There is something almost surrealist in the reckless dishonesty of the administration’s defense of Joe Biden and his statements on Libya in the vice-presidential debate. When Biden was first asked about Libya that night — it was the first question — he paid a brief tribute to the Americans murdered in Libya and then immediately switched the subject to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Mitt Romney’s alleged reluctance to go after Osama bin laden. After Ryan had spoken, the moderator returned to Biden and Libya. Here’s the transcript:
MS. RADDATZ: Can we talk about — let me go back to Libya.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Yeah, sure.
MS. RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on for weeks?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because that’s exactly what we were told —
MS. RADDATZ: By who?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: — by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment. That’s why there’s also an investigation headed by Tom Pickering, a leading diplomat in the — from the Reagan years, who is doing an investigation as to whether or not there were any lapses, what the lapses were, so that they will never happen again. But —
MS. RADDATZ: And they wanted more security there.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, we weren’t told they wanted more security again. We did not know they wanted more security again. And by the way, at the time we were told exactly — we said exactly what the intelligence community told us that they knew. That was the assessment. And as the intelligence community changed their view, we made it clear they changed their view. That’s why I said, we will get to the bottom of this.
You know, usually when there’s a crisis, we pull together. We pull together as a nation. But as I said, even before we knew what happened to the ambassador, the governor was holding a press conference — was holding a press conference. That’s not presidential leadership.
In the light of what we know, everything Biden said here is shamefully mendacious — and his invocation of patriotism as a defense is a piece of toad-like hypocrisy. But some of his comments are more flagrantly dishonest than others.
Most post-debate comments have focused on the question of when Biden and the White House knew that the U.S. consulate in Benghazi had requested more security. The White House is fairly happy with that because it can claim (falsely and absurdly, but hey . . ) that the blame for the decision really lies with the appropriators in Congress and that the blame for their ignorance of it lies with the State Department under Hillary Clinton. And Washington’s rejection of Benghazi’s request, though a very important element in the story, was also a late-breaking part of it too. So Biden might just about argue that, as a busy man out of the loop, he hadn’t heard it yet.
But examine Ms. Rabbatz’s question more closely: “What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on for weeks?” To which Biden replied that he and the White House were told about it by the “intelligence community.” But the terrorist attack, the fake story about the “protests” — these were continued for what Ms. Rabbatz rightly called “weeks.” They were gradually, albeit too gradually, unmasked as lies by the media. But during those “weeks” Susan Rice went on the morning shows to repeat the lies, the president himself told the United Nations in his speech that the attack was a response to the video six times, and finally Joe Biden produced the same talking points in the debate.
The truth about Benghazi — that it was a major, well-armed, terrorist attack by allies of al-Qaeda, that there were no spontaneous protests of which the terrorists took advantage, that the anti-Islamist video had nothing to do with it, that the Obama administration’s account was a pack of lies from start to finish — had been on the front pages for weeks when Biden repeated the cover-up story to Ms. Rabbatz.
So Biden, in claiming to know nothing about it, was claiming to know less than any reader of a newspaper or any viewer of television news about the biggest international humiliation suffered by the U.S. since 9/11. What he most resembled was one of those clueless “Man in the Street” vox pops that Howard Stern runs; maybe Stern should just add it to his next batch.
If you saw this in a movie, you would dismiss the scene as completely implausible. The administration could only have risked such a story is because it assumed, wrongly but reasonably, that its media allies would be lazy and unenthusiastic about pursuing it. And if the worst came to the worst, they could always argue cynically that Biden is, well, a bit of a cracked-up surrealist at the best of times.
Which may be the next stage.