But why would furor over an obscure, months-old Internet video just happen to coincide with the 9/11 anniversary attack? Do demonstrators customarily bring along rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and heavy machine guns? Why did the Libyan government attribute the killings to an al-Qaeda affiliate when the Obama administration would not?
Forget those questions: For most of September, desperate administration officials still clung to the myth that the Libyan catastrophe was a result of a single obnoxious video. At the United Nations, the president castigated the uncouth film. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lamented the senseless spontaneous violence that grew out of one American's excesses, as she spoke beside the returning coffins of the slain Americans.
Nonetheless, more disturbing facts kept emerging: Ambassador Stevens repeatedly had warned his State Department superiors in vain of impending Islamist violence. Security personnel -- to no avail -- had also urged beefing up the protection of the consulate, prompting former regional security officer Eric Nordstrom to say in exasperation that "the Taliban is on the inside of the building." Video of the attack revealed that there had been no demonstration at all, but rather a full-fledged terrorist assault.
Even as the fantasy of a spur-of-the-moment demonstration dissipated, administration officials tried to salvage it -- and with it their idealistic policy in the Middle East. Vice President Joe Biden told a flat-out whopper in last week's debate, saying the administration hadn't been informed that Americans in Libya had ever requested more security. He scapegoated the intelligence agencies for supposedly failing to warn the administration of the threat.
The new administration narrative faulted not one video, but the intelligence community for misleading them about the threat of an al-Qaeda hit on an American consulate -- and the Romney campaign for demanding answers about a slain ambassador and his associates. Meanwhile, the State Department, the Obama re-election team and the intelligence community were all pointing fingers at each other.
What the Obama administration could not concede was the truth: The lead-from-behind intervention in Libya had proved a blueprint for nothing. Libya has descended into chaos. Radical Islam had either subverted or hijacked the Arab Spring. Al-Qaeda was not dismantled by the death of bin Laden or by the stepped-up drone assassination missions in Pakistan. Egypt was becoming Islamist; Syria was a bloody mess. Iran was on the way to becoming nuclear. Obama had won America no more good will in the Middle East than had prior presidents.
In other words, the administration's entire experience in Libya -- and in most of the Middle East in general -- has been a bright and shining lie.