The PJ Tatler

How Do We Make Sense of Obama's, Clinton's and Panetta's Actions During the Benghazi Attack?

Benghazi was never about a movie. Ever.

On the day of the attack in Benghazi, the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, had come under siege at the encouragement of al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. While the riot in Cairo was being blamed on the Nakoula Nakoula YouTube movie in the media, the Cairo riot was never really about the movie. Ever.

The Innocence of Muslims movie, which the vast majority of the Cairo mob had never seen, was used by the riot’s leaders to stir up anger and bring out the crowd. But on September 10, 2012, we posted a note about Cairo and the riot that was to come. The real purpose of the Cairo riot, all along, was to pressure the Obama administration into releasing Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, the mastermind of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center in New York.

According to El Fagr, they are calling for the immediate release of the Islamic jihadis who are imprisonment and in detention centers in the U.S. including Guantanamo Bay: “The group, which consists of many members from al-Qaeda, called [especially] for the quick release of the jihadi [mujahid] sheikh, Omar Abdul Rahman [the ‘Blind Sheikh’], whom they described as a scholar and jihadi who sacrificed his life for the Egyptian Umma, who was ignored by the Mubarak regime, and [President] Morsi is refusing to intervene on his behalf and release him, despite promising that he would. The Islamic Group has threatened to burn the U.S. Embassy in Cairo with those in it, and taking hostage those who remain [alive], unless the Blind Sheikh is immediately released.”

The riot, which included jihadists scaling the wall of the U.S. embassy and replacing the American flag with their own, was geared to pressure Obama into releasing the blink sheikh — it was not a protest about a movie. As we’ve written here before, if the Tatler had this information on September 10, then surely the U.S. government had it as well. So the Obama administration knew from the beginning that Cairo was not really about a movie. Therefore, neither was Benghazi, and they knew it. The CIA’s original talking points reflect this fact, clearly blaming al Qaeda and never mentioning the YouTube movie.

I bring this up to dispatch with one possibility, which is that the Obama administration was so quick to blame Benghazi on a YouTube movie because of the events that were already taking place in Cairo. They could rationally and innocently have seen Cairo and concluded that Benghazi was related. Neither incident was really about protesting a movie. Ever. And they had the intelligence to prove it. Their own intelligence never pointed to a movie.

Yet they were quick to blame the movie, almost too quick, putting the blame on it during the attack and for two weeks thereafter. Secretary of State Clinton even stood before the bodies of the slain and blamed the movie a few days after the attack.

CLINTON, 9-14-2012: This has been a difficult week for the State Department and for our country. We’ve seen the heavy assault on our post in Benghazi that took the lives of those brave men. We’ve seen rage and violence directed at American embassies over an awful internet video that we had nothing do to with. It’s hard for the American people to make sense of that, because it is senseless, and it is totally unacceptable. The people of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia, did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob. Reasonable people and responsible leaders in these countries in these countries need to do everything they can to restore security and hold accountable those behind these violent acts. And we will, under the president’s leadership, keep taking steps to protect our personnel around the world. (emphasis added)

Stripped of the politics and evident cover-up, the Benghazi attack was not difficult to understand. It was the latest battle in the ongoing Islamist war against civilization. It was an attack in a known al Qaeda hotbed against a soft American target on the anniversary of 9-11, a target that we now know had been infiltrated by terrorist operatives. It’s all quite straightforward. Clinton’s remarks muddied, rather than clarified, the attack. That same day, recall, she also told the father of one of the slain that the U.S. government would arrest the man who had made the movie that she and others were blaming. That weekend, Nakoula Nakoula was arrested. The Obama team was building a narrative that the movie had caused a demonstration that evolved into an attack, and they were willing to have a man arrested on parole violations to further that narrative. The same weekend that Nakoula was first picked up was the same weekend that Ambassador Susan Rice would blame his movie on no less than five Sunday talk shows. Even though she and everyone responsible for the administration’s story must have known that the movie had nothing to do with the attack.

While the Obama administration was quick to blame the movie, they have been slow to explain what they were actually doing during the 10-hour attack, and who was involved in what. Defense Secretary Panetta has testified that he was not in contact with either President Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the attack unfolded, and despite the fact that it was being monitored in real-time in Washington. The attack would also have weighed heavily on the minds of the president’s re-election campaign advisers. It could cost him and them their jobs.

Does it make any sense that on the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, that as another terrorist attack transpires, in a country bearing the fingerprints of Obama and Clinton after their air war helped oust Muammar Gaddafi, that POTUS, SecDef, and SecState all decided not to discuss the attack and coordinate a response? Does it make any sense for a secretary of State to handle the attack without communicating with her counterpart at the Pentagon, who would have been in charge of any military response to it? Does it make any sense for Panetta to green-light or red-light any response without consulting the commander-in-chief? Does he even have such authority?

None of that makes any sense. It’s inconceivable that the top three U.S. officials who would be accountable for the American lives and property at Benghazi would not communicate with each other during an ongoing attack. If she had nothing to hide, Clinton should have been climbing the walls until Obama authorized a serious and forceful response to rescue her friend Chris Stevens. Panetta should have been responding to Obama’s orders to bring our people home if possible, or disperse or kill the attackers if it wasn’t.

