December 3, 2012
Benghazi Denial Syndrome: Clinical or Cynical
By Shawn Mitchell
To a large group of Americans, the Benghazi story looks simple. Only the fog of politics and the media’s protection of the president obscure an ugly narrative. This article is long because the extent of denial, dissembling, and delusion is hard to describe briefly.
It’s possible, though unlikely, there are reasonable explanations for the administration’s policies leading to September 11, for the command decisions made that night, and for the government’s still-shifting stories since about all that happened.
It’s not possible there’s an honorable explanation for the national media’s dismissive refusal to press for credible answers. These matters are important, disputed, and sexy. Yet, with a few proud exceptions, there is no press among Old Media to get to the truth.
Here’s what seems plain to many: The planned political slaughter of Americans in Libya showed the president’s foreign and security policies in the region to be weak and arguably failing. That revelation was not optimal for Obama, because it clashed with his campaign’s success story. Consequently, during and after the attack, the administration carried out an astonishingly brazen cover-up and successful effort to kick accountability’s can past November and maybe permanently.
The national media’s role, as smoothly cooperative as Ginger Rogers back-striding in Fred Astaire’s embrace, shows the distance we’ve traveled to becoming a one-party media state.
To a different group of Americans, that account sounds like a paranoid conspiracy theory, exploiting an unpreventable tragedy, and connecting random dots in groundless speculation and accusations. It is divisive, opportunistic partisanship and political profiteering upon the graves of fallen Americans.
The latter view is, pardon my French, merde. Just consider what we know, what the administration did and said, and what its deflectors say. (I use “deflectors” rather than “defenders,” because there is no coherent counter-narrative, only threads and fragments to distract and obscure obvious, damning conclusions).
Approaching the election, the president touted foreign policy successes: His Muslim outreach appealed to billions of Muslims and Arabs and raised US stock. Then, he put our nation on the right side of history and human rights by standing with the people against old tyrants. But, no naïve weakling he, he also killed Bin Ladin and targeted terror leaders with strategic drone strikes, knocking networks like Al Qaeda onto the ropes. Peace and democratic reform were advancing; war and terror retreating.
Critics saw something different: a likely rerun of Carter and that 70’s Show. American influence was deployed in the name of democratic reform, while actually unleashing chaos and bloody religious tyrants with designs to leap centuries Forward, but in reverse. In the remake, Egypt, Libya, and Syria played the role of Iran.
(Jumping ahead a few months, critics could also cite war between Israel and Iran-backed Hamas, civil war in Syria, and dictatorial moves by Egypt’s Morsi.)
September 11, 2012 was a candid snapshot of the danger behind the delusion. After Obama dropped American bombs to dislodge Qaddafi and liberate Libyans, the Arab Spring blossomed, but not with green sprouts of reform and gratitude to America. Rather, Libya slid toward chaos, with rising Sharia menace, resurgent terror networks, and seething anti-Americanism.
The administration knew all this well before the attack. Certainly England did, as it pulled its diplomatic personnel from the city due to rising terror networks and no government strength to keep order. The administration knew, too, of the escalating threats and attacks on Ambassador Stephens and American facilities. It also knew about Stephen’s repeated pleas for better security, that State had rejected.
The attack raged for hours. The CIA, regional military forces, Department of Defense, national security agencies, and White House staff watched or monitored in real time from remote cameras or urgent emails. CIA personnel at the nearby annex begged permission to help. The president now claims that in the crisis, he ordered US forces to “make sure our people are secure.” But on that night, waiting pilots were grounded and nearby CIA operatives were ordered: “Stand down.”
Two brave men disobeyed, fought their way into the compound, and for hours held off a much larger force that fired advanced weaponry. The firefight endured as “leaders” in the White House and elsewhere watched on big screens. And ordered that nothing happen.
In the morning, four Americans had been slaughtered, including the first ambassador since Carter. It’s a testament to the bravery of the fallen that many more were spared.
