Bizarre testimony on Libya
- By JOHN PODHORETZ
At yesterday’s incendiary, four-hour hearing in Washington, congressional Republicans ripped into two high-ranking State Department officials who struggled to explain away the administration’s utterly baffling behavior before and after the murder of four Americans in Benghazi on Sept. 11.
The spectacle was agonizing. The officials — Charlene Lamb and Patrick Kennedy — basically said everything they’d done before the terror assault and everything the administration had said afterward was appropriate, “based on what was known at the time.”
Lamb and Kennedy said they’d done the right thing as they sat next to two security experts who’d been on the ground in Benghazi and had desperately sought more assistance from the State Department — as had Ambassador Chris Stevens, up to the very day he was murdered.
Based on what they knew at the time.
Even more surprising, Kennedy acknowledged that he believed the murders were the result of a terrorist plan, rather than the aftermath of a spontaneous uprising against a YouTube video. But he then heatedly said he would’ve done exactly what UN Ambassador Susan Rice did when she went on the Sunday-morning chat shows and falsely asserted that the video was entirely to blame — based on what was known at the time.
Rice, they said, was acting on the intelligence that the State Department had at the time.
But that was not what was known at the time, at least not according to the reporting of Eli Lake of the Daily Beast and Anderson Cooper’s CNN team and James Rosen at Fox News.
It was a surety, even by the time Rice did her Sunday press tour, that this had been a staged assault — not a monstrous improvisatory riot.
It’s unclear why these career civil servants, who are not beholden to the president for their employment, felt it necessary to defend an Obama appointee’s shockingly misleading and now entirely discredited talking points — especially since they said they hadn’t been coached on what to say before the House committee.
It was even less clear why Charlene Lamb, the official in charge of the security protocols at embassies, seemed to find it almost painful even to speak to the words “terror” and “terrorist” when asked to sum up her views of the case.
Democrats on the committee tried to make the case that the Republicans were playing election-year politics, and of course they were right to some degree.
But playing election-year politics is also how this all got started one month ago today.
The Obama administration made what was, in retrospect, one of the most bafflingly stupid political decisions in recent history when it decided to take the Sept. 11 anti-American riots across the greater Middle East and ascribe them to that nefarious YouTube video.
And it was a political decision — borne out of the administration’s hope and wish and desire to proclaim that al Qaeda had been decimated and that the threat of world terrorism had receded because of the president’s drone strikes and his order to kill Osama bin Laden.
That might have seemed like a nice talking point, but it was instantly rendered meaningless by the breaching of our embassy in Cairo and the murders in Libya.
The smart political play would’ve been the right moral and leadership play as well.
It would’ve been for the president to come out of the White House immediately and say, “Terrorists are again testing America’s resolve. They have slain four of our bravest public servants. Their evil will not stand. We will not be attacked. We will prevail.”
The nation would’ve rallied around him. Democrats would’ve cheered. More to the point, politically, Republicans would have thrown up their hands and despaired at their chances in November, given that the president was reinforcing his status as commander in chief with an unimpeachable call for vigilance and toughness.
Instead, Obama and his people went for the YouTube play. In so doing, they not only deceived the American people and inappropriately deferred blame, they inflicted on themselves an entirely unnecessary wound.
And what should be even more distressing for them and for their supporters, they should have understood this would be the case based on what they knew at the time.