Arlington, VA May 30, 2013
Part 2 - The Benghazi Attack by Militants, and the Death of the US Ambassador to Libya
The attack on the 'diplomatic activity' or 'diplomatic facility', depending on who you read in the press, was a major disaster for the United States Government. The ambassador, Chris Stevens, was killed, along with several other members of his staff, and protectors. That alone is a significant embarassment for the administration, simply because no US Ambassador had been killed on a duty station for a number of years.
What followed, however, both in the Government, and in the media, was an even greater disaster, and vastly expanded the importance of the event, in the minds of the Congress, and a large percentage of the American people. The timeline, and the date the event happened, on September 11, 2012, the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 bombings in new York and Washington, reopened old wounds for a lot of people, and happened in the waning days of a presidential election campaign.
At first, the administration tied the Attack on the 'diplomatic facility' to similar events going on in Cairo, over a short film, created by an Arab in the US, which defamed Muhammad, something you simply don't do in the current activist Islamic world, without expecting repercussions. if the film had been the actual cause of the attack in Benghazi, then the evolving story would have, in my mind, been quite different in its outcome. But the film was not the cause of the attack, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), for one, knew it almost immediately, as did the Embassy staff in Tripoli, and other intelligence agencies. These agencies did not yet know which particular group was responsible; but the filming of the attack, and its wide distribution almost in real time, certainly should have shown that this was no mirror demonstration for what was occurring in cairo, and elsewhere, over the film.
In addition, the film in question, "Innocence of Muslims", had not really been distributed by its creator; relying instead on a trailer, a brief advertisement, published on YouTube, a popular video sharing site. other than one private showing, there is no evidence the film was ever shown to general public in a theatre, much less widely distributed, except after the fact, when the media started asking about it.
Nonetheless, the administration grasped this trailer on YouTube as its reasoning for the attack in Benghazi, and started spinning the story on the networks, using Susan Rice, the UN Ambassador, as its messenger. She appeared on the major Sunday network news shows, and spinned a tale of reaction to the trailer, even though, by then, the administration was well aware that something else had happened in Benghazi. Later, the administration defended her appearances, saying through Jay Carney, the White house Spokesman, that she simply said what the intelligence community told her to say. Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, later reiterated that story during her congressional appearances, all after the election was concluded. Clinton somehow concocted major illness to prevent her earlier appearance before the House and Senate committees.
OK, so we have heard the story on virtually every network about Benghazi. The real question is does the administration's response, and particularly that of the President himself, rise to a question of impeachment? Just as important, does the situation, as it evolved over reporting on Benghazi rise to the level of scandal, or is it simply what may be a gross mismanagement of a sad, and horrible, event.
There are several parts to those answers, and they revolve, in turn, about several other questions, which have, to date, not received very adequate answers.
Question #1 - Where was the President, what was he doing, and how did he lead the effort to protect our diplomats in Benghazi?
Question #2 - Why did the administration, knowing what was occurring shortly after the attack started, not denounce it, send aid, and, clearly indicate what was happening?
Question #3 - Why not bring the Congress, and the committees into the loop, make this a clear case of terrorism, and fashion a response equal to the crime, with bipartisan American support?
The answers to these questions are needed to see the extend of what some have called a coverup, and others have called 'high crimes and misdemeaners'.
Starting with Question #1, Several reports, from Jay Carney, the press spokesman, Leon Pannetta, then Secretary of Defense, and others, are very circumspect on the actual location of the president the evening of the attack. Carney, in one of his press briefings, noted that the 'President was kept fully informed', but did not indicate an actual location, even though asked several times. Pannetta indicated in his statement that he notified the President 'early in the attack', but then did not speak to him again until the next morning. These reports are in stark contrast to the efforts made by the White House, during the killing of Bin-Laden to show a president 'In-Charge', and in the White House situation room, surrounded by key aides.
Now, in deference to the President, he is surrounded by aides and senior associates who are quite capable of taking decisive action, while keeping the President 'in the loop'. That may have happened here; the President himself has not spoken directly to the issue, leading others to make assumptions about his involvement, or lack of it, during the events which occurred.
Conversely, situations such as occurred in Benghazi, are ripe opportunities for a President to show his leadership, wisdom, and willpower. Politically, in a major election campaign, and given Obama's previous record on getting into the media as often as possible, it seems amazing that, in the situation, he is clearly a silent partner to the events. At least, it appears so from the reports thus far.
However, is the lack of public statements by the President a cause for censure, or even impeachment? No, it is not, at least for impeachment. However, situations such as this can easily cause a dramatic shift in the willingness of the media to give passes in the future for similar actions. The President should have been out in front of his team, condemning the attacks, SENDING WHATEVER ASSISTANCE HE COULD MUSTER, demanding the Libyans do the same.
