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Tim Carney: Four Americans — and the truth — died in Benghazi

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Photo - On Wednesday, when three career State Department officials testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi last September, Americans may finally start to get the real story. (AP Photo/Ibrahim Alaguri)
On Wednesday, when three career State Department officials testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi last September, Americans may finally start to get the real story. (AP Photo/Ibrahim Alaguri)
Politics,Timothy P. Carney,Politics Digest,Benghazi

Facts emerging about Benghazi may not tell us anything new, but they remind us of two important truths:

First, the upper levels of the Obama administration are peppered with partisans who play fast and loose with the truth for political gain.

Second, regime change and military interventions, especially in the Muslim world, are messy, destabilizing and deadly.

The White House and the State Department have consistently misled the public about the terrorist attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, White House press secretary Jay Carney, and President Obama all tried last September to convince Americans that the attacks were spontaneous mob violence arising from protests over an anti-Islamic video on YouTube. Ambassador Susan Rice famously made this claim on Sept. 16 on five Sunday morning talk shows.

This was false, and the White House and State Department likely knew that it was false. Elizabeth Jones, acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, wrote in a Sept. 12 email, "the group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al-Sharia, is affiliated with Islamic terrorists."

Gregory Hicks, a top State Department official in Libya, testified last week that his "jaw dropped" when he heard Rice blame the video: "I was embarrassed."

It turned out that Rice was speaking from talking points changed at the request of the State Department and the White House.

Carney in November falsely said Rice's talking points (which the CIA also gave to some congressmen who would be speaking publicly on Benghazi) "reflect the [intelligence community's] best assessments of what they thought had happened."

Carney also said in November that State and the White House only changed one word in the talking points. This, too, was false.

The Jones email and Hicks' testimony undermine Carney's claims. Leaked drafts of Rice's talking points show substantial edits that were clearly aimed at covering up terrorism's role in the attacks.

Over the course of two of those edits, acting at the behest of either State or the White House, the CIA removed reference to Ansar al-Sharia and terrorism.

Some administration official apparently told the CIA not to mention its concern about "the threat of extremists linked to al-Qa'ida in Benghazi and eastern Libya." Also deleted: "Since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants."

That same round of edits, made on Saturday morning, Sept. 15, deleted another telling point: "The wide availability of weapons and experienced fighters in Libya almost certainly contribute to the lethality of the attacks."

As it happened, Rice ended up making exactly this point, saying on TV "heavy weapons ... are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya."

And this fact, which Rice apparently wasn't supposed to mention, points to what the administration didn't want coming out in the weeks before the election.

Both the availability of weapons and the rising presence of al Qaeda revealed that Libya was not safe. They revealed that Obama's invasion of Libya was no clean matter of getting rid of Moammar Gadhafi and going home. Americans were still on the ground doing dirty work, in a terrorist-ridden land destabilized by our decapitation of the old government and aiding a civil war.

And the ugly deaths came amid something of an end-zone dance by Obama's campaign.

Just a week before, at the Democratic National Convention, Obama had cited deposing Gadhafi as one of his achievements. John Kerry said, to raucous applause, "without a single American casualty, Moammar Gadhafi is gone, and the people of Libya are free."

Vanity Fair was preparing to mail its issue dominated by Michael Lewis' flattering portrait of Obama. The feature focused on Obama's attack on Libya.

Obama was campaigning on his foreign policy success, including a clean regime change in Libya. But there are no clean regime changes, and Obama knows this. Or at least he knew this in 2002, when he said, "Even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences."

In Libya the U.S. didn't have an actual occupation — Obama didn't want one. That might be one reason the diplomatic facility was so thinly guarded. But the U.S. still had a presence in a country it had helped destabilize.

Making things politically worse, Obama abused executive power by invading Libya in March 2011 without congressional approval.

Last week's revelations were a reminder that truth is often the first casualty of war.

Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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