BenghaziGate

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The scene above shows an Ansar al-Sharia terrorist celebrating the sacking of our Consulate in Benghazi on the night of September 11th. The quote superimposed over it is from Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Programs Charlene Lamb, in sworn testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on October 11th, one month after the attack.

Incredible.

There are two distinct issues at play here – the situation on the ground in Benghazi leading up to the attack; and, the administration’s reaction to the events of September 11th. That the latter is even in play is, of course, entirely self-inflicted.

Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Wood (19th US Special Forces/Airborne, ret) led the 16-member Site Security Team (SST) in Libya from 12 February to 14 August of this year, and spoke eloquently about the deteriorating security situation in Libya, generally, and in Benghazi, specifically. His daily SitReps went to AFRICOM, which forwarded them to the Joint Chiefs. The picture is grim. “State Department’s decision not to extend SST’s security work beyond August 5th terminated our work,” Colonel Wood told the committee. “Fighting between militias was still common.  Some militias appeared to be degenerating into organizations resembling free lance criminal operations.  Targeted attacks against westerners were on the increase.  In June the Ambassador received a threat on Facebook with a public announcement that he liked to run around the Embassy compound in Tripoli,” he continued.

“When I arrived in February there were 3 Mission Security Details (MSD) teams on the ground.  Ambassador Cretz was confronted with having to loose one of these and requested an equal number of regular diplomatic security agents [denied].  The Ambassador also struggled with renewing the SST beyond April 5th.   The second MSD team was withdrawn shortly after his departure, and the last MSD team was restricted from performing security work and limited to only training local guard force members in July.  The remaining MSD was withdrawn at about the same time the SST security work was terminated [August].”

There were IED attacks on the Benghazi Consulate in April and June. There was an assassination attempt on the British Ambassador’s motorcade in June. So, as stability was deteriorating, we were gearing-down our diplomatic security levels in-country. And then there is the matter of multiple pleas from Ambassador Stephens for increased security at the Benghazi Consulate. All rejected.

We were, for whatever reason, leaving the security of our diplomats increasingly up to a shaky interim government in Tripoli that couldn’t manage the inter-tribal rivalries and free-roaming criminal activity in Libya. It was a risky bet that we lost.

Once the consulate and safe house were sacked and four Americans were killed, the administration, for some reason, went into a circular firing squad of finger-pointing and handy excuses. First it was a video (actually a trailer for a video). That line was pursued by the White House long after it was revealed that the trailer had been on YouTube since January (somewhat weakening the “spontaneous” demonstration claim). The State Department gave up the “demonstration that went bad” line after it was pointed out that there was no demonstration in Benghazi when the terrorists showed up at the consulate. Many Congressional Democrats pivoted to “the Republicans cut funding for diplomatic security” until the above mentioned hearing, where Ms Lamb was asked directly by Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA-49) if, in her decision to reject repeated requests from Benghazi for increased security, budget considerations ever entered into the equation. She answered simply, “No, sir.” By this time, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had interestingly revealed that “Obviously, the attack on our Consulate was a terrorist attack.” That clarity of view was apparently opaque to his boss, SecState Hillary Clinton (thrown under the bus), Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (thrown under the bus), UN Ambassador Susan Rice (driving the bus), and the besieged Charlene Lamb (hung out to dry)[1].

As always in these cases, the cover-up is more damaging to the administration’s credibility than the event itself. They appear to be either witless or without principles. Trying to spin events to one’s political advantage is expected, to fabricate a mythology around events is troubling.

I’m sure the timing of the revelation of a catastrophically poor decision – less a month before the election – was a primary concern of the White House. Why they didn’t use the standard non-answer (“We are vigorously investigating the events of September 11, and will let you know as soon as we do” – i.e., after the election), I’ll never know. But it is telling. An administration that takes a step back to consider an unexpected turn of events is one thing, one that begins a frantic search to find a scapegoat is quite another.


[1] It’s also interesting to note that a substantial special operations effort was inserted into Libya on September 13th, two days after the attack, indicating that the administration knew exactly what had happened.

8 thoughts on “BenghaziGate

  1. I just have one question. Do you think that as you term it “BenghaziGate” will be sufficiently damning to the Obama Administration to make people decide that he is a terrible leader on Foreign Policy and that Mitt Romney would be the better choice?

    In the upcoming Foreign Policy debate, do you think that Romney should really bear down on this issue and try to make it the centerpiece of his foreign policy credentials?

    And didn’t he already do that in debate #2?

