Trying desperately to defend the Obama State Department's Benghazi failure on the day when House hearings in the fiasco commence, TIME's Joe Klein took to his keyboard on May 8 to hack out a 9-paragraph post about how "Republicans Are Still Chasing Their Tails on Benghazi."
Back in November, you may recall, my colleague Mark Finkelstein noted how Klein was gobbling up Obama talking points on the fiasco "like Thanksgiving turkey." Well, Klein's still at it, right down to his suggestion that the Benghazi consulate compound was under siege on September 11 because of a YouTube video (emphasis mine):
It does seem that the Administration’s talking points were massaged a bit after the President’s candor. This may have been attributable to the presidential campaign and the Administration’s desire to low-ball the Al Qaeda threat. If so, this was a venial, not a mortal, sin. It affected not one life. More likely, though, the wording was scrubbed as a result of the nature of the investigation going on at the time–it may have been deemed premature to announce that it was a pre-meditated act of terror. Perhaps the local militia lucked into a situation where they showed up at the consulate and found very little security protection. Hard to say. There were protests all over the middle east that night, ginned up by jihadis using the excuse of a near-unseen anti-Muslim You Tube video.
But as the New York Daily News noted on Sunday, May 5:
Greg Hicks, the highest-ranking American official after the attack, told the House Oversight Committee, "I never reported a demonstration; I reported an attack on the consulate. Chris (Stevens’) last report was ... 'Greg, we are under attack.'”
"I think everybody in the mission thought it was a terrorist attack from the beginning,” Hicks said, according to interviews obtained by CBS News. “For there to have been a demonstration on Chris Stevens' front door and him not to have reported it is unbelievable.”
For his part, Klein insists that the Obama administration from day one was insisting that the attack on the consulate was, in fact, a terrorist attack:
They’re mostly concerned that the Obama Administration tried to cover up the fact that this was a terrorist attack by a local militia (translation: local street gang) which aspired toward bad-butt Al Qaeda status. This is a pretty hard sell since, the day after the attack, the President called it an “act of terror.”
Yes, the president, in passing, suggested the attack on the Benghazi compound as an "act of terror" in a September 12 Rose Garden statement. But in a written White House press statement released earlier that day, the word "terror" was absent and the brief item suggested that the attack was a spontaneous explosion of violence fueled by a protest of a YouTube video that denigrated Islam's founder Muhammad. That statement reads (emphasis mine):
I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Right now, the American people have the families of those we lost in our thoughts and prayers. They exemplified America's commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives.
I have directed my Administration to provide all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe. While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.
On a personal note, Chris was a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States. Throughout the Libyan revolution, he selflessly served our country and the Libyan people at our mission in Benghazi. As Ambassador in Tripoli, he has supported Libya's transition to democracy. His legacy will endure wherever human beings reach for liberty and justice. I am profoundly grateful for his service to my Administration, and deeply saddened by this loss.
The brave Americans we lost represent the extraordinary service and sacrifices that our civilians make every day around the globe. As we stand united with their families, let us now redouble our own efforts to carry their work forward.
What's more, of course, we all know that Amb. Susan Rice was tasked on September 16 in forwarding the administration's spin that the Benghazi attack was not premeditated. It's hard to imagine Klein finding such discredited spin a "venial sin" were Rice's first name Condoleezza and this incident occurred during the Bush administration.
Of course, as we have learned since September 12 from physical evidence left behind, especially those of mortar attacks upon the compound, there's no way that the deadly attack on the consulate was a spontaneous event:
Rex Ubben, 60, said he was a 24-year Air Force veteran who retired in 1995 as master sergeant. He was based at various U.S. embassies. Since retiring, he has been a computer programmer for several banks.
He said David Ubben described the violence on Sept. 11 as "obviously an attack and not a riot," and sketched out what appeared to be a sophisticated mortar attack during the second wave of the assault. That took place at another compound where U.S. and Libyan personnel retreated, and resulted in the death of Doherty and Woods.
"What I wanted to know was whether the second part of the attack was pre-planned. The first (mortar) dropped 50 yards short and the next two were right on target," he said, adding his son "was not conscious for any more."
"This indicates to me that someone was either very, very good, highly trained and skilled, or that the mortar was already set up and pointed at the safe house and only minor adjustments were needed," he said.
In the midst of attacking Republicans for cravenly politicizing a tragedy, Klein himself, well, attacked Republicans as sharing blame for the deaths of four Americans that fateful day last September:
But let’s say the street gang had been casing the joint in advance. Who’s to blame for the lax security? This is the real substance of the case. Could it have been the Secretary of State? Undoubtedly, no. This sort of question is well below her pay grade. Could it have been the person in charge of embassy security issues? More likely, and that person resigned after the subsequent investigations…and even that might have been unfair for two reasons. Security was up to the Ambassador and Chris Stevens was well known for erring on the side of greater public access to U.S. facilities. Or, more plausibly, reason number two…
Could it have been the Republicans who consistently voted against funds for increased embassy security? Hmmm…that makes their current carping seem awfully political, doesn’t it? Again, sins of politics are not mortal. But one does wonder why the Republicans tend to fix on issues like this, which are defined by their absence of substance. (I haven’t noticed the Republicans clamoring to spend more on embassy security–which would be a matter of substance, happily embraced by the Administration.But that would require a budget deal, which would give the President a win.)
The optimal amount of funding for diplomatic security is, of course, a separate issue. It is the responsibility of the Secretary of State and ultimately the president to prioritize and allocate security resources within the constraints laid upon them by Congress.
Libya was and remains a country with a fragile, interim government in a dangerous part of the globe. The late Ambassador Stevens requested additional security from the State Department, which was denied. That is beyond dispute and the blame for which thoroughly lies on the doorstep of the Obama White House and the Clinton State Department. Additionally, in the months preceding the attack, both British diplomats and the Red Cross left Benghazi precisely because it was incredibly dangerous, as the New York Times reported in October:
Much of the security depended on maintaining a low profile. When venturing into town, the Americans drove a Toyota Land Cruiser, from which they removed the diplomatic plates and which they intentionally did not wash. At one point, Mr. Nordstrom, the regional security officer, proposed establishing guard towers, but the State Department rejected that on the grounds that it would make the compound more conspicuous.
There was no doubt, however, that there were many in Benghazi who knew the compound’s location. On June 6, a bomb was planted near the American Mission’s outer wall, blowing out a 12-foot-wide hole. No one was injured.
On June 11, the lead vehicle of the British ambassador’s convoy was hit by an armor-piercing rocket-propelled grenade, wounding a British medic and driver. The British envoy left Benghazi the next day, and the British post in the city was closed on June 17.
About the same time, the Red Cross in the city pulled out after it was attacked a second time. “When that occurred, it was apparent to me that we were the last flag flying in Benghazi; we were the last thing on their target list to remove,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, the head of the military security team in Tripoli.