Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, repeated earlier statements by the Obama administration that initial conclusions do not point to a pre-planned assault. Instead, he said, “the facts that we have now indicate that this was an opportunistic attack,” in which heavily armed militants took advantage of an ongoing demonstration at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.
But Olsen went beyond those conclusions to say that the people involved in the violent assault appeared to have come from several militant groups, including localized extremists in eastern Libya as well as affiliates of al-Qaeda.
This the first U.S. official to definitively state that this was not simply a spontaneous mob that killed four American diplomats.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) spoke for many critics when she said she was “stunned and appalled that there wasn’t better security for all of the American personnel at that consulate, given the high-threat environment.” And, based on the intelligence she has seen, she argued,“I just don’t think that people come to protests equipped with RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] and other heavy weapons. And the reports of complicity — and they are many — with Libyan guards who were assigned to guard the consulate also suggest to me that this was premeditated.” In short, neither the administration’s preparation or its response is instilling confidence.
Over at the State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was playing defense:
QUESTION: Are you willing to stand by comments that you made over the last week that the security posture was routine and what it needed to be in Libya last week?
MS. NULAND: Certainly I stand by anything said at this podium to date, and I think all of us stand by statements that we’ve made. . . .
QUESTION: Going back to the testimony on the Hill this morning where Senator Collins spoke. Matthew Olsen, the Director of NCTC, the National Counterterrorism Center, described the attack on the Consulate in Benghazi as a, quote, “terrorist attack.” Yesterday you were — yesterday or the day before you were not willing, I think, to describe it as a terrorist attack. Do you now think it’s a terrorist attack?
MS. NULAND: Well, I didn’t get a chance to see the whole testimony that was given by Matt Olsen of the NCTC, but obviously we stand by comments made by our intelligence community who has first responsibility for evaluating the intelligence and what they believe that we are seeing.
Administration critics see this as part and parcel of the listless and disorganized approach to the Middle East that has plagued the United States since Obama took office. Jamie Fly, who heads the hawkish Foreign Policy Initiative told me, “This administration’s inaction and indecision has led us to this point, so it should not be a surprise that they continue to waffle, even in the aftermath of last week’s events.” As to what should come next, he argued, “What we need now is clear, decisive American leadership to make clear to the countries of the region what is required of those who aspire to be allies of the United States and that those who attack U.S. personnel and interests risk provoking more than an FBI investigation.”
It does seem we are back to the 1990s when terrorist attacks on U.S. citizens and facilities overseas never galvanized a coherent, proactive approach to the growing threat of al-Qaeda.
The president has been so intent on spiking the football on the killing of Osama bin Laden and rushing for the exits in Afghanistan that it must come as a rude awakening that Islamic fundamentalist threats don’t end simply because we choose to retreat or turn a blind eye toward the underlying philosophy that prompts the continued war against the West.
Obama came into office thinking he could flatter the “Muslim World” with his video messages to the Iranian mullahs, his Cairo speech and his refusal to utter the words “Islamic fundamentalism” or “Islamic extremism.” He seemed to think if we “repaired our image” by closing the Guantanamo prison and both talked and acted meekly, we would calm jihadist rage.
This was nonsense, as is now apparent to all but the most devoted Obama spinners. Only a massive ego and a gross misunderstanding of the motives of Islamic jihadists would lead Obama to think that his personal aura would stem violence, hatred and virulent anti-Americanism.
What was Plan B after sweet-talking the Muslim World failed? You got me. We leave Afghanistan in a rush. We tell Israel not to dare launch an attack on Iran. We let Russia and China veto action against the butcher of Damascus, Bashar al-Assad. And we have no rational approach to applying carrots and sticks in our relationships with emerging governments like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Obama seems to imagine that being as innocuous as possible is a feasible strategy for the United States. It isn’t, and no, we aren’t safer nor more respected than we were four years ago.