As it turned out, there were special forces available, although in small numbers, who could have been placed in harms way quickly. That is their training, and whoever the Commander was in the AFRICOM chain that denied approval for them to even try should be retired--and quickly.
Question #2 is an outgrowth of the first question. This question goes more deeply to efforts of the administration to explain the attack, then try to move beyond it to other issues. in this case, as in the case of the leadership role of the President, it appears the White house cxame up remaredly short. The answer to the question, however, is much more complex.
Historically, and attack on US facilities, home or abroad, is an issue dealt with directly by the White House, and that generally has meant involving the President in the decision-making process. It is nearly impossible to believe the president, absent some other major crisis at the time, would not be the prime leader of the analysis of the event, and the US response. Is it imaginable that harry Truman would have left the A-bomb decision to the Secretary of War? Perhaps John kennedy could have left the decision to blockage Cuba to others, or Lyndon Johnson could simply have told the Secretary of Defense to do what he wished following the Turner Joy incident, which propelled us into Vietnam. Using that logic, Bush 41, and Bill Clinton could have kept a lower profile during the earlier terrorist strikes in Khobar Towers, the events in Somalia, or a host of other events which cost American lives. Bush 43 might have invoked 'plausible deniability' and let the Joint Chiefs decide to invade Iraq and Afghanistan.
That's not the way we do business. We elect a President to become the ACTIVE LEADER of the Republic, and make the hard decisions for which he was elected. The American people have not, historically, accepted the view that 'others' are responsible for what are normally presidential decisions. If that is the case, and i believe it is, then how do we assess the role of the President in the Benghazi attack, and the subsequent changes to the 'public story'? Even more important, why did he not act 'Presidential', instead leaving to his subordinates the public role in the responses over the days following the attack, and after the ambassador had died with his men in Benghazi?
Looking at the situation as fairly as possible, the President did identify the attack early as a 'terrorist' attack. One would assume he based that statement, either on his own heart, or on information provided by the CIA, however it was transmitted to him. It did not matter at that point if the individual group could be identified, but it did matter that it be identified as something more than an informal, but violent, response to a film, most people knew little about.
Moreover, it appears from the message traffic released, and discussed by Carney at several press conferences, that the early official response was to condemn and arrest the film-maker, and get the film off the Internet, since it had offended the Muslim world. Between the State Department, which had quickly started the process of coming out with a unified 'version' of the events, and the CIA, which had differing opinions of the cause and effect of the attack, a statement was prepared and 'someone' decided it would be Ambassador Susan Rice who would deliver that message to the public, through the major Sunday morning news opinion programs. Regrettably, what was given Rice to deliver what dead wrong, and at least part of the administration knew it at the time she delivered her version of the story.
Carney, at the White House, was quick to tell reporters that the White House had no part in gthe statement, other than to change one word in the statement, and that the intelligence community had taken the lead in providing information to Ambassador Rice. The real questions remaining unanswered to this day, are who finally approved the statement; did the President approve of it; and why did she take information 'from the intelligence community' for her presentation, without vetting it herself with the State Department (her boss, officially) and the local Foreign service personnel on the scene?
It would be incredible, given the events occuring, that the White house was not directing foreign policy in this instance, but rather reacting to it, at best, or keeping isolated from it, at worst. Either alternative does not speak well for the leadership of the nation.
Again, of course, the question here is if this lack of leadership rises to the level of 'high crimes and misdemeaners', or something else. I will argue, for the sake of argument, that failure to lead is stupidity, but not necessarily an impeachable offense.
In terms of Question #3, the lack of leadership at the White house did not extend to the media, in my view. The major media organizations simply took what carney had said, and published it as facts, without any effort to determine, even from European and other Middle Eastern sources, whether what was said in the press briefings was accurate. Throughout the days that followed, and through the election itself, the media generally lambasted the Republican candidates for making this a 'political issue', while it was much more than a political issue -- it was a leadership issue, and one that should have shown a significant flaw in the Administration, and particularly the President.
The administration spent the greater part of the campaign trying to smear the opposition, deny that al-Qaeda was still strong, and that the US was still very much at risk from organized terrorism. Conversely, the Republicans never were able to adequately define their concerns, nor were they able to elicit the truth from the White House. Both sides have a great deal of blame in making the attack, and its aftermath, a national disgrace; the White house by denying its importance, and the Republicans by failing to focus on the very real lack of leadership an response by the Administration.
So, what do we have here, in this, the first of the important 'scandals' of the Obama Administration? We have, I believe, lack of effective leadership, disdain for the oppostiin party, and a disdain for getting the truth to the American public. Are these impeachable offenses? By themselves, probably not. Only time will tell, however, if this attack, and it events, will tip the scales together with other events toward a decision to impeach.