Definitions and timelines distract from the bigger, devastating picture.
After Candy Crowley's outrageous intervention on behalf of President Obama during Tuesday night's presidential debate, the debate moderator appeared on CNN and admitted that GOP challenger Mitt Romney had been right in his criticism of the administration's dissembling on the Benghazi terrorist attack. Romney was “right in the main,” she said, but “picked the wrong word.” The incident exemplifies how both campaigns have allowed the issue to spiral into a small and convoluted argument of definitions and timelines. Media may be more than passively contributing to this muddying of the waters as they pretend to earnestly evaluate the idea that the president had seriously claimed that we had been attack by jihadi terrorists that night. But this discussion, to the extent conservatives have been sucked into it, only benefits the president and his attempt to obfuscate the egregious security lapses that took the lives of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya and the lies spun after their deaths.
The fact of the matter is that the Obama administration, for weeks, engaged in a blatant campaign of deception marketed to the public. The attack, the president and numerous officials said, was not a terrorist attack. Ambassador Chris Stevens was supposedly the victim of a protest gone wrong, an event which we now have little evidence even occurred. This process began early on, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on September 12th and 14th, linked the anti-Islam video "Innocence of Muslims" to the attack, denouncing "inflammatory, despicable material posted on the Internet" and "an awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with" both times she spoke about the attack in Benghazi.
But things only got more explicit from there. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice appeared on five different Sunday news shows September 16th and told the nation that "the best information and the best assessment we have today is that in fact this was not a preplanned, premeditated attack...that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video[.]" The video had become the administration's publicly stated rationale for the violence. So much so that Obama himself referenced it during an appearance on the David Letterman Show September 18th, when he claimed that an "extremely offensive video" was used as "an excuse to attack a variety of our embassies, including the one, the consulate in Libya.”
It was not until public evidence began to mount against this line that the administration's tune began to change. Both White House Secretary Jay Carney and Hillary Clinton finally admitted on September 21 and 22nd respectively that the assault on Benghazi was a terrorist attack. President Obama, on the other hand, was still blaming the video in an interview with Univision on the 20th as "something that is used as excuse by some to carry out inexcusable violent acts on westerners or Americans.” On the 24th, in an appearance on "The View" the president began to change his story, when he revealed that, based on the kind of weaponry used, the "ongoing assault...wasn’t just a mob action."
Yet all of one day later, the president gave a a speech to the UN General Assembly where he again linked the attack with the video and the right of free speech. "There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There is no video that justifies an attack on an embassy." It should also be noted that while much of this evolution was occurring, the administration had already spent $70,000 on a Pakistani ad campaign, starring the president and Mrs. Clinton, denouncing that video. Those ads began airing on September 20th.
On September 26th and 27th, Secretary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta respectively acknowledged the terror connection--sort of. According to a senior State Department official, Clinton's reference to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was only meant to be taken as a general reference to ongoing violence in the region, while Panetta said "it became clear that there were terrorists who planned that attack," even as he declined to specify which group was responsible for Benghazi. "There's a lot of different kinds of terrorism in that part of the world," he contended.
On the 28th, the other part of the blame game began to take shape. A statement was released by Shawn Turner, the Director of Public Affairs for the office of the Director of National Intelligence, in which his agency took the blame for the "spontaneous" attack meme. On October 9th, State Department officials claimed the size and lethality of the Benghazi attack was "unprecedented"--even as they contradicted a previous State Department report given on September 12th, describing the same "spontaneous protests." The revised information revealed there were no protests before the attack, that former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were killed by a mortar attack, and that officials remained in the dark regarding how ambassador Stevens made it from the compound to the hospital. That revised account was corroborated the next day by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb.
Finally on October 16th, Hillary Clinton took responsibility for the assault--sort of. "I take responsibility," Clinton told CNN in an interview while in Peru. "I'm in charge of the State Department's 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts. The president and the vice president wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals." Yet almost immediately after she accepted responsibility, she blamed the administration's ever-changing story on the "fog of war." "In the wake of an attack like this, in the fog of war, there's always going to be confusion," Clinton said. "And I think it is absolutely fair to say that everyone had the same intelligence. Everyone who spoke tried to give the information that they had. As time has gone on, that information has changed. We've gotten more detail, but that's not surprising. That always happens."
That the fog suddenly lifted the day before the second presidential debate is rather remarkable. So is the fact that Clinton was so willing to take the blame. During the 2008 presidential campaign, the former presidential candidate contended that "I believe we need a president who believed what Harry Truman believed, that the buck stops in the Oval Office." Apparently Mrs. Clinton's feelings on that score have also "evolved."
The ongoing contradictions that have been disseminated by the Obama administration are either the result of an incompetent administration incapable of coordinating a coherent--and honest--narrative about what happened, or one so concerned with re-election and preserving the president's image as someone making the world safer through his seriousness on terrorism that the administration clung to this ruse as long as possible in hopes of waiting out the election.
If one accepts the former premise, then Hillary Clinton's statement blaming the plethora of contradictory information over the past month on the "fog of war" can be taken at face value. Yet even here, the administration could have completely diffused the controversy by simply admitting they were in a fog about what really happened, right from the beginning. That they instinctively chose to spin this atrocity from day one is telling. If one accepts that latter premise, then the "fog of war" is nothing more than a convenient catch-phrase designed to absolve the Obama administration of the litany of lies they have perpetrated, the combined effect of which amounts to a disinformation campaign designed to sow confusion in the minds of Americans.
Such confusion ultimately accrues to the president's benefit. A confused public ultimately becomes an uninterested public, as the effort to get to the truth becomes ever more complicated. And when it comes to the murder of four Americans, there is little doubt this administration would like nothing better than an uninterested public in the end stages of the presidential election.
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