Is ‘Benghazigate’ Hurting Obama?
Questions about why the Obama administration pretended the attacks on our Embassy in Libya were a spontaneous reaction to a video rather than a coordinated terrorist attack are gaining steam.
At the extreme end, we have PJ Media’s Roger L. Simon absurdly declaring “Benghazi Worse Than Watergate.”
For over forty years now, the Watergate scandal — the June 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters and the subsequent cover-up by the Nixon administration — has been the sine qua non of American political malfeasance. It has been followed by myriad other “gates” affecting both parties but has never been superseded.
Benghazi or Benghazigate, as some call it, is worse. Far worse. Incomparably worse.
Watergate caught numerous public officials lying, including the president of the United States, but Benghazigate has all that and more.
It involves the terrorist murder (not an electorally irrelevant burglary) of government officials, their reckless endangerment, the undermining of the Bill of Rights and free speech by our own administration in response to Islamist threats, and, ultimately, the complicity of that same administration, consciously or unconsciously, in the downfall of Western civilization.
Meanwhile, the mainstream media function as their more-than-willing accomplices in this downfall, in essence as Obama’s court eunuchs.
Simon’s thesis is that the cover-up stems from the administration’s refusal to “name our enemy.”
Oddly, Obama’s court eunuchs are apparently regenerating a pair. At, of all places, The New York Times, which features a news report (not an editorial) from Mark Landler titled “Shifting Reports on Libya Killings May Cost Obama.”
The Obama administration’s shifting accounts of the fatal attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, have left President Obama suddenly exposed on national security and foreign policy, a field where he had enjoyed a seemingly unassailable advantage over Mitt Romney in the presidential race.
After first describing the attack as a spontaneous demonstration run amok, administration officials now describe it as a terrorist act with possible involvement by Al Qaeda. The changing accounts prompted the spokesman for the nation’s top intelligence official, James R. Clapper Jr., to issue a statement on Friday acknowledging that American intelligence agencies “revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists.”
The unusual statement was not solicited by the White House, according to Shawn Turner, the spokesman for Mr. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, but it seemed calculated to relieve some of the pressure on the White House for the contradictory accounts given in the two and a half weeks since the attack. It is unlikely to stop questions from the Romney campaign, which senses an opportunity.
“This incident is a hinge event in the campaign because it opens up the opportunity to talk more broadly about Obama’s foreign policy,” said Richard S. Williamson, a former diplomat and an adviser to Mr. Romney.
But the questions are likely to come not just from partisan Republicans. The Benghazi attack calls into question the accuracy of intelligence-gathering and whether vulnerable American personnel overseas are receiving adequate protection. Even allies of the president like Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have petitioned the White House for more information about how the government protects diplomatic installations abroad.
Almost since the smoke cleared in Benghazi, Republicans have accused Mr. Obama’s aides of deliberately playing down the attack. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, condemned the administration’s initial account of the attack as “disgraceful,” saying on CBS that it “shows a fundamental misunderstanding not only of warfare, but of what’s going on in that part of the world.”
While I wouldn’t go anywhere near that far, I’m puzzled by the administration’s seizing so heavily on the “spontaneous response” meme, seeking to blame the attacks on Americans exercising their right of free expression, and continuing to do so even though they knew it was a terrorist attack within 24 hours. One possible explanation:
Peter D. Feaver, a Duke University professor who worked on Mr. Bush’s national security staff, said there was no evidence that the administration was untruthful in its early accounts. But he said it was possible that the White House chose to emphasize certain elements, like the popular outrage in the Arab world against a video mocking the Prophet Muhammad, over other elements, like a possible link between the assailants and Al Qaeda. Such a narrative, he said, would have done less to draw attention away from the uproar over Mr. Romney’s response.
Additionally, I think the administration quite understandably wanted to quell the outrage in the Muslim world over the video and make clear that the anti-Muslim sentiments in it weren’t representative of either US Government policy or mainstream American sentiment. But in doing so it failed at the more important task of helping Americans understand that the outrageous murder of their emissary to Libya was carried out by extremists, not ordinary Libyans. And that, just as kooks making hateful videos shouldn’t be how Muslims see America, neither should anti-American violence be seen as representative of how we’re seen over there.
As to Landler’s suggestion that this may all “cost Obama,” however, I’m deeply skeptical. There’s actually much to criticize here and in his foreign policy in that part of the world in general. But, to the limited extent that Americans decide whom to vote for as president on foreign policy issues, I don’t see how Obama is seriously hurt here. Especially since Mitt Romney didn’t exactly distinguish himself with his early reaction to the same crisis.