress, including Democrats, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta finally called the assault what it was: terrorism. But the administration has said little else, other than that its initial misinterpretation resulted from faulty intelligence.
Among the most significant unanswered questions: Did U.S intelligence fail to get warnings of a plot? Or were warnings ignored? Why weren’t Marines stationed at such a dangerous post? Did Stevens seek more security only to be denied, or did the ambassador fail to act on the concerns expressed in his diary? And, most urgently, does the success of the attack suggest that other foreign outposts could be inadequately fortified?
No doubt the administration wants to be sure that it has the facts straight before risking a second blunder. But the longer it waits, the worse it looks, and the longer other facilities will have to wait for beefed up protection.
The increasing attention this story’s receiving suggests it won’t be able to be buried, as the Obama administration appeared to be trying to do by refraining from calling the attack terrorism.