David vs. Goliath

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After two months of misleading and conflicting White House statements explaining the Benghazi fiasco, more questions have been raised than have been answered. No one should be astonished, therefore, that the recent resignation of CIA Director, David Petraeus, a central figure in the controversy, would be any different in its effects. Only days after the presidential election and only days before he was scheduled to testify at Senate and House Intelligence Committees hearings, the revelation of an extramarital affair abruptly forced Petraeus to step down.

The affair was discovered during an FBI investigation that began in June 2012. Mr. Petraeus first learned of the investigation on September 14. Since the affair had ended in July, Petraeus knew there was no blackmail threat. And he would have known there was no security threat — that no classified information had been leaked to his paramour. Thus, on October 29, Petraeus was not surprised when he was told by the FBI that he would not be charged. Indeed, according to the Washington Post, he planned to stay at his job, believing that his affair, now known to the FBI and Attorney General Eric Holder, would never become known to the public.

Petraeus' adulterous episode had nothing to do with Benghazi — except for the date, September 14. That was the day when, in briefings to both the House and the Senate oversight committees, Mr. Petraeus described the Benghazi attack in a manner consistent with the administration's video-incited mob story. Why would the director of the CIA mislead Congress? As Charles Krauthammer observed, “Here’s a man who knows the administration holds his fate in its hands and he gives testimony completely at variance with what the Secretary of Defense had said the day before, at variance with what you’d heard from the station chief in Tripoli, and with everything that we had heard. Was he influenced by the fact that he knew his fate was held by people in the administration at that time?”

Why would the FBI wait until election day to inform the director of national intelligence about an investigation the Justice Department had decided not to pursue weeks earlier?

Evidently satisfied that the Obama administration would protect him, Petraeus traveled to Libya, where he conducted his own review of the attack. He told friends that he was looking forward to testifying before Congress. But on the day President Obama was reelected, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told him to resign.

Why would the FBI wait until election day to inform Clapper about an investigation the Justice Department had decided not to pursue weeks earlier? We are expected to believe that, with the election approaching and almost daily reports pointing fingers of blame at the CIA, it was a trivial matter, not worthy of notifying Congress or the president himself. But as soon as the polls closed, it somehow became critically important for Petraeus to resign. The post-election usefulness of Petraeus is now a White House secret, tightly held by Eric Holder and Barack Obama.

President Obama secured his second term by cynically pushing campaign-damaging problems such as the Benghazi investigations past the election (to name a few others: Fast and Furious, the WARN Act lay-off announcements, the Iranian attack on a US drone, the additional flexibility for Vladimir Putin, the Fiscal Cliff, and the debt ceiling). The Benghazi debacle alone could have ruined his chances.

Prior to the Benghazi attack, the White House promoted President Obama as a bin Laden-slaying leader who had captivated the Arab Spring while deftly engineering widespread al Qaeda attrition. With Libyans ingratiated by Obama's conciliatory Middle East policies, Ambassador Stevens could attend diplomatic meetings and openings of cultural centers in Benghazi, unshackled by boorish security details. Everything was running smoothly. As we were told, often, “al Qaeda was on the run."

The attack revealed that nothing was running smoothly in Benghazi. The sanguine, fictional portrayal was abruptly contradicted by the ugly reality of the murders of Stevens and three other Americans — by terrorists. But President Obama and administration officials (Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, James Clapper, David Petraeus, and such surrogates as Jay Carney and Susan Rice) blamed unruly demonstrators, spontaneously provoked by a "disgusting and reprehensible" video. This was their story. They stuck with it for eight or more days.

Evidently, the president needs investigations to determine whether or not he gave an order on September 11, 2012.

Recall that during the attack and its immediate aftermath, intelligence information flooded the White House. There were reports from the Benghazi mission and the CIA station; real-time audio from the mission to Charlene Lamb at the State Department; real-time video from a Predator drone. All of it indicated organized terrorism. Navy SEAL Ty Woods certainly recognized a terrorist attack when he saw one. And there was a State Department email alert sent at 6:07 pm, less than two and a half hours after the attack began, stating, "Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibilty for Benghazi Attack." The FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center stated that the attack was executed by al Qaeda or al Qaeda-affiliated militias. Even Libyan President Mohammed Magarief called it a “pre-planned act of terrorism.”