Yet Panetta says that after the 5 p.m. meeting he never communicated with either Obama or Clinton. If this is true, were they not derelict in their duties? Obama cannot have been unaware of the scale of the attack: We had a drone overhead and security cameras on the ground, and our forces on the ground were telling Washington what was happening. The fog of war was not very thick.

When the Benghazi attack occurred, Barack Obama was less than two months away from his reckoning with the voters. The polls were tight and any event could have moved them one way or the other. Mitt Romney had sewn up the GOP nomination and was flexing his muscle as a fundraiser. He had outfoxed Obama’s campaign a couple of times, pushing Solyndra into the headlines and even getting into David Axelrod’s grill and under his skin at an event in Boston.

Obama could not run on the economy or his signature legislative achievement, ObamaCare. His campaign had built a narrative of the president as an effective commander-in-chief who had killed Osama bin Laden and put al Qaeda on the run. “Osama is dead and GM is alive!” was Vice President Joe Biden’s favorite sentence. Other than the fact of bin Laden’s demise, this was not a national security fact; it was a political narrative aimed at getting Obama re-elected. Al Qaeda had in fact begun to cement a new relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt and had grown in influence in Libya and across the Middle East. Its Libya brand, Ansar al-Sharia, had become a threat in the Benghazi area itself the summer leading up to the attack. Ansar al-Sharia was the author of the attack in Benghazi.

Here is a theory regarding Obama’s, Panetta’s, and Clinton’s actions that night.

Barack Obama comes to the job of the presidency with no command experience at all. His career included years as an adjunct professor and a community organizer before becoming the senator best known for voting “present” in Illinois. He was never a leader when he was in the U.S. Senate. His experience is chiefly as an agitator against command, not in exercising command itself. The largest effort he had ever run had been his own campaign for president, and it’s debatable how much of that he ran and how much was run for him by his lieutenant, David Axelrod.

Just weeks before the election, the Benghazi attack threatened to undo Obama’s carefully crafted al Qaeda campaign narrative. That night, during the attack, President Barack Obama had no idea what to do. He is not a born or trained commander. With lives and American prestige in his hands, he flinched. He stayed true to his character and voted “present.”

Two debacles of the past were probably foremost in his mind and in the mind of David Axelrod, who was probably involved in decision-making during the attack: Desert One and Mogadishu. Desert One was a U.S. rescue attempt in Iran in 1980 that ended in humiliating failure, and contributed to the building narrative that President Jimmy Carter was not up to the job of the presidency. Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993 handed the U.S. military and President Bill Clinton a humiliating public-relations defeat in what turned out to be an early battle against al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden later turned Mogadishu into a rallying point, using it to cast America as a “paper tiger” that would run from a real fight. Both Desert One and Mogadishu happened under Democratic presidents, both began as military rescues, and both were failures. Desert One helped cost President Carter his job. Benghazi threatened to cost Barack Obama his.

The night of the Benghazi attack, Obama had command authority and responsibility in his hands, and he froze. His inexperience in command — he never served in the military, and none of his close cabinet members ever served in the military — and his eye on the election owned his mind. He ordered the stand-down (an order which must ultimately have come from him as the commander-in-chief) to preserve his political narrative as best he could by avoiding any possibility of suffering both an undeniable terrorist attack and a Mogadishu catastrophe on his watch. He chose to let four Americans die rather than risk  sending in any rescue attempt, because the potential political optics were so dire. He chose to blame a movie for the same reason his Defense Department has chosen to call the Ft. Hood massacre “workplace violence” rather than a terrorist attack, which it was. Acknowledging the truth could destroy his precious narrative and cost him the election.

In this theory, then, Panetta, Obama and Clinton actually were communicating during the attack. Axelrod was also involved, which itself should be a scandal as he is not in the national security loop. He is a political adviser. But because of Obama’s actions during the battle and Clinton’s refusals to improve security before, they have chosen to lie to preserve their own respective political positions. Panetta, ever the party man, has played along to defend the Democratic Party from any consequences if Axelrod’s role is exposed. If they acknowledge that they were communicating during the attack, they acknowledge that Obama was in command and that he ultimately failed and left four Americans to die. Or, they acknowledge that he misread the attack so badly that he never bothered to authorize a rescue until it was too late, then ordered a stand-down to avoid a Mogadishu situation. They are covering up their collective failure to secure the U.S. mission before the attack, they are covering up Obama’s failure to send forces to the rescue that night, and they used the movie to prop up Obama’s crumbling al Qaeda narrative long enough to get past the election, which after all was only a few weeks away. In at least the latter, they succeeded.

This theory doesn’t account for everything, nor does it attempt to. It doesn’t account for why Stevens was in Benghazi that night, for instance, and it doesn’t account for why Clinton’s State Department left the mission so exposed. It doesn’t account for what the U.S. mission in Benghazi was doing, or whether it was involved in any way in the war in Syria. But it does try to account for Obama’s and Panetta’s and Clinton’s actions that night, which on their face make no sense.