Politics & Policy

An Ambassador Died, Obama Lied

Why did the administration insist that the attack in Benghazi was not premeditated?

‘Bush lied, people died,” they chanted. When the intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — information that was believed by the intelligence agencies of our major allies, that was described by the Clinton-appointed head of the CIA as a “slam dunk,” and that was accepted by heads of state and leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties — turned out to be badly mistaken, George W. Bush was branded a liar.

Even Democrats like Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Tom Daschle, and Ted Kennedy, who had warned about Saddam’s WMD program on various occasions, quickly scurried to the “Bush lied, people died” slander when the intelligence proved inaccurate.

Neither Bush nor Secretary of State Colin Powell lied about Iraq. They received bad information. Error is part of the human condition. So is venality, and that is what marked the Democrats’ scurrilous attacks on Bush when the intelligence failure came to light. They could have reasonably criticized Bush for not being more skeptical of intelligence reports, but no, they resorted to slurs.

On the eleventh anniversary of the September 11attacks, an al-Qaeda-linked band of terrorists attacked our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and killed our ambassador and three other Americans. President Obama and his entire administration denied that the attack had anything to do with the anniversary of al-Qaeda’s greatest victory, attributing the attack to spontaneous rage at an Internet video. On September 13, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “The protests we’re seeing around the region are in reaction to this movie. They are not directly in reaction to any policy of the United States or the government of the United States or the people of the United States.” They stuck to this story for more than a week, even as evidence that it was false accumulated.

If it were a simple matter of bad information, the administration had ample opportunities to modify its initial response to the tragedy. As Eli Lake reported in the Daily Beast, intelligence agencies were confiding within 24 hours that the attacks seemed pre-planned. Intercepts showed that an al-Qaeda affiliate boasted of its success to another al-Qaeda group on September 12. “There was very good information on this within the first 24 hours,” an intelligence official told Lake. Skeptical Republicans with military experience such as John McCain and Mike Rogers also observed, in those first hours after the attack, that RPGs are not usually carried to “spontaneous” protests.

Nevertheless, five days after the attacks, and long after it was clear that the consulate (along with a safe house half a mile away) had been targeted by terrorists, U.N. ambassador Susan Rice toured five Sunday morning TV shows to deliver the administration’s line that the murder of our diplomats was a case of mob violence that had been “hijacked by extremists.” Appearing on ABC’s This Week, Rice said, “Our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous — not a premeditated — response to what had transpired in Cairo.” Jay Carney repeated that spin at White House briefings.

Except that, as CBS reported, there was never any protest at all in Benghazi about the Internet movie. It was a straight-up terror attack. Only on September 20 did Carney finally acknowledge the obvious — “It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack. Our embassy was attacked violently, and the result was four deaths of American officials.”

Why would the administration attempt to deceive the world about a terror attack?

Two possibilities suggest themselves. The Obama administration has substituted a bumper sticker — “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive” — for a foreign policy. They’ve been hoping that the death of bin Laden would be seen as total victory over al-Qaeda and jihadism. A brazen and successful attack against Americans in Libya, including the first assassination of an ambassador in more than three decades, undercuts that self-satisfied narrative and suggests that while bin Laden is dead, bin Ladenism is very much alive.

The second explanation is that this administration has relied on the supposed appeal of Barack Obama’s persona in place of American military and diplomatic strength. That appeal is proving chimerical, and the administration will go to great lengths to disguise that reality.

But whatever the rationale, the facts are clear: The administration purposely misled the country, and has so far not been held accountable.

— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2012 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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