With all the attention the Obama administration’s lies about the Benghazi terrorist attack are, at long last getting, an aspect of the scandal remains under-examined: the assumption that the anti-Islamic video so tirelessly touted by President Obama and his minions as the provocation causing the Benghazi violence did, in fact, cause the rioting at the U.S. embassy in Cairo hours earlier on September 11, 2012.
This conventional wisdom is wrong. There is a kernel of truth to it, which is more than you can say about the video’s connection to Benghazi, but no more than that.
As we have covered here before (see, e.g., here), the release and return to Egypt of the Blind Sheik, Omar Abdel Rahman (whom I prosecuted in the Nineties), has been a cause célèbre in Egypt for many years. On September 10, 2012, the day before rioting at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, an Egyptian weekly, El Fagr, reported that several jihadist organizations, including the Blind Sheik’s group (Gamaat al-Islamia, or the Islamic Group) and al-Qaeda emir Ayman al-Zawahiri’s group (Egyptian Islamic Jihad), were threatening to burn the American embassy in Cairo to the ground. The promised action against the embassy was an effort to extort the release of Abdel Rahman and other jihadists jailed by the United States.
We know this thanks to the invaluable Raymond Ibrahim — who makes it his business to scour the Arabic press, where Islamic supremacists are actually covered. Ray published a post on it in the PJ Tatler. The post echoes my observation, from back in July, that the Blind Sheik’s son, Abdallah Abdel Rahman, was threatening to raid the U.S. embassy in Cairo and hold our people hostage to coerce his father’s release.
More significantly, as an alert Bryan Preston notices at PJ Media, Ray’s post the day before the Cairo rioting and Benghazi Massacre dovetails with Stephen Hayes’s latest excellent report on Benghazi. In discussing the CIA’s first round of talking points — later substantially erased under pressure from the State Department and the White House — Steve points out the Agency’s assertion that “on 10 September we warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of the [Cairo] Embassy and that jihadists were threatening to break into the Embassy.”
Note that neither the Egyptian press report outlined by Ibrahim, nor the CIA report outlined by Hayes, made any mention of the video. The fear was threatened violence from al-Qaeda affiliated jihadists.
So how did the anti-Islamic video makes its way into the story? It increasingly appears that the Obama administration did more to publicize and the video and make it relevant than anyone else did.
As I said above, there is a kernel of truth to the claim that the video factored into the Cairo rioting. On September 9, two days before, the Grand Mufti publicly denounced “the actions undertaken by some extremist Copts who made a film offensive to the Prophet.” This denunciation led some of the Cairo hooligans to inveigh against the video.
It was, however, only one item in a broad list of grievances Islamic supremacists lodged against the United States. Many of the rioters focused on demanding the release of the Blind Sheikh and other jihadists. More to the point, many of them expressed their support for al Qaeda. They gleefully chanted, “Obama, Obama, there are still a million Osamas!” They tore down the Stars-and-Stripes from our flagpole, replacing it with al Qaeda’s notorious black jihad banner.
The claim that the Cairo rioting was over the video traces from the fact that the State Department – specifically, the U.S. embassy in Cairo – put out nauseating statements in the hours before the rioting started, deriding “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims,” and indignantly condemning “religious incitement.”
Then, in the days after both the Cairo rioting and the massacre in Benghazi, President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, Ambassador Susan Rice, White House spokesman Jay Carney, and other administration figures repeatedly cited the video as the catalyst. The Obama-friendly press, naturally, ran with this spin: the video caused the rioting at the embassy in Cairo, which seamlessly spilled over into neighboring Libya, where a similar “protest” spontaneously erupted into deadly violence.
As we know, that is not what happened.
Obama’s re-election campaign was premised on the claims that he had decimated al Qaeda, that the war on terror was thus nearing an end, and that his Middle East policy of aiding Islamic supremacists in places like Egypt and Libya was stabilizing the region and fostering the birth of real democracy. The campaign could not afford powerful demonstrations that al Qaeda was anything but in its death throes; that terrorists were still targeting American facilities and killing American officials; and that, under Obama’s policies, Egypt and much of Libya were now controlled by rabidly anti-American Islamic supremacists.
The video fraud enabled the administration and Obama’s reelection campaign to stay on offense – aggressively pummeling the strawman of “Islamophobia” – rather than in the defensive crouch required to explain, or try to explain, the Obama administration’s performance in Egypt, Libya, and the broader Middle East. It worked: The Romney campaign was cowed and accountability for the Benghazi massacre would have to wait many months.