The Benghazi fiasco is no longer in the category of “not an issue” for the mainstream media. They have largely given up insisting it is not important whether the president was truthful or whether he faltered in preparing for or responding to a jihadist attack. It matters. It might not matter to voters (hence the lack of interest among the political punditocracy that increasingly is divorced from anything resembling a serious policy issue). But it matters greatly to have an accounting of what our intelligence services did, how our executive branch conducted itself and what lessons can be extracted.
Eli Lake tells us that a central defect was our intelligence community’s lack of attention to the jihadist group responsible for the attack. He reports: “Before the attacks, the U.S. intelligence community didn’t consider Ansar al-Sharia a threat to American interests, and the group wasn’t a priority target for the CIA officers monitoring jihadists in Libya, according to U.S. intelligence officials with knowledge of the investigations into the Benghazi attacks.” As a result, Lake explains, ”there were fewer resources deployed to monitor the organization’s members, these officials say. It also makes it tricky to go after the group’s leaders now.”
This is a function, in the larger sense, of Obama’s refusal to consider Islamic jihadists or Islamic fundamentalists (terms he has banned in official communication) to be the real enemy rather than a discrete group, al-Qaeda. The relationship between Ansar al-Sharia and al-Qaeda is not completely known, but by defining our enemy narrowly, we limit our scope of vision, find ourselves unprepared and then are at a disadvantage in spotting the next attack.
Meanwhile, we learn that CBS held back a portion of its Sept. 12 “60 Minutes” interview with President Obama, in which, contrary to his claim during the town-hall debate, the president did not cite Benghazi as a terrorist act. It appears the untruth came in the debate, not in the Rose Garden; at that time the president was understandably trying to avoid declaring his “al-Qaeda is on its heels” stance kaput, while leaving himself some opening to refine the story. Only in the debate did Obama claim certitude that, in all likelihood, did not exist at the time. (As I’ve noted before, it was a dumb exaggeration, leaving the president open to the attack that he then dissembled for a week by tying the attack to the anti-Muslim video.)
Bing West, whose analysis of the Obama debacle has been invaluable, notes that there was an all-hands-on-deck effort last week to leak to the media in order to bolster the claim that local CIA forces really did try to help out at the Benghazi consulate. But he notes of the constant spinning and evasion by the president and his advisers:
The intent is to cause the press and the public to lose interest in a story that seems exhaustively repetitive, while the key issues are never addressed:
1. Why did the State Department ignore repeated warnings that security at Benghazi was deficient?
2. Did operations centers in Washington receive or monitor requests for help during the attack on 9/11/12?
3. Did the president direct the military to use all means to save American lives?
4. If authorized to enter Libyan territory, why did the military not send a fighter aircraft overhead to frighten what the White House claimed was a mob? Why did the military not send an ad hoc rescue force from Sigonella Navy Base, while the CIA was sending six men as the rescue force from Tripoli, about equal distance from Benghazi? Is the U.S. military too rigid to do anything helpful during a seven-hour battle?
5. Why did the White House persist for weeks in spinning a false story about a mob enraged by a YouTube video, when no intelligence supported the story? Who gave our ambassador to the U.N. her “talking points” that emphasized the video? Our intelligence community says it did not come from intelligence agencies.
West writes that Benghazi was “a major setback in the War on Terror,” but it was also a major failing for the mainstream media, which delayed reporting on the central aspects of the scandal for weeks and has never pushed Obama for answers.
That should be a lesson for defenders of a robust military response to the war against jihadist terror: Don’t leave it to the media to get the story out, or right.