That day, the president’s brief remarks in the Rose Garden ambiguously segregated reference to the attack “by extremists” and, paragraphs later, after discussing the Twin Towers of September 11th, a generic reference to America overcoming acts of terror.
The CIA prepared information and talking points about the attack for the administration, attributing it to organized terror, likely Al Qaeda, while noting protests at embassies in Egypt and elsewhere over an internet film trailer that criticized Mohammed and Islam.
The following Sunday, the president oddly sent ambassador Susan Rice, who had no personal knowledge or involvement, on five national news shows to account for the atrocity, rather than sending Secretary Clinton, who was up to her neck in things. Rice insisted the bloodshed was a spontaneous, violent movie review that spun out of control. She dismissed the terror angle, and said there was no indication the attack was planned. She uttered a disclaimer that investigation continued.
Spokesman Jay Carney repeated Rice’s blame-it-on-the-hateful-video line in several subsequent briefings. The president and Secretary Clinton taped statements condemning the video and ugly efforts to denigrate a major world faith. They aired the statements as a paid advertisement in the Arab world, at taxpayer expense.
For two weeks, the administration insisted there was no evidence of preplanning; it was a protest gone bad. But the truth soon leaked out: there was no protest at the consulate that day. The attack came in the dark quiet.
Shortly thereafter, CNN reported on Stephens’ pleas for help and security, which it learned about from walking though the unsecured consulate. The government’s answer was to harshly criticize the network for exploiting a dead man and his family. CNN saluted and stepped back in line.
Still, the administration began in dribs and drabs to admit the obvious--the facts critics had pieced together starting the morning after. It was a planned hit on the ambassador and embassy by terrorists targeting the US.
In the second debate, Romney challenged the president’s clinging to his bogus distraction for two weeks. Obama startlingly countered that he had called it an act of terror the very next day. This exchange, in which a CNN anchor acted as witting or unwitting dupe, is under-remarked.
If Obama had believed the next morning the attack was deliberate, organized terror, why did he direct his staff to deny that, and call it something else for two weeks? His gotcha statement at the debate was a stunning update of the old coin trick: “Terror, I win; Spontaneous protest, you lose.”
Of course, the media didn’t bark at the sophomoric duplicity; rather, it howled its approval.
In the 60 Minutes interview taped the same day as the Rose Garden obfuscation, Steve Croft asked Obama why he didn’t call the attack terrorism. Obama both answered Croft and hinted, just maybe, there were deliberate actors involved.
Even after the flap over the debate moderator’s faulty fact-checking, CBS despicably held this critical exchange unaired, before adding it without comment to its website a few days before the election.
As questions and anger mounted that would be rescuers were denied, the CIA announced it did not issue the order to stand down. It came from somewhere else, unknown and still undisclosed.
A confrontation between the CIA and the White House appeared inevitable, but quiet prevailed. Days after the election, and days before scheduled testimony to a Congressional Committee investigating the attack, Director Petraeus abruptly resigned, citing an extramarital affair that had been known to the administration since at least last summer, and said he would not testify. After strong criticism, Petraeus reversed and agreed to appear.
Behind closed doors, Petraeus reportedly told Congress the information prepared for the White House assigned responsibility to terrorists, likely Al Qaeda. He didn’t know who changed the talking points, when, or why. But he was somehow certain they weren’t changed for political purposes. Of course not.
The administration then announced that the talking points Rice received were edited to omit references to terror or Al Qaeda in order to protect sources and not alert targets. It still is unclear who made the change.
Reasonable observers watched the uncredible, evolving accounts with varying mixes of cynicism, rage, despair, or resignation. Something was rotten in DC. Would the hounds of the press sniff and chase a story with elements fit for a Bond movie? No, with a few honorable exceptions, they wouldn’t and aren’t.
So what do deflectors say to deflect this sordid tale?
