Did President Obama meet with his national security staff between the assault in Bengazi on 9-11-12 and flying off to his Las Vegas fundraiser the following day? Obama senior adviser David Axelrod was asked that question on Fox News Sunday over the weekend, and failed to answer it clearly.
CHRIS WALLACE: How soon after the attack did the President meet with the National Security Council, with people from state, with people from the…, the Director of National Intelligence, with all of the various people to try to sort out what happened in Benghazi?
AXELROD: Look. We are sorting out what happened there. Understand that the President the day after the attack called it an act of terror and charged everyone with responsibility for getting to the bottom of what happened.
Axelrod doesn’t answer the question. Wallace followed up, and Axelrod again chooses not to answer it. He says “the president was in contact with all those who had information and responsibility in the national security chain about this incident.”
Obviously, “in contact with” is not the same as meeting with, coming to conclusions with, and making decisions with.
On the day of 9-11-12, President Obama marked the 11th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks with a speech at the Pentagon and an unscheduled stop at Arlington National Cemetery. In his speech at the Pentagon, he declared that al Qaeda was “crippled” after the death of Osama bin Laden.
“Eleven times we have paused in remembrance and reflection in unity and in purpose,” he said. “This is never an easy day, but it is especially difficult for all of you, the families of nearly 3,000 innocents who lost their lives.”
The president said that because of their sacrifice, the U.S. has dealt a “crippling blow” to al Qaeda, “Osama bin Laden will never threaten us again,” and “our nation is safer and our people are resilient.”
Both events and especially the latter were intended to show the president’s caring toward Americans killed in the attacks and the wars that followed them.
After leaving the Pentagon, Mr. and Mrs. Obama made an unscheduled stop at Arlington National Cemetery, where the president visited the graves in Section 60, one of the sections for those killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. The president and first lady walked among the chalk-white markers and put “challenge coins” – medallions bearing insignia passed out by commanders as motivation or to honor achievement – on several of the graves.
On the night of the attacks in Cairo and Benghazi, the president was strangely silent. He was reportedly in the White House, taking an evening off from the campaign.
The earliest message that came from the US government in response to the attacks came from the US embassy in Cairo, Egypt. Before Islamists stormed the embassy walls and tore down the American flag to replace it with the black flag of Islam, but after Islamists had threatened to attack and burn the embassy to win Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman’s release from US prison, the Cairo embassy staff tweeted its condemnation of the YouTube clip blamed for stirring up unrest. The embassy would later double down on that tweet, and then later, delete it as the Obama administration in Washington disavowed the embassy’s statements.
Obama himself remained silent. But Secretary of State Clinton issued a statement in her name after the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya came under attack. That statement now gives off a bipolar vibe:
I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today. As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack.
Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.
Why doesn’t Clinton’s statement mention President Obama? Did they know at this point that Ambassador Chris Stevens was the slain officer?
As the attack progressed, where was President Obama? He remained silent, but it’s probable that he was actually watching the battle in real time for some period. Reporting last week confirmed that the US had a drone aircraft overhead feeding video back to the US. There were also security cameras inside the compound that may have been feeding video back to Washington. The White House has a command center in which the president can watch feeds from distant battlefields. It was from that command center that the president and his national security staff watched the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The president, according to reports on the heels of the attacks, was briefed before going to bed but did not learn of Ambassador Stevens’ fate until the next morning. According to reports, he went to bed on the of 9-11-12 not knowing whether the US ambassador was alive or dead. The following morning after confirmation that the ambassador had been killed, Obama issued a statement on the Benghazi attack before going off to Vegas.
Returning to Axelrod’s answer, there should be nothing in Chris Wallace’s question to sort out. Either Obama met with his national security advisers at some point during or after the Benghazi attack and before the Vegas trip, or he didn’t. Looking at Axelrod’s answers and Clinton’s statement, two things become clear. One, Obama did not meet with his top national security officers while America was under attack. Two, he put his campaign ahead of doing his job as president.
The events of 9-11-12 also betray a disturbing quality to this president. Earlier in the day on 9-11, before the attacks in Cairo and Benghazi, Obama tweeted:
As painful as this day is and always will be, it leaves us with the lesson that no act of terrorism can ever change what we stand for. -bo
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) September 11, 2012
Obama personally signed that tweet, only to betray its sentiments within days by blaming a video, and then either allowing or ordering the public identification and arrest of the alleged filmmaker.
Assuming that Obama was able to watch the Benghazi battle via video feed, he said and did nothing about it that night. On the video feeds Obama saw proof that al Qaeda was far from the crippled entity that he described earlier in the day at the Pentagon. But he apparently turned off the TV without knowing how things would turn out.