The Obama administration sent out Jay Carney on Friday and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on Sunday to spin a patently false story: The embassy attacks were a spontaneous reaction against an offensive anti-Muslim video. The cover story for poor preparation and a failed Middle East policy is already shredding.

The Jerusalem Post reported what most lucid observers already knew:

A US intelligence cable warned the American embassy in Cairo of possible violence in response to Arabic-language broadcasts of clips from an anti-Muslim film, US government sources said on Monday.

The cable, dispatched from Washington on Sept. 10, the day before protests erupted, advised the embassy the broadcasts could provoke violence. It did not direct specific measures to upgrade security, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. . . . Copies of the cable were not sent to other US outposts in the region, including the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where violence took the life of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The ties between the Benghazi violence and the crude anti-Muslim film are still unclear.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, also has expressed the view that the attacks were anything but spontaneous. As the facts emerge there is more reason to doubt the Obama cover story. There is one news report that “the assault came with no warning at about 9:35 p.m. local time, and included fire from more than two locations. The assault included RPG’s and mortar fire, the source said, and consisted of two waves. The account that the attack started suddenly backs up claims by a purported Libyan security guard who told McClatchy Newspapers late last week that the area was quiet before the attack.”

This is no small matter. Is the government (notice Secretary of State HillaryRodham Clinton isn’t to be caught telling the tale) misleading the public to conceal an intelligence failure? Is the administration so concerned about how the attacks would reflect on its Middle East policy that it would repeatedly misrepresent what occurred?

Many from both ends of the political spectrum suspect that there’s a policy failure at the heart of this, not a crank’s video. “Not us!” is the Obama response to attacks that expose the weakness, indeed the lack of a policy, in the most volatile region in the world.

William McGurn writes: “The alternative is to acknowledge two points the White House can never concede: First, that radical Islam’s anti-Americanism did not begin with George W. Bush; second, that this anti-Americanism has not abated despite Mr. Obama’s promise of love and understanding, the stunningly naïve foundation of his 2009 Cairo speech. . . . In fact, the central promise of his administration has been retreat. If our enemies now attack our embassies and our friends are reluctant to stand up, it’s because both rightly see us as disengaging.”

My colleague Richard Cohen sounds a similar note:

The notion that the United States can lead from behind is pitiful, the sorry concoction of an Obama administration that mistakes dulcet passivity for a foreign policy. The view from behind now has to be awfully depressing. . . .

Until recent events offered a rebuke, the Obama administration treated its toe-in-the-water response to the threats uttered by Gaddafi as an unalloyed success. The dictator had been ousted (and subsequently killed), no Americans had died in the effort and the wisdom of doing as little as possible was proclaimed a sterling triumph. Had the United States taken the lead, however, someone might have been paying more attention to events there and trying to forge a government out of heavily armed militias.

In the short run, Congress should commence hearings (behind closed doors if sensitive intelligence is at issue) to figure out what is going on. Put people under oath; get to the bottom of this. If, in fact, the administration has been concealing what it knows, this is serious and would boost conservatives’ worst fears that Obama puts politics above national security. The State Department can’t talk about it because the FBI is involved? Poppycock. (Imagine if President George W. Bush had tried that after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.) No one is going to file a criminal case; this was a terror attack overseas by militant Islamist extremists. No one is getting Mirandized on this one. Such a ludicrous excuse for silence only makes skeptics more suspicious that a grand coverup is underway.

UPDATE (12:48 p.m.): The Post’s Glenn Kesslerawarded Susan Rice two Pinocchios for her performance, finding: “The administration obviously wants to play down the possibility of a planned attack because that would raise broader questions about whether U.S. intelligence and embassy security in Libya were adequate. But Rice’s comments strain credulity, especially after Libya’s president declared without a doubt that the attack was planned.”