The White House Line on Libya

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on September 22, 2012

As Winston Churchill might put it, the Obama administration’s statements on Libya have an unfortunate tendency to not coincide with the truth:

In the days following the killing of the U.S. ambassador and two ex-Navy SEALs, President Obama and top State Department officials portrayed the attack as a spontaneous reaction to an Internet video depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammad as a lascivious brute. The protests, White House spokesman Jay Carney said last week, were “in response to a video—a film—that we have judged to be reprehensible and disgusting.”

Now there is mounting evidence that the White House’s initial portrayal of the attacks as a mere outgrowth of protest was incorrect—or, at the very least, incomplete. The administration’s story itself has recently begun to shift, with Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center, telling Congress on Wednesday that the attackers may have had links to al Qaeda and Carney characterizing the incident as a “terrorist attack.” (Hillary Clinton announced on Thursday that she was putting together a panel to look into the incident.)

But other indications that the White House’s early narrative was faulty are also beginning to emerge. One current U.S. intelligence officer working on the investigation into the incident told The Daily Beast that the attackers had staked out and monitored the U.S. consulate in Benghazi before the attack, a move that suggests pre-planning.

What’s more, two U.S. intelligence officials told The Daily Beast that the intelligence community is currently analyzing an intercept between a Libyan politician whose sympathies are with al Qaeda and the Libyan militia known as the February 17 Brigade—which had been charged with providing local security to the consulate. In the intercept, the Libyan politician apparently asks an officer in the brigade to have his men stand down for a pending attack—another piece of evidence implying the violence was planned in advance. (Plenty of Libyans, of course, did try to protect the consulate. “Many of those Libyans died in the gunfight fighting off the attackers,” one of the officials said. “But there were some bad apples there as well.”)

It should now be clear to anyone with eyes to see and a brain to understand that the attack in Libya was premeditated. So here are the salient questions to consider:

  • Why did the Obama administration ignore warnings about the attack?
  • Why did the Obama administration claim after the attack that it wasn’t premeditated?
  • Why isn’t more of the media making a big deal out of this? Are we just supposed to pay attention to Mitt Romney’s tax returns, or can we consider the question of whether the president of the United States is as competent on the issues of foreign policy and national security as he claims to be?

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