Accordingly, the White House waspresented with the following possibilities for explaining the attack to the public: (A) planned attack by al Qaeda terrorists, (B) planned attack by al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists, (C) planned attack by terrorists of unknown affiliation, or (D) we don't know. Rejecting these explanations, the Obama national security team fabricated its own scenario — one of a spontaneous attack by neighborhood protestors. To account for the spontaneity aspect, it was embellished with the anti-Muslim video. No evidence of either the flash mob or the video was contained in any of the reports from Benghazi. Yet the White House went with the video-incensed flash mob story.

The Obama administration's duplicity in garnering credibility for this farce was such that the White House flagrantly altered information reported by Mr. Petraeus. In his testimony to Senate and House Intelligence Committee hearings last Friday (November, 16, 2012), Petraeus stated that on September 11, he immediately knew it was a terrorist attack and described it as such in his intelligence assessment. He further said that after providing the assessment to the White House as talking points, his reference to "al Qaeda-affiliated individuals' was replaced with the term ‘extremist organizations.’"

Why did the White House deliberately advance a synthesized story it knew to be false? Some have suggested fear that news of an al Qaeda attack would be viewed as foreign policy failure. But Mr. Obama believes that his "Light Footprint" strategy will prove the best approach to protecting US interests in the chaotic Middle East, dismissing incidents such as the Benghazi attack as "bumps in the road." It is more likely that the frantic clumsiness was driven by the fear that Obama's indecisiveness would be viewed as leadership failure. For example, an attack thought to be executed by protestors could be expected to end before military support would arrive. An attack thought to be executed by organized terrorists would be expected to last throughout the night (as it did, continuing to the CIA safe house — a facility that would be unknown to mere demonstrators), offering no excuse for refusing to send military forces immediately.

Indeed, it may be the cover-up of indecision that lies at the heart of the Washington DC side of Benghazi. The failure of a president motivated more by politics than concern for American lives had to be covered up at all costs. When their video-as-catalyst excuse began to crumble, the White House moved to a "fog of war" excuse that produced "conflicting accounts" from intelligence sources. With the White House shifting blame to the CIA, and the FBI investigating his romantic affair, David Petraeus may have sensed that he was becoming the scapegoat when, on October 26, he stated, through a CIA spokesperson, "No one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate.” If not Petraeus, who did decide against sending military assets to rescue the besieged Americans? Only the commander-in-chief has the authority to order military forces into another country.

Ironically, Petraeus appears to have been the most honest witness in the scandal— if only by Washington standards.

President Obama has said that he ordered his national security team to do whatever was needed to save American lives. However, what he actually did is another White House secret. In a recent press conference, in which he chastised Republican senators who criticized UN Ambassador Susan Rice for her role in disseminating the White House's anti-Islam video story, Obama said that "they should go after me" instead. But when asked (in the same press conference) what he had done to protect American lives in Benghazi, Obama had no answer, referencing investigations and muttering, "We will provide all the information that is available about what happened on that day." Evidently, the president needs investigations to determine whether or not he gave an order on September 11, 2012.

During the Intelligence Committee hearings, lawmakers sought to identify the individuals who replaced Petraeus' al Qaeda references, the apparent basis of Susan Rice's vigorous promotion of the video-incensed flash mob story. None in attendance (representatives of the State Department, Defense Department, intelligence community, and FBI) could say. The Obama administration, not represented at the hearings, knows. But it's not talking — still another White House secret.

Atthe second presidential debate with Mitt Romney on October 17, Obama — incredibly — said he knew on September 11 that it was a terrorist attack, but this was not a secret he had kept for over a month. It was something we all should have known since September 12, after parsing his Rose Garden comments that mentioned, generically, an act of terror.

David Petraeus, with career and marriage regrettably in shambles, is gone. Ironically, he appears to have been the most honest witness in the scandal, but only by Washington standards. He will likely be back for future hearings. But, given the deluge of Obama administration blame, excuses, and rebuffs to obscure the truth, use of his tarnished reputation to impugn his testimony would not be beneath White House tactics.

