In the first 48 hours after the deadly Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. diplomatic outposts in Libya, senior Obama administration officials strongly alluded to a terrorist assault and repeatedly declined to link it to an anti-Muslim video that drew protests elsewhere in the region, transcripts of briefings show.The administration’s initial accounts, however, changed dramatically in the following days, according to a review of briefing transcripts and administration statements, with a new narrative emerging Sept. 16 when U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice asserted in a series of TV appearances that the best information available indicated that the attack had spun off from a protest over the video.
What prompted that pivot remains a mystery amid a closely contested presidential election and Republican allegations that President Barack Obama intentionally used outrage over the video to mask administration policy missteps that led to the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. The issue is sure to arise when Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney meet Monday to debate foreign policy.
Paul Pillar, a former top U.S. intelligence analyst on the Middle East, said that it’s natural with such incidents for accounts to change as new information is gathered. “You have not only a fog of war situation, but fragmentary, incomplete information, and as the responsible agencies develop and acquire better information, the explanations are naturally going to evolve,” he said.
Allam and Landy [McClatchy journalists] hit the nail on the head in their connection of this to Obama’s intervention to decapitate the Qaddafi regime. The rise of radical Islamist terrorist groups in eastern Libya, including al-Qaeda, comes as a direct result of that intervention. The central government in Tripoli has no control now over the Benghazi region. Furthermore, everyone knew before the intervention that AQ and other radicals operated in the eastern part of the country, and a regime decapitation would set those elements free.
The cover story was designed to mislead the American public so that they would not connect those dots. That intervention in Libya, coming with no effort at all to control the outcome on the ground, has made us much less safe, especially in that part of the world.
Some characterize Obama's line of argument as a cover-up, an accusation the president theatrically denied during the town hall debate. Willful and repeated misrepresentation is certainly consistent with a cover-up, but it is also consistent with a presidential ideology that is so powerful and pervasive that facts and reality that don't conform to the worldview derived from the ideology are simply rejected.
Rather than facts changing the worldview, precisely the opposite happens for Obama. The discordant facts are screened from the president's consciousness and rejected.
The Obama storyline is that the "war on terror" is over, al-Qaida has been defeated, and Gaddafi's overthrow and the Arab Spring are bringing democracy to Libya. This worldview is also, coincidentally of course, very helpful to the president politically. In fact, however, the reality is quite different from Obama's ideology on all three of these points, as tragically demonstrated in Benghazi on 11 September, notwithstanding the president's stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge it.
The question is whether Romney will attempt to take any of this and attempt to make hay with it in the next debate.
We'll know Monday night.