, Salem, MA

October 18, 2012

Libyan attack deserves broader probe

The Salem News

---- — The Obama administration has done a poor job keeping its story straight on the Libya consulate attack. Americans deserve a better explanation of what occurred, and why the U.S. ambassador’s concerns over security were ignored.

First, the story was that the attack on the Benghazi consulate that resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans was a disorganized protest by some devout Muslims over a crackpot’s film clip that insulted Islam. The administration stuck to this story, despite mounting evidence that the attack involved a large number of assailants, armed with heavy weapons, including mortars and engaged in reasonably sophisticated tactics.

Then, a crucial piece of information was uncovered by a reporter who ventured into the destroyed consulate — the reporter found Stevens’ diary, which laid out his concerns over security. This discovery quickly changed the direction of statements being made by our government to the American people.

Not until nearly a month after the attack, which came on the Sept. 11 anniversary, did the administration finally and conclusively acknowledge that this was a terrorist assault. And this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted full blame for the security problem.

But Clinton’s statements don’t put the matter to rest. That the Obama administration tried to pass off a preplanned, coordinated terrorist attack on an American consulate as nothing more than an expression of Muslim street rage over a homemade film is insulting to the American people.

The Obama administration and the State Department ignored repeated warnings from the ambassador and his staff that security there was inadequate.

Eric Nordstrom, the top U.S. regional security official in Libya, testified before the House Oversight Committee that requests for additional security were denied by the State Department to assuage Libyan political sensitivity.

“All of us at post were in sync that we wanted these resources,” Nordstrom testified, as reported in Foreign Policy magazine.

“For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building,” he said.

At the same time, State Department officials insisted security at the Benghazi consulate was adequate.

“We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi at the time of 9/11,” said Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary for diplomatic security.

Four dead Americans argue against that assessment. The reduction of the consulate to a smoldering ruin and the murder of our ambassador suggest that security was not adequate.

This debacle demands answers. Why were the requests of our diplomats in Libya for more security denied? Who placed more weight on Libyan sensibilities than our diplomats’ safety? Who failed to recognize that 9/11 is a likely time for terrorist strikes? When did the president know the truth about the attack, and did he keep that information from the American people?

According to Obama campaign officials and its supporters, these questions should not even be asked.

Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, insisted last week that the “entire reason” the Benghazi attack is in the news is because the Romney-Ryan campaign keeps talking about it.

“It’s a big part of their stump speech, and it’s reckless and irresponsible,” Cutter said in a CNN interview.

Similarly, Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz told CNN’s Piers Morgan that it’s “un-American” for Republicans to be questioning the president on his Libyan disaster.

Republicans strategists such as Rudy Giuliani have admitted the Libya issue is one that the Romney campaign can score political points from, and therefore attacks on this issue against Obama will continue.

So, not surprisingly, politics is at play. But talking about a foreign policy blunder during a presidential campaign isn’t “reckless and irresponsible.” It’s how the American people sort out which candidate is best qualified to run the nation.

It is “fair game.” Americans deserve to know whether safety at other embassies is being sacrificed in order to artificially soothe tensions.