  2. To your first question, it will be a salutary issue to the degree that facts continue to ooze out of Benghazi and Washington. As I say, the clumsy reaction to the events is far more damaging than the event, terrible as it was. The important features are going to concern: when, exactly, did the administration know that the video trailer had absolutely nothing to do with the events in Benghazi, and why did the administration continue to imply it was the video; who, specifically, sent Susan Rice around lying – there is not a better word – about there not being a terrorist attack; has Charlene Lamb been brought in and asked why she casually denied repeated requests from Ambassador Stephens for increased security; and did anyone in the White House even consider the upcoming September 11th anniversary to be cause for stiffening security throughout the Muslim world? These are important questions relating to the administration’s handling of foreign policy matters in an area in the world Mr Obama has repeatedly said he “understands.”

    Yes, Mr Romney should continue to press for details on the thinking in White House for the two weeks between “the video made them do it” and “it was a terrorist attack.” No, Mr Romney shouldn’t make BenghaziGate the centerpiece of his foreign policy credentials – one party’s failures are not another’s qualifications.

    No, one question does not cover the subject.

    Having said all that, Monday’s debate will finish the round of debates on a strong point for President Obama – his public ratings on foreign policy remain high. Monday will be a real test for Mr Romney.

  3. I have come to the conclusion that the Foreign Policy debate Monday isn’t going to make much difference in the outcome of the election.

    The outcome will be based on what you and I agreed it would be based on a long time ago. “It’s the economy, stupid!”

    And judging by all of the polls, Mitt Romney is winning on that point. To that I say–with much bitterness–Kudos to Team Romney. (Sigh).

  4. I think you’re right. When the economy is bad, it always dominates presidential races, but Monday’s debate could be important if President Obama scores a decisive win. He’s still suffering under the burden of the first debate, and a tie or slight victory won’t help.

  5. I don’t think there are really enough “undecided” or “independent” voters left to make any difference in the outcome. I think about 99% of the voters have already made up their minds and I don’t think another debate is going to all of a sudden cause a surge toward one candidate or the other. I think the month of October is definitely Romney’s month. As September was Obama’s month.

    Also, I think what you said way back in May when Romney became the obvious choice for the Republican nomination is proving to be absolutely true: It doesn’t matter that Romney waited until several weeks after the convention to tack to the middle. You said he would do that and he has and it is obviously a brilliant strategy. Leave it to an old hand at the fine art of “campaign strategist” to figure that one out.

    Now it’s too late for the Democrats to make hay by pointing out that Romney is a shape-shifter, an etch-a-sketcher, or as they say a “flip flopper”. It’s falling on deaf ears.

    Pointing out that “He was for it before he was against it” worked very well for the Republicans in 2004 when they used that charge against John Kerry. But it is now 2012 and when the Democrats try to use that same strategy against Romney….uh uh. Too late and too bad for my side.

  6. October is always when the undecideds begin to find a roost, so yes, that pool is dwindling. Some won’t make up their minds until they get into the voting booth – but not many. Especially this year (the choice is as clear as it has been in decades; the stakes are higher than at any time since 1860).

    It must be killing Bill Clinton that the president hasn’t tracked toward the middle instead of mud-slinging. It’s what he did and it worked. The avalanche of negative ads from the Obama campaign has also eroded his positives (about the only thing he had going for him among Independents).

    Like Yogi Berra used to say, “The only must-win game is the last one in the World Series.” But the timing of Romney’s surge is fortuitous. The first presidential debate went a long way, but then the administration’s complete mishandling of the assassination of our Libyan Ambassador added fuel to the fire. As I have said, in politics, perception is everything, and the administration looks either clueless or disingenuous, and that’s disastrous this late in an election cycle. Mr Obama’s only hope, in my humble opinion, is an overwhelmingly decisive win the Monday’s debate.

  7. I believe that even if Obama had an overwhelmingly decisive win in Monday’s debate it wouldn’t make that much difference. And he won’t. The Media will let us know who “won” and who “lost” as they have through all of the debates. Depending on which branch of the Media you believe, you’ll come away thinking your guy won. And it is the Media’s hysterical insistence that everything hinges on the last debate performance that is driving this idea. I’m convinced that voters have already made up their minds, as I said.

  8. We still have razor-thin margins in the only states that matter at this point – Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin and possibly Florida – and, interestingly enough, Pennsylvania could be in play if Mr Obama doesn’t do well Monday night. And you’re right that the press will drive public perception of winners and losers in the debate, and although FOX News dominates cable news, the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Boston Globe, etc, still drive most local papers through syndication of their columns, and all of them are pro-Obama. But we’ll see what happens in Boca Raton – that will set the table for whatever the press does on Tuesday.

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