A Forum for Opinions on News, Politics, and Life
October 31st, 2012
By Dan Miller
The most important matter before him, of course, reelection.
During the 2008 campaign, Senator Obama ran successfully on the widely accepted notion that he was The One We had Been Waiting For. On September 11, 2012 — well before the first presidential debate on October 3rd — he may have thought that he could do almost the same during the 2012 campaign. However, since a disaster in Benghazi for which he might be held responsible could diminish his chances, it was necessary to avoid any appearance that he himself might be in any way culpable. A ruse concocted about an obscure anti-Islamic video probably looked as though it would be the most likely to work, provided an outpouring of many inconsistent facts could be delayed, perhaps until after November 6th. After all, his brilliant war on Islamophobia should be working as well as hoped.
The Great Benghazi
Cook off Chill out
Hence, the “cooling out” process, well described by Thomas Sowell, proceeded. President Clinton had done a decent job of cooling perceptions of his amorous escapades and keeping them from becoming a bigger deal than they did (strange word, “decent,” in that context).
When the accusations that led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton first surfaced, he flatly denied them all. Then, as the months passed, the truth came out — but slowly, bit by bit. One of Clinton’s own White House aides later called it “telling the truth slowly.”
Anybody else here remember President Nixon’s modified limited hangout — “release of previously hidden information in order to prevent a greater exposure of more important details” — during Watergate?
By the time the whole truth came out, it was called “old news,” and the clever phrase now was that we should “move on.”
It was a successful “cooling out” of the public, keeping them in uncertainty so long that, by the time the whole truth came out, there was no longer the same outrage as if the truth had suddenly come out all at once. Without the support of an outraged public, the impeachment of President Clinton fizzled out in the Senate.
Unfortunate, but at least one other president (JFK) had enjoyed extracurricular sexual adventures while in office (but probably not in the Oval Office) with no politically adverse consequences. Then came President Obama’s Libyan misadventures, less titillating but more central to the nation’s security.
We are currently seeing another “cooling out” process and another “modified limited hangout,” growing from the terrorist attack on the American
consulate mission in Benghazi on September 11th.
The belated release of State Department e-mails shows that the Obama administration knew, while the attack on the American consulate was still underway, that it was a coordinated, armed terrorist attack. They were getting reports from those inside the consulate who were under attack, as well as surveillance pictures from a camera on an American drone overhead.
About an hour before the attack, the scene outside was calm enough for the American ambassador to accompany a Turkish official to the gates of the consulate to say goodbye. This could hardly have happened if there were protesting mobs there.
Why then did both President Obama and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice keep repeating the story that this was a spontaneous protest riot against an anti-Islamic video in America?
The White House knew the facts — but they knew that the voting public did not. And it mattered hugely whether the facts became known to the public before or after the election. What the White House needed was a process of “cooling out” the voters, keeping them distracted or in uncertainty as long as possible.
Not only did the Obama administration keep repeating the false story about an anti-Islamic video being the cause of a riot that turned violent, the man who produced that video was tracked down and arrested, creating a media distraction.
All this kept the video story front and center, with the actions and inactions of the Obama administration kept in the background.
The White House had to know that it was only a matter of time before the truth would come out. But time was what mattered, with an election close at hand. The longer they could stretch out the period of distraction and uncertainty — “cooling out” the voters — the better. Once the confidence man in the White House was reelected, it would be politically irrelevant what facts came out.
Victor Davis Hanson correctly, as usual, observes here:
Most likely, the political wing of the White House almost immediately made a decision that the attack on our Benghazi consulate should not endanger the conventional narrative of a successful commander-in-chief — ahead in the polls in part because he had highlighted a supposedly successful foreign policy. Key to that story was the notion that the hit on bin Laden and the drone attacks on other Islamists had rendered al-Qaeda all but impotent. In addition, the administration’s supposed lead-from-behind strategy in Libya had served as a model for energizing a democratic Arab Spring. Commander-in-Chief Obama was intent on reminding the country of his competence and toughness as an international leader, and especially of his wise reluctance to rush into areas of instability.
Fortunately for the nation, President Obama’s not-very-neatly-arranged ball
s of twine at least began to unravel sooner than anticipated. To what extent that was due to a modified limited hangout we presently have no way of knowing. It is conceivable that President Obama did not learn what had happened because nobody told him because it was clear that he did not want to learn about it. This may be a part of the explanation that appeals to the scientifically inclined:
In any event, President Obama, sensitive chap that he is, claims to be offended that anyone would question his candor or complain that his administration can’t seem to get its story straight.
Mika Brzezinski: Why has it been so easy for the Administration’s critics to say it does not have its story straight on Benghazi? …
President Obama: I do take offense as I’ve said during one of the debates with some suggestion that, you know, in any way we haven’t tried to make sure that the American people knew as information was coming in what we believed happened….
Joe Scarborough: Was it the intel community that was giving you bad information early on, because the stories keep changing?
President Obama: We find out there was a big breakdown and somebody didn’t do their job they’ll be held accountable.
Ultimately as Commander in Chief I am responsible and I don’t shy away from that responsibility.
My number one responsibility is to go after folks who did this and we’re going to make sure that we get ‘em. I’ve got a pretty good track record doing that. (Emphasis added.)
No, Mr. President. Your “number one responsibility” was to take the steps that only the President would be in a position to take to prevent the murders of Ambassador Stevens and the three other men who gave their lives trying to protect him and others at the Benghazi mission. Now, your “number one responsibility” as the President is to tell the truth. You have an abominable track record on doing both.
Unfortunately for the nation, most of the principled media did an inadequate job of covering the mess.
Might there have been administration pressures not to cover the unraveling of President Obama’s ball
s of twine, or was it just the work of a mutual admiration society?
