President Obama doesn’t enjoy much personal loyalty except for a few longtime Chicago pols (e.g., Valerie Jarrett). He’s a cool, remote figure who doesn’t spend time building relationships in Washington or around the world. So it doesn’t surprise me that both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta are publicly saying that the Libya consulate attack was a pre-planned al-Qaeda operation. They want no part of, and no blame for, the scandal enveloping the White House.
Indeed, as mainstream media get into the story (after weeks of dawdling), others will come out of the woodwork both on the record and on background. Jake Tapper of ABC News reports:
Even before Defense Secretary Leon Panetta contradicted the initial story about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, today, Obama administration officials told ABC News they were concerned after the White House began pushing the line that the attack was spontaneous and not the work of terrorists.
Events were too uncertain, and suspicions had been aroused, officials said. . . . [S]ources told ABC News that intelligence officials on the ground immediately suspected the attack was not tied to the movie at all. The attackers knew where to get Ambassador Stevens after he’d fled to a so-called safe house half a mile away. That building was hit with insurgent mortars — suggesting the terrorists knew what they were doing.
As of Thursday afternoon, officials from the Obama administration were not even 100 percent certain that the protest of the anti-Muslim film in Benghazi occurred outside the U.S. diplomatic post.
By the time this story is fully told, you’ll not find a single administration official who will cop to believing that this was a spontaneous anti-movie protest. Tapper observes dryly: “It’s certainly possible that intelligence officials wouldn’t want the terrorists to know that the U.S. knew about them, but that does beg the question as to why White House officials seemed to strongly suggest the attack was merely the work of an unruly mob.” Translation: Why was the White House spinning a story no one believed?
It is getting harder and harder for the mainstream media to run interference for the White House, which they would have us believe is grossly incompetent but honest. Eli Lake, who broke the story that the administration knew within 24 hours that the embassy attack in Libya was a terrorist operation, now reports that the administration “within hours” of the attack intercepted communications between the attackers and al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb.
And that top-secret FBI investigation that is supposed to shield the State Department and other from further queries? Umm. Well, there really isn’t one yet. (“the FBI — which has been dispatched to Libya to take the lead in the investigation — has not even reached Benghazi yet”). Safe to say that they haven’t secured the “crime scene.” The premise that this is akin to a criminal investigation (and hence can’t be discussed) is as credible as the idea the assault was a reaction to an anti-Muslim movie.
The Romney team remains rather muted on the topic, but others are not so tongue-tied. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, remarked on Fox News Thursday that Ambassador Susan Rice’s comments on the Sunday talk shows well after the administration had knowledge of al-Qaeda involvement was “either incompetent or grossly misleading the American people.”
Sen. John McCain is among those blasting the administration. CBS News reported Thursday:
Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., has been highly critical of the Obama administration’s handling of the U.S. Consulate attacks in Libya, and Thursday morning he called the response of the White House, along with Ambassador Susan Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “unbelievable.” The senator maintained there is no way that it was a spontaneous attack. “Like they say, ‘Come on honey, bring your mortars, we’re going to a spontaneous demonstration,’ ” McCain said of the claims that the violence escalated from an impromptu demonstration outside of the consulate building.
“It was obvious ... this was a planned attack,” he said Thursday on “CBS This Morning.” He was referring specifically to comments made nearly two weeks ago by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who said the attacks that led to the death of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, were “spontaneous.”
“It shows a fundamental misunderstanding of warfare and what’s going on in that part of the world,” McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said.
“Anybody who understands warfare knows that is not a spontaneous demonstration,” he said. “They carried heavy weapons, mortars, RPGs,” adding, “I think this was an orchestrated attack.”
McCain also said it is “incredible naiveté” to think the violence was born because of the American-made anti-Muslim video. He said it was “the Islamists using the video” to incite violence.
The administration is creating more questions each day. Why, for example, was a State Department memo sent before the 9-11-2012 attacks saying there was no credible threat of attacks scrubbed from its Overseas Security Advisory Council Web site on Sept. 12?
Things have gotten so bad even Democrats are demanding further answers. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who is perpetually auditioning for secretary of state (and would relish knocking Susan Rice out of the running) and other Senate Democrats are joining with Republicans to demand further briefings.
Given the heightened media coverage (although, oddly, no calls for Obama to apologize for the serial inaccuracies after they furiously demanded one from Mitt Romney for accurately pointing the finger at the administration’s apologetic references to the anti-Muslim film) and the support from other Republicans and some very nervous Democrats, it is remarkable that Romney-Ryan haven’t turned up the volume on their indictment of the president. Not a single Romney ad on the biggest foreign policy scandal of the Obama administration? Not yet, at any rate.
McCain advised Romney, “I would keep talking about this failed foreign policy.” (I suspect McCain is using saltier language in private conversations with the campaign.) Well, yes, so long as mainstream media have figured it out (even though they are all too willing to ignore the specifics of the timeline and assure us of the administration's good faith), it is the least the GOP nominee can do.
But whether Romney steps up the rhetoric or not, this is not an inescapable, significant scandal for which the president has yet to answer. I wonder if he is going to stonewall until the debates. By then everyone except Michelle and Bo will likely have stepped forward to denounce the “movie made them do it” theory.
In any event, it will be an interesting foreign policy debate.