The president sets the tone. Both Barack Obama and Jay Carney acknowledge as much. In Benghazi, the tone that the president set had lethal consequences.
CBS’ Sharyl Attkisson has produced a comprehensive behind-the-scenes report based on her interviews with many officials who were involved in the lack of response to the Benghazi attack. About two-thirds of the way in, Attkisson addresses the role played, or not, by the Counterterrorism Security Group.
Under presidential directive, an interagency task force called the Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) is to be convened when emergency terrorist events are suspected. According to a public military document, it’s part of a plan to “synchronize the efforts of all the government agencies that have a role to play in the Global War on Terrorism.” But on Sept. 11, 2012, the Obama administration did not convene this body of terrorism expert advisers.
One official associated with the State Department now acknowledges that the CSG would probably have advised decision makers that FEST “was not just backup generator and radios.” Said the official: “the CSG could have made the argument, they were upset that they weren’t heard.” Another former Defense Department official says he finds no merit to using the CSG. “I’d like to hear them say what they could have done.”
Last October, National Security Council (NSC) Spokesman Tommy Vietor told CBS News that the CSG wasn’t needed because consultations were quickly underway at the highest levels. He indicated that, under the Obama administration, the function of the CSG has become a “lower level group” that “does different tasks” than under the Bush administration. “From the moment [President Obama] was briefed on the Benghazi attack, the response effort was handled by the most senior national security officials in governments. Members of the CSG were of course involved in these meetings and discussions to support their bosses,” said Vietor.
However, absent the CSG’s collective advice, there’s evidence that some high-level decision makers were unaware of all available resources. In October, on a phone call that included then-Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough (now White House Chief of Staff), Vietor initially told CBS News: “I don’t know what [FEST] is… it sounds antiquated.”
Barack Obama and many of his supporters believed that his election to the presidency would essentially end the war on terrorism. That belief rears its head here. What other tasks besides counterterrorism and security should the Counterterrorism Security Group be doing? Why was it pushed down the food chain? What are its current tasks? If they’re not counterterrorism and security, why does it still exist?
Tommy Vietor keeps turning up conspicuously in the Benghazi scandal, in part because the president sets the tone. Obama’s loyalist bus driver was heavily involved in the talking points discussion, playing the pivotal role of looping the State Department into what started as a vetting of intelligence-based talking points and quickly became a political discussion. The eventual outcome of that was a product that was useless on the facts, misleading to the public, but helpful to Obama and his tone on terrorism.
As Attkisson reports, Vietor acknowledges that under Obama the presidential Counterterrorism Security Group has been effectively demoted. This president has consistently downplayed the threat of terrorism, and his administration in fact doesn’t even acknowledge that the Ft. Hood massacre was an act of terrorism. To them, it was “workplace violence.” The Department of Homeland Security infamously tried describing terrorism as “man-caused disasters.”
Here is one consequence of a president going out of his way not to know what’s going on or why:
Vietor initially told CBS News: “I don’t know what [FEST] is… it sounds antiquated.”
Tommy Vietor was Obama’s National Security Council spokesman. His ignorance of the Foreign Emergency Support Team’s existence and capabilities is shocking. It’s his job to know. Obama put him in that position, based not on his national security credentials but on his loyalty to Obama. Vietor wasn’t doing his job and wasn’t even shy about expressing his ignorance. He had some reason to believe there would be no consequences for not knowing basic details directly relevant to his ability to do his job.
The president sets the tone, and raised his loyalist driver to become his NSC spokesman. His administration also just raised Jen Psaki to become a State Department spokesman, despite the fact that she has no foreign policy experience at all. What she is, though, is a loyal partisan who is not shy about attacking Americans who disagree with Obama.
Tommy Vietor’s ignorance of the basic details of his job may have contributed to the deaths of two of the four Americans who were slain in Benghazi. The FEST was not deployed, in part because Vietor and others in the administration were ignorant of its capabilities. Vietor didn’t even know it existed, and thought it sounded “antiquated.” We’ll see what contribution Jen Psaki’s ignorance makes to the U.S. position in the world. The president sets the tone.
Either ignorance or stupidity, or the consistent tone-setting on terrorism, made another contribution to the Benghazi disaster.
In an unfortunate turn of events, on Sept. 11, a special U.S. military force based in Europe, designed specifically for quick reaction to unforeseen emergencies, was off on a training mission in Croatia. By the time the so-called Commander’s In-extremis Force was diverted to an airfield at Sigonella, Italy, an hour’s flight from Benghazi, the attacks were over.
“They didn’t get there in time to have an impact, which is unfortunate,” said a Defense Department source who was involved in the Benghazi response.
It was the anniversary of 9-11. Why was the quick reaction force closest to one of the most volatile regions off on a training exercise? Did they not see the potential for jihadists to mount an attack on that day? Why was Ambassador Stevens so exposed that day?
Jay Carney says that the president sets the tone. Based on his answers to numerous questions on a range of issues, setting the tone may well be the only thing that the president acknowledges doing. His claims add up to the president being a bystander in his own administration, not knowing about any scandals until he reads about them in the news.
On September 12, Obama set the tone again in an interview with CBS’ Steve Kroft.
KROFT: Mr. President, this morning you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word “terrorism” in connection with the Libya attack.
KROFT: Do you believe that this was a terrorist attack?
OBAMA: Well, it’s too early to know exactly how this came about, what group was involved, but obviously it was an attack on Americans.
The first rule of Fight Club is, you don’t talk about Fight Club. Obama’s first rule of terrorism is, you don’t mention terrorism. After Obama dodged the terrorism question on September 12, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would blame a movie on September 14 and Ambassador Rice would blame that movie five times on September 16. But who set the tone? The man who blamed that movie again, on the The View, on Letterman, and in an address to the United Nations.
Here we’re seeing the effect that even just setting the tone is having. Barack Obama really believes that his election was so transformative that it would end the war. It hasn’t, but this president consistently downplays terrorism and demotes its importance in his government to convince Americans that it has. His government plays games with words and organizational charts to wish the war away.
When crisis struck and one of his ambassadors may have become a hostage to jihadists, the choices that flowed naturally from the tone Obama had set had serious consequences. Four Americans including that ambassador were murdered.