Marc A. Thiessen
Marc A. Thiessen
Opinion Writer

Correction:

An earlier version of this column incorrectly spelled the first name of CBS News foreign correspondent Lara Logan. This version has been corrected.

The real Libya scandal: The failure to respond

Today marks exactly one month since terrorists attacked the U.S consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing our ambassador and three other American personnel. In the weeks since, Washington has been gripped by the unfolding scandals over the Obama administration’s failure to heed warnings of a growing terrorist danger in eastern Libya; its failure to provide additional security requested by U.S. personnel on the ground; and its failure to acknowledge that what happened in Libya was in fact a terrorist attack.

But all this has obscured the more serious scandal: the Obama administration’s utter failure to respond.

Marc A. Thiessen

A fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, Thiessen writes a weekly column for The Post.

Archive

It took less than four weeks after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, for the Bush administration to gather intelligence, plan the full-scale invasion of Afghanistan and begin executing Operation Enduring Freedom. By October 7, 2001, multinational forces from the United States, Britain and Australia were on the ground, linking up with friendly Afghan forces, overthrowing the Taliban and driving al-Qaeda from the haven from which they had attacked our country.

By contrast, it is now Oct. 11 — four weeks after the attack of Sept. 11, 2012 — and the Obama administration has barely gotten a criminal investigation off the ground. The Post reported this week that while President Obama has vowed to “bring to justice” those responsible for the attacks, “nearly one month later, the White House has not spelled out how it plans to do so, even if it is able to identify and capture any suspects.... An unproductive, slow-moving investigation is complicating matters, with the FBI taking three weeks to reach the unsecured crime scene.”

Three weeks to reach the “crime scene”? Within days, CNN reporters were able to rummage through the rubble and recover the ambassador’s diary, and Post reporters were able to access and photograph the destroyed diplomatic compound. But the administration can’t get the FBI to the scene for three weeks? It should come as no surprise that the Obama administration is treating the attack as a crime — but it can’t even get the criminal investigation right.

This is not to suggest an invasion of Libya. But certainly by now we could have identified the groups responsible for the attack, targeted their compounds and retaliated in some fashion. Heck, the Libyan people have done more to retaliate than Obama has. The Associated Press reports that a few days after the attack, “Hundreds of protesters seized control of several militia headquarters … including the compound of one of Libya’s strongest armed Islamic extremist groups, evicting militiamen and setting fire to buildings as the attack that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans sparked a backlash against armed groups.”

What kind of signal does it send when a Libyan mob does more to avenge the killing of an American ambassador than the president of the United States?

Consider: Within two weeks of the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the Clinton administration had launched Operation Infinite Reach — cruise missile strikes on targets in Sudan and Afghanistan. The strikes were more symbolic than impactful, but at least Clinton did something. Instead of Operation Infinite Reach, the Obama administration appears to have launched Operation Infinite Inaction — and the United States’ paralysis in the face of terror is sending a message of weakness to our enemies.

In a speech this week, CBS News foreign correspondent Lara Logan ripped the Obama administration for its feckless response to the Libya attack, declaring it was time for the U.S. to “exact revenge and let the world know that the United States will not be attacked on its own soil. That its ambassadors will not be murdered, and that the United States will not stand by and do nothing about it.”

She is absolutely right. Perhaps President Obama has some decisive action planned. Perhaps when the White House is done trying to cover up this terrorist attack, it will pivot to responding to this terrorist attack. That would be a welcome “October surprise” indeed.

But as of now, all the world sees is a president who is afraid to call an act of terror what it is, much less do something about it. This country has not looked weaker in the decade since Sept. 11, 2001. And as we learned on 9/11, weakness is provocative.

Marc A. Thiessen, a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, writes a weekly online column for The Post.

 
Read what others are saying