Some mix of: But, Bush didn’t prevent 9-11 on US soil; tragedies aren’t scandals, changing stories are because of the fog of war; Republicans voted to cut diplomatic security in the budget; Bush lied us into Iraq, and Condoleezza Rice got the Iraq Intel wrong; anyway, critics are racist for attacking a woman of color. (That would be the current Rice, not the last one, appointed by Bush, the first woman of color to serve as SOS.)
Each point insults reasonable intelligence. They do not attempt to rationalize Obama’s actions in Libya; they amount to throwing up shiny objects while shouting “squirrel!” But, to attempt quick fly swatting:
*Before 9-11, Bush received intelligence that terrorists might use airplanes to attack the continental US. If the best deflectors can do is compare defending the content from airplanes to denying a scared ambassador’s plea for specific backup on a few acres, they can’t do very well.
*True, tragedies aren’t necessarily scandals, but when so much information indicates the looming massacre was specifically warned of and ignored, it should be accounted for. Recall, this is the same national media that frenzied for days because Bush failed to anticipate the need to protect ancient Iraqi pottery in a museum. Treasures were lost…treasures!
Now, the hounds have the bitterly ironic uncare to yawn and roll over that Obama denied urgent, specific pleas for help for American lives before and during the savagery.
*Fog of war? Yes, wars fought across continents, over months and years, on many battle fields create confusion. But Benghazi was a single, local attack, on US property, video-monitored in real time by multiple arms of the federal government. The “fog” is less about what happened that night than it is about the shifting story of what the administration ordered its own chain of command. There must be digital records.
Did the president order efforts to protect the victims? Or did he lie to the public about that? Who ordered stand down? Will there be discipline for disobedience? Did the CIA accurately report its intelligence to the White House? Who changed it? Why? Who knew about the ambassador’s requests for greater security? Why were they denied?
Why, after many nations had withdrawn substantial presence even from Libya’s capital city of Tripoli, did the US have two installations in a hazard zone like Benghazi? Was there, as reported, a CIA detention center, holding prisoners contrary to the president’s executive order? Or were they running guns to rebels in an Operation Fast and Falafel?
Doesn’t the New York Times, that reported every classified Bush operation it could get its hands on, have an enquiring mind?
And how convenient that every misstatement in the record, resulting from that awful “fog” departed from facts that damned the president’s success story, and moved toward his cover story. Obama fog is a one-way ratchet, it appears.
The president’s insistence that his team is gathering information on these matters as fast as it can to be disclosed as soon as it can be, is as credible as Bill Clinton saying he’s waiting for staff to tell him what happened to Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress; It’s not.
In context, “fog of war” seems mostly a phrase for willing dupes to protect administration liars. Real reporters would ask pointed questions. A very few have.
*Republican votes on funding diplomatic security don’t immunize the administration or tar Republicans. It is still the president’s job to prioritize and respond to known threats, especially after repeat warnings in known hot spots.
Most people making that point would likely also support cuts to the defense budget. But that shouldn’t make the cuts or the cutters responsible for every serious threat the military failed to address by intelligent policy and execution.
*Bush and Rice got the intelligence wrong, and/or lied us into war? What a corrupt, trite phrase “lied into war” is. Bush was wrong. (Maybe, did Hussein move his WMD into Libya or Syria before the war started?) If Bush was corrupt enough to lie us into Iraq, why wasn’t he self-preserving enough to plant a bit of poison to prevent massive international humiliation?
But right or wrong, Bush was accountable. He suffered prolonged paroxysms of media condemnation. Beyond still muttering about Bush, what has Old Media done to air this president’s blunders? Does it recognize any? A couple bravely ask questions, but there’s no frenzy, no endurance, no satisfaction.
*Finally, as for the “racism” of questioning Susan Rice’s role as designated dupe and her fitness to serve as SOS, some smears don’t deserve to be dignified by response.
Shawn Mitchell was elected to Senate District 23 in the Colorado General Assembly in November of 2004. Shawn is an attorney at private practice in Denver and Adams County.