There is no urgency to uncover the truth, beyond that expressed by a handful of Republican Senators and Representatives. Democrats, none of whom have left the wagons encircling the president, excoriate them for “politicizing” the tragedy. And the media, for the most part, has disgracefully shown greater interest in distractions such as the sexual escapades of generals and the so-called Susan Rice attack than in the Benghazi attack and the four murdered Americans.

Future hearings, therefore, are likely to proceed at the same exasperatingly slow pace, but now burdened by White House secrets, under the shadow of plausible deniability. Constant, blatant deceit has been the essence of the White House Benghazi story.

Goliath is winning.




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Comments

Fred Mangels

Sorry. I see this as just business as usual. Shit happens and everybody tries to cover their ass. Haven't we seen this time and time again?

I don't understand why I seem to be the only one in the country who feels this way.

Visitor

Notwithstanding Fred Mangels's odd and cynical comment, this is a fine and informative article. Does Mr. Mangel believe that "business as usual," no matter how destructive and vicious it is, should never be reported on or commented on? Does he feel that the best way to combat dishonesty and incompetence in office is to simply shrug one's shoulders in world-weary exhaustion?

Jon Harrison

I kinda feel that way. But I'm still groping my way toward an understanding of the whole business. I'm just not sure where it all leads (assuming it leads anywhere).

Jon Harrison

The fact that the affair ended in July does not prevent blackmail in September. Obviously one can be blackmailed for past (rather that current) misbehavior.

How can you say that no classified information was leaked to Petreaus' girlfriend? We know she had lots of classified documents on her computer. That's being invetigated by the FBI right now.

These rather egregious errors aside, the article makes some important points. It seems that the Benghazi story must be either a tragedy of errors or a coverup ongoing. I'm not sure which it is, but I suspect the latter. Be that as it may, Benghazi is not going to become another Watergate, consuming the Obama presidency. Nor should it, despite the tragic deaths of four Americans. The American political system has undergone one crisis after another these last 50 years -- Dallas, 1968, Watergate, Iran-Contra, a presidential impeachment and trial, the 2000 election. Aother full blown crisis with a crippled presidency, at a time of worldwide political and economic distress, would do immense damage both here and abroad.

Stacey

REALLY?! This presidency is already crippled by corruption and incompetence, creating its' own crises one after the other. It was clear well before the election that "Benghazi" was criminally mishandled and being covered up.
Had the voting public paid even the slightest attention to the truth about this administration we would not be faced with four more years of the same.

Jon Harrison

"It was clear well before the election that 'Benghazi' was ciminally mishandled and being covered up."

REALLY?! You may be right, but how it can be
"clear" and yet no Republican has echoed your words escapes me.

Steve Murphy

Regarding the "egregious errors" comment, I agree with your statements about blackmail and classified leaks. Who wouldn't? But what I wrote did not disagree. I merely stated what Petraeus must have thought. If he thought that he had committed security violations or had become vulnerable to blackmail, he would not have expected, a month after he learned of the FBI's investigation, to stay on as CIA director.

Regarding your comment about Benghazi not becoming another Watergate, you seem to be saying that a president should not be investigated for acts that he is trying to cover up, provided those acts are performed "at a time of worldwide political and economic distress." If this is your opinion, I wholeheartedly disagree.

Johnimo

The damage is having a President who cannot decide to take all necessary action to defend his embassy and its ambassador. If he's exposed, perhaps he will react more appropriately next time. The damage is having a President whose crippled nature goes unexposed and uncorrected and uncriticized, becuase the enemy knows ful well just how little he did, they being there -- mostly unopposed -- you see.

Gary Jason

So we let cover-ups and presidential incompetence go un-investigated because it would cause distress? Funny, worry about distress never stopped investigations into past presidents--nor should it now. We survived the distress, and often uncovered real abuse of power. And, remember, nobody died in the Florida recount or the Watergate burglery. They did in this disaster, and we need to insure that our embassies are fully protected going forward.

Jon Harrison

The investigations will proceed, but as with Reagan in Iran-Contra, they will not be allowed to wreck a presidency. I'm just telling you, that's the way it is, whether you (or I) like it or not. And of course we don't know at this point if there's any real "there" there. We just don't have all the facts yet (and we may never have them). The assumptions and judgements of Murphy and Jason will detain their fans (and perhaps amuse a few others), but that's about as far as you'll get, I'm afraid.

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