Tom Mahnken writes in Foreign Policy that there are two versions of what happened in “the wave of anti-American protests that have spread throughout the Islamic world and beyond.” He explains, “The first, which originated from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo at the very beginning of the unrest, is centered on the spontaneous and righteous indignation of the Muslim street in the face of an amateurish film defaming their religion. . . . The second narrative, which the administration appears keen to play down, involves a deliberate attack by an Al Qaeda affiliate on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on the eleventh anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.”
Let’s be blunt. The first is the Islamists’ narrative, casting themselves as victims. It’s also not true, according to information acquired to date including this from the Associated Press: “U.S. intelligence indicates that 50 or more people, many of them masked, were responsible for the Sept. 11 assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Gun trucks provided added firepower. The attackers set up a perimeter, controlling access in and out of the compound. A first wave of attacks sent the Americans fleeing to a fallback building, where a second group of extremists beset them with precise mortar fire.” This was no spontaneous film critique. As the AP observes:
From an intelligence standpoint, the longer an operation was in the works ahead of the attack, the more the U.S. government will face scrutiny for not anticipating and preparing for it.
Politically, Republicans have accused President Barack Obama’s administration of misreading the assault as an outgrowth of Middle East demonstrations over an American-made Internet video insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad. They have also criticized the protection of the consulate, particularly since the attack fell on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a date when authorities are normally on alert for attacks.
The White House’s initial insistence that it was all about an anti-Muslim movie, which it kept up for a week, really didn’t make any sense from the get-go — it was 9/11, after all.
As reality seeps in, it becomes obvious that the president was desperate to concoct a narrative that defied common sense but matched his own policy vision. Mahnken reminds us that President Obama “has seen himself as uniquely qualified to use the force of his personality to transform America’s relationship with the Islamic world. Speaking in Cairo in June 2009, Obama pledged to repair relations with Muslims. The logic undergirding Obama’s policy was that a conciliatory approach would increase America’s standing and improve its security.” But with the anti-American outbursts across the Middle East, the Iranian mullahs unbowed, new attacks in Afghanistan, the Muslim Brotherhood in charge in Egypt, the spread of failed states into which al-Qaeda affiliates congregate and America every bit as unpopular (and now also less respected) in the “Muslim World,” Obama’s entire Middle East approach is seen, quite rightly, as a dangerous fantasy.
You see, if the problem wasn’t America’s failure to be sensitive enough to Muslim feelings but instead the pernicious presence of Islamic jihadists bent on destroying Big Satan ( and Little Satan, in the form of Israel) then it was foolish to engage Iran, a mistake to rush for the exits in Afghanistan with the job incomplete, an error to leave no troops in Iraq, a dangerous signal to display separation between the United States and its closest ally, Israel, and hugely irresponsible to push for massive defense cuts. In sum, it means Obama’s massive ego led him to pursue the wrong policy and make the United States less safe. You can understand why he so ferociously clings to the fiction that the attacks are the fault of an anti-Muslim film. The alternative explanation is that his entire Middle East policy was a colossal failure.