The slow release of solid information about the attack is politically and institutionally corrosive. Speculations and rumors magnify the corrosive effects, but the rumors are spurred by the Obama administration's troubling reluctance to answer legitimate questions still unanswered 50 days after the attack.
The administration's reluctance compounds the damaging effects of its insistence that an anti-Muslim Internet video, the product of a California crank, incited anti-American violence in Egypt and Libya. In what political opponents characterize as a guilty echo of Richard Nixon's pliable accounts of Watergate, the Obama administration's video-did-it narrative has become "non-operative" regarding Benghazi. President Barack Obama himself now claims he called the incident a terror attack on Sept. 12, but his claim relies on a very generous parsing of his Rose Garden statement. The Washington Post's media blog concluded, "... reporting that the president referred to an 'act of terrorism' (on Sept. 12) appears to overstep the factual terrain."
Obama hedged on Sept. 12. For another week, senior administration officials continued to condemn the video, leaving the public with the definite impression that the Benghazi assault was spontaneous and the video, protected by America's fundamental commitment to free expression, incited explicable anger. On Sept. 18, White House press secretary Jay Carney asserted that the video "precipitated some of the unrest in Benghazi." If the video played a role, then America was somehow at fault.
Why would the administration insinuate a video directly, and America indirectly, were to blame for Benghazi? In 2009, Obama intimated that his presidency would dramatically change Arab Muslim perceptions of America. His sympathetic political appeals to Muslims were "smart diplomacy" that would dampen militant hostility. His America no longer waged a War on Terror, but conducted an "overseas contingency operation." Though he has never equated killing Osama bin Laden with defeating al-Qaida, Obama has insistently touted that raid and his administration's aggressive Predator drone attacks on al-Qaida as evidence that he has weakened al-Qaida.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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