Home » News
Home » News

Lessons from Benghazi

Published October 14, 2012 4:51 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The following editorial appeared in Friday's Washington Post:

On Sept. 11 and for days afterward, U.S. embassies in Cairo and in many other Muslim capitals were besieged by demonstrators protesting an anti-Muslim video they believed was a U.S. product. President Barack Obama and the State Department were right to respond to those protests by condemning the video as well as the violence, and by defending free speech rights.

We now know, however, that an attack on two U.S. installations in Benghazi, Libya, on the night of Sept. 11, which killed ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, was not related to those protests. Instead, it was an organized terrorist attack by scores of heavily armed militants who overwhelmed five U.S. diplomatic security agents, a rapid-response force, and two or three members of a Libyan militia. Though the assault was probably staged by a local extremist group, U.S. officials now believe that the North African chapter of al-Qaida may have been involved.

The coincidence of these events led to some confused assessments and even more confused rhetoric by the Obama administration, which initially described the Libya attacks as growing out of a protest of the video. Obama, who has been boasting on the campaign trail that "al-Qaida is on its heels," was particularly slow to publicly recognize what happened; asked on Sept. 25 whether a terrorist attack had taken place, he responded that "we are still doing an investigation" — even though Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had labeled it terrorism four days earlier.

Republican claims that the administration has engaged in a deliberate coverup of what happened on Sept. 11 are nevertheless overblown. In a House hearing Wednesday, GOP representatives offered no evidence that their favorite target, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, deliberately hid the truth on Sept. 16, when she described the attack in television interviews as the outgrowth of a protest against the video. Rather, testimony by Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy, who said Rice's account was based on intelligence reports, was credible.

At the same time, GOP House investigators have helped make clear that the Benghazi attack should have come as no surprise to the U.S. mission — and that it was preceded by terrible decisions about security. Though extremist militants were known to be operating in the Benghazi area, only a tiny force protected the U.S. compound; the State Department denied a request by the regional security officer to hold over a 16-member military squad that had been protecting the embassy in Tripoli.

In an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, Obama acknowledged that "the information may not have always been right the first time." He added that "the "bottom line is . . . I want us to get the folks who did it, and I want us to figure out what are the lessons learned." That's the right focus — and it's what Congress should hold the administration accountable for.




Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
comments powered by Disqus