The Bottom of Benghazi
Between reverences to the majesty of abortion, the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte regularly collapsed into displays of facile jingoism that would have sent liberals for their fainting couches had the streamers in the hall been red instead of blue, or had they occurred in, oh, say, 2004. Opaque and vaguely sinister phrases such as “economic patriotism” were bandied about freely, and the laudable extirpation of Osama bin Laden was milked for all it was worth. The frenzy reached its climax with Vice President Biden’s sloganeered boast that “bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive!”
Less than a week later, four Americans were dead in Libya and al-Qaeda flags flew over our diplomatic missions in Benghazi and Cairo on the anniversary of 9/11. The juxtaposition of the campaign brag with the video of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’s body being dragged through the streets was politically unfortunate for the president — especially given his earlier boast that anti-Americanism would wane under his administration. This perhaps explains, though it can never justify, what is now clear about the administration’s persistent denial that the attack was preplanned — namely, that the White House was either deliberately less than truthful, cataclysmically incompetent, or both.
We now know that before Benghazi — before Charlotte — the U.S. intelligence community was well aware that al-Qaeda was in an “expansion phase” in Libya. Indeed, anti-Western attacks had been ramping up since as early as April, and by June Libyan militants were openly discussing targeting Ambassador Stevens. We know that despite all this, repeated requests for additional security from U.S. mission staff in Libya were denied, even as Stevens warned in a cable written days before his death that the local militia group entrusted to help protect the consulate — the self-styled “February 17 Martyrs Brigade” — was threatening to pull out over a political dispute. And we know that within 24 hours of the 9/11/12 attack, U.S. intelligence had “very good information” that the strike was preplanned and perpetrated by al-Qaeda-connected militants. And yet as late as September 16, U.N. ambassador Susan Rice was flooding the Sunday chat shows with the same message: “We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”
It wasn’t until more than a week after the attack that administration officials admitted Benghazi was a terrorist hit, and it wasn’t until two weeks later that the president conceded as much. In the interim, the yawning gap between the administration’s official line and the dictates of common sense raised the critical question: Was the White House wishfully guessing because it actually didn’t know or care about the conditions on the ground in a state it had helped create by intervening with precision-guided munitions, or was it telling tales as part of a shortsighted political calculation to keep the first assassination of a U.S. ambassador in 30 years from becoming a campaign issue down the home stretch? If it’s the former, it suggests a startling and dangerous disconnect between the administration’s diplomatic, intelligence, and political chains of command in a region critical to our national security. If it’s the latter, it reveals something just as dangerous: an administration willing to suppress the truth about the murder of Americans to protect its short-term political interests.
In light of these alternatives, Secretary Clinton’s recent announcement — that her State Department will not have definitive answers about what happened in the lead-up to and aftermath of Benghazi until (what are the odds?) sometime between November and January — is unacceptable. If the mounting evidence of malfeasance isn’t a smoking gun, it is at least one still warm to the touch, and at this point even CNN has called the administration’s behavior indicative of a “cover-up.” We hope the rest of the mainstream media can be persuaded — or shamed — into joining the effort to get to the bottom of Benghazi. The American people deserve to hear the truth from the president. And his foreign policy deserves a reckoning.