More than two months after an Islamist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi that left four Americans dead, including US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, we still don’t know what really happened that night – and, thanks to a secretive White House and an incurious Washington press corps, we probably never will. Not officially, that is.
But there’s no real mystery about it. From the evidence that’s emerged in dribs and drabs since the Sept. 11 calamity, it’s clear that Ansar al-Sharia, a Libyan al Qaeda-affiliated group coordinating with its allies elsewhere in the Muslim world, used the cover of riots in Cairo to launch a preplanned assault on our lightly guarded Benghazi consulate and a CIA safe house that may have been doubling as a secret prison.
That much was clear to our intelligence community almost immediately – and, in any case, should have been the working hypothesis from the jump.
The Arab Spring, falsely painted by a soft-headed US media as a purely pro-democracy movement, has in fact prompted seizure of power by Islamists. Benghazi, an armed hotbed of radicalism, was a fine target of opportunity for a strike at the Great Satan.
What’s also heart-rendingly clear is that our diplomats and security personnel understood the danger they were in, repeatedly requested more resources – and were left to die, as US military and intelligence assets monitored their deaths in real time, lacking the orders to protect them.
Benghazi was a first-class military and moral disgrace, and one that the Democrats paid absolutely no price for in the recent election.
But the questions won’t go away. Who gave the order to stand down as the consulate was under fire? Who came up with the cockamamie story – so eagerly peddled by UN Ambassador Susan Rice and other administration spokespersons right after the event – that the sacking and looting were in response to an obscure video that lampooned the origins of Islam and had been posted on You Tube for months?
And why did President Obama cling to such a risible explanation, and then (with a timely assist from Candy Crowley in the second presidential debate) turn on a dime and claim he knew the assault was terrorism all along?
To turn tragedy into French bedroom farce, the truth was further obscured by CIA Director David Petraeus’ unaccountable public silence – until his affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell (which the administration surely had known about for months and was holding over his head for just such an occasion) caused him to resign in disgrace a few days after the election.
Finally, to turn farce into insult, hapless Director of National Intelligence James Clapper scuttled forth from his let’s-pretend lair to claim that his office – nominally, the highest rung of the intelligence-community ladder – had edited the CIA’s early talking points memo to remove all references to al Qaeda and terrorism.
That claim was met with peals of incredulous laughter within the IC, where Clapper (like Petraeus, a retired general) is regarded as a buffoon and his office (created as part of the ham-fisted Bush response to 9/11) as a useless, money-sucking bureaucratic appendage that does nothing to increase national security – but is easily manipulated by a cynical president with a domestic axe to grind.
And here’s where the fog of war collides with the blinding clarity of politics. Obama had already determined to run as the Slayer of Osama bin Laden, and a horde of howling Arabs shouting, “Obama, Obama, there are still a billion Osamas” as they pulled down the American flag in Cairo and attacked us elsewhere was an inconvenient truth that had to be obscured by any means necessary.
With the election safely behind him, the president and his allies are now trying to rehabilitate Ambassador Rice’s shredded reputation, cheerily tossing around the usual charges of “racism” and “sexism” as they smear conservative opposition to her potential nomination as secretary of state in the second Obama term. They’d rather not reopen the Benghazi can of worms.
But reopen it we must – either by open congressional hearings or during Rice’s confirmation hearings – if Chris Stevens and the others are ever to receive justice.