At his news conference Wednesday, President Barack Obama postured as the young Galahad striding out onto the schoolyard to stop a pair of bullies from beating up a girl.
Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham had charged U.N. Amb. Susan Rice with misleading the nation when, five days after the Benghazi attack in which Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed, she appeared on five TV shows to say it had all resulted from a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Muslim video.
Susan Rice, thundered Obama, “made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her.
“If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. … But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.”
The indignation here is more than a bit cloying. After all, Rice’s rendition of the worst terror attack on the U.S. since 9/11 was utterly false.
There never was a protest.
Rice misled the nation. No one now denies that. The question is: Did Rice deceive us, or was she herself misled or deceived?
Far from being a convincing defense, Obama’s remarks call into question the competence or the truthfulness of the White House itself.
Consider again what Obama said.
Susan Rice “had nothing to do with Benghazi.”
But if she “had nothing to do with Benghazi,” why was she sent out “at the request of the White House” to explain Benghazi?
Who at the White House programmed Rice? Did she push back at all when fed this bullhockey about Benghazi? Or does she just parrot the party line when told to do so?
Why did the White House not send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CIA Director David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta or National Security Adviser Tom Donilon? Or did they decline to go?
The president says Rice “gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her.”
And who might be the source of that “intelligence” about the protest in Benghazi, when there was no protest in Benghazi?
Rice was scripted to tell the nation it was not a “preplanned” attack, when that is exactly what it was. The CIA knew it within hours, because two of its former Navy SEALs died in the attack, and other CIA people survived and got out the next morning.
Here we come to the heart of the matter.
Though journalists, CIA personnel and State Department people listening in real time all knew from intercepts and reports back from our people on the ground that this was a terrorist attack involving automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, the fabricated story — that it came out of a protest, a protest that never happened — was pushed relentlessly by the administration.
Jay Carney pushed it two days after the attack. Petraeus pushed it on the Hill three days after the attack. Rice went on five TV shows five days after the attack to recite it chapter and verse. Obama held off calling it a terror attack for weeks in TV interviews and mentioned the video half a dozen times at the U.N. on Sept. 25.
Another question arises from the press conference.
When Obama said Rice “gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her,” was that also the best intelligence the president of the United States had?
If it is, if five days after the attack Obama was that clueless about what actually happened in Benghazi, he ought to clean house at his intelligence agencies.
From the outside, it appears everybody was on board to describe the attack as “spontaneous” and attribute it to the video.
Yet none of this was true. And many inside knew, during or right after the attack, the truth about what had happened and were leaking it to the press. That brings us to the question: Why?
Why would the administration hierarchy collaborate in putting out a phony story denying there had been a terrorist attack and attributing it to a spontaneous riot that never happened?
Two answers come to mind:
One, the “spontaneous protest” cover story would enable Obama to keep pushing his campaign line that he had gotten Osama bin Laden and that al-Qaida was “on the run” and “on the path to defeat.” A successful al-Qaida-type attack in Libya would have contradicted his best foreign policy claim.
Second, if it was a spontaneous attack, an attack no one could have foreseen, predicted or prevented, then that would absolve the administration of responsibility for failing to see it coming, failing to provide greater security, failing to have forces prepared to deal with it when our guys were being shot and killed for seven hours.
What was behind the cover-up is what Congress needs to find out.