Saturday, October 20, 2012


On September 11, 2012, Islamic terrorists attacked the American Embassy in Libya and killed our ambassador.  

Immediately after the attack, and until September 20, 2012, the Administration blamed an obnoxious internet video about Mohammed for the assassination, on the theory that a crowd, angry over the video, got out of control and burned the Embassy. 

This original assessment proved to be totally wrong. 

It turns out that leading up to the attack, our Ambassador and the security people at the Libyan Embassy were pleading for beefed up security.  The State Department officials in Washington denied the requests and were reducing security.  The State Department was pursuing a policy of "normalization" in Libya, despite the protests of the people at the Embassy that the situation was not "normal," but still out of control and quite dangerous.

At a minimum, the assessments of both the State Department, in the run-up, and the White House, in the aftermath, were critically deficient.  

In the immediate aftermath of the murder, it would have behooved the Administration to simply state that they were investigating competing versions of events.

I suspect that no one at the CIA was terribly interested in saying, bluntly, "right now we don't really know what happened or why, and we don't have a lot of high quality intelligence resources in Libya, so an answer is going to have to wait."

I suspect that the White House was not interested in saying this, either. 

I also suspect that the "video" explanation, however hedged with reservations in initial CIA reports, was manna from heaven for both CIA higher-ups and the White House, because the alternative - that a terrorist attack occurred on 9-11, and we did not see it coming - was too painful to contemplate.  One wishes the Administration would have been as dubious about the "video" story as it was about the merit of the Ambassador's plea for security.

That there were warning signs is now obvious, just as it was in the aftermath of 9-11 itself.  The pleas for additional security were ignored or overlooked by people in a position to prevent the disaster, that is, State Department officials in Washington.  They ignored these requests because their assessment was that it was good policy to "normalize" the Embassy's situation in Libya, even though our Ambassador there was saying that the place was not "normal," it was still crazy and dangerous. 

The State Department pulled out a significant military presence and sought to treat the Libyan Embassy like one would treat an Embassy in a peaceful and relatively well ordered society.  The goal of this plan was to avoid suggesting to the new Libyan government that we did not trust them to keep our Embassy secure, which might have given offense.

The killing of the Ambassador on 9-11 demonstrates that the Administration's assessment of the situation in Libya was very wrong.  The Administration's initial reaction to the Ambassador's murder makes the case even more powerfully.  The Administration's assessment of the situation was so poor that even after the Ambassador had been murdered on 9-11- a circumstance that would suggest a terrorist attack to a dull 8th grader - the Administration insisted on believing and reporting a "non-terrorist" version of events that turned out to be false.

This particular folly is not unusual for the Obama Administration.  After the failed bombing of an airliner on Christmas Day, 2009, and an attempted car-bombing in Times Square in 2010, the Obama Administration in each instance initially said there was no indication of wider terrorist involvement.  It later became clear that the Christmas Day bomber was linked to al-Qaida and the Times Square bomber was trained by the Pakistani Taliban.  See here for more information.

This Administration has repeatedly seized on "non-terrorist" explanations for what turned out to be terrorist attacks, and pushed this narrative without waiting for the facts to develop. This does not inspire confidence.  Perhaps we could adopt a new paradigm, in which we presume that when a group of Muslims kill an American official on 9-11 it is a terrorist attack, until proven otherwise.  That is not unfair stereotyping.  It is prudence.

In this instance it took the Administration 9 days to acknowledge the reality of a terrorist attack, strong evidence of which was available the day after the attack.  Secretary of State Clinton attributes the lag to "the fog of war." 

Odd, since the Administration was so intent on explaining this event as a civil riot, rather than an act of war.  In fact, the "fog" was the Administration's ideological "fog."  It proved quite difficult to penetrate, but eventually, facts won out.  They are stubborn things.

In this case the facts compose a very sad reality.  It is the reality of an Administration's intelligence and policy failures, of an Administration so convinced of its superior wisdom, information and policy choices that it ignores facts.  It is the reality of Washington's arrogance, disregarding information from the people in the real world struggling with the consequences of Washington's bad decisions. 

It is the reality of the Obama Administration.

President Obama recently said in an interview "What happens, during the course of a presidency, is that the government is a big operation and any given time something screws up.  And you make sure you find out what's broken and you fix it."

I think we've identified what is broken.  I think we've identified what's screwed up.  We should fix it on election day.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with the thrust of this argument that this administration has consistently tried to downplay terrorism. The most egregious example to my mind is their refusal to label the Fort Hood massacre as an "act of terror". SRF