An article at the San Francisco Chronicle tries to explain why most coverage was inadequate. There was some Chronicle coverage, but
Some readers tell me that they see The Chronicle’s failure to run a rash of front-page stories as proof of bias. They have a point, but they fail to appreciate the local emphasis in today’s front-page placement, especially during a presidential election and World Series, which the Giants, incidentally, won 4-zip.
Most important is the resources issue. Most dailies don’t have foreign bureaus or reporters with the sources needed to break this type of story. “I don’t think there’s a bias issue, but we do have to rely on our primary news services,” Chronicle Editor Ward H. Bushee told me.
That’s where network and other national news organizations come in – and many have produced important stories.
Before FBI investigators ventured into Benghazi, CNN reporter Arwa Damon found the journal of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who died in Benghazi, at the mission. CNN reported on Stevens’ concern about security in Benghazi.
From the Rose Garden the day after the attack, President Obama declared, “we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.” Yet on Oct. 19, the New York Times reported that Ansar al-Shariah leader and suspected Benghazi ringleader Ahmed Abu Khattala was seen in a crowded Benghazi luxury hotel sipping mango juice as he claimed that no Libya authorities had questioned him and, by the way, he had no plans to go into hiding.
That scoop stands in stark contrast with the Times’ failure to run a front-page story on a congressional hearing on the incident – for which the paper’s public editor Margaret Sullivan scolded the editors’ poor news judgment on Oct. 11.
Fox News has been all over this story. On Friday, correspondent Jennifer Griffin reported that sources told her that a CIA team, including Tyrone Woods who also died in Benghazi, had requested military backup during the attack but was told to “stand down.” The CIA dismissed the story as “inaccurate.
Yesterday, the Washington Post may reluctantly have put a toe into the water, concluding that “The Obama administration needs to level with the country about why it made its decisions.” So, perhaps, should the Washington Post and others. Today, U-T San Diego asked, “Isn’t this a story – a gigantic story?” and answered,
Of course. But we fear that ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post will only choose to realize how obvious this is after Nov. 6. Then it will come to them – spontaneously, we’re sure.
“Frankenstorm” Sandy provided President Obama much needed cover and a welcome public distraction from “Benghazigate.” It also gave President Obama an opportunity to appear presidential by advising people in the affected areas to stay safe by obeying the instructions of government officials.
“The president made clear that he expects his team to remain focused as the immediate impacts of Hurricane Sandy continue and lean forward in their response,” the White House said in a statement about Mr. Obama’s video-teleconference that he conducted from the White House Situation Room. “Forward” is the slogan of his re-election campaign.
There was, of course, very little more that any President could have done at that time; if FEMA was not already prepared to deal with disaster relief, there would have been no opportunity with the onset of Sandy to make it so.
President Obama’s FEMA guidance tour, like Kim Jong-un’s field guidance trips, was only to enhance his image as the Great Dear Leader.
Since the recent death of Kim Jong Il, North Korean state-run media has been releasing a series of images of the “Great Successor,” Kim Jong Un, visiting schools, factories, and military facilities. These visits, which were frequently publicized by his father and his grandfather Kim Il Sung, are called “field guidance” trips — opportunities for the supreme leader to give on-the-spot advice. For decades, the North Korean myth-making machine endowed Kim Jong Il with amazing wisdom, prowess, and intelligence, and it continues that tradition now with his son, touting him as a marksman, poet, economic genius, and wise military strategist.
I have seen only a few comparisons of President Obama’s personal responses to Sandy and to the Benghazi disaster. That should be an interesting comparison because there was quite a lot that he could have done, but declined to do, as to the Benghazi kerfuffle developed. Instead, he pushed his phony video excuse for as long as possible. Here’s one great comparison, h/t Conservative Tree House:
Speaking at a photo opportunity at the American Red Cross on Tuesday, President Obama stated that in America, “we leave nobody behind.” This remark is seen as clumsy and perhaps insensitive considering the revelations that requests to assist two Navy SEALs trapped on the roof of the American consulate in Benghazi were denied, thus abandoning the heroic Americans to die at the hands of Al Qaeda.
The flexibility of narrative
Victor Davis Hanson has this to say about the Benghazi “bumps in the road:”
Seven weeks after the tragedy in Benghazi, new government narratives just keep appearing, as various branches of government point the finger at one another. Now the president insists that “the minute” he “found out what was going on” he gave “very clear directives” to “make sure that we are securing our personnel and doing whatever we need to.” The secretary of defense argues that he knew too little to send in military forces to save the post. Meanwhile, we are hearing from other sources that the beleaguered compound in extremis was denied help on three separate occasions, and there are still more contradictory accounts.
In such a landscape, Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans were brutally murdered. And almost immediately it was clear that the ambassador had earlier warned that Libya was descending into chaos and that Americans were not safe there — only to have his requests for further protection rejected.
Will any of President Obama’s scapegoats step forward and throw blame back at him? Before November 6th? Thus far, the list includes Secretary of State Clinton, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and CIA Director David Petraeus.
Benghazi was a disaster, whose graphic details most Americans do not fully know and, in some sense understandably, do not wish to relive. Still, we await two simple clarifications: an administration timeline of exactly who was notified, in what manner, and when on the night of the attack, and a full release of all information detailing the administration reaction to the murders, from the hours in which the attack occurred to the present day.
Without that honesty, those responsible will only continue to weave their tangled Libyan web.
President Obama has Frankenstorms of excuses to offer but none of the enlightenment suggested by VDH. Perhaps others will eventually feel obliged, in their own interest if not that of the nation, to do so. It can have meaningful impact and set the nation back on her proper path only if done well before November 6th.
(This article was also posted at Dan Miller’s Blog.)
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