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Benghazi: The Obama spin continues

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. says the administration is still misleading the American public about what happened at the consulate in Libya

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

8:00 AM EDT, May 12, 2013

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"Bumps in the road." — President Barack Obama on the unrest in Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East that included the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, an information officer, and two Navy SEALS.

"Crude and disgusting"… "an insult"… "blasphemy"… "[its message] must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity." — President Obama on the infamous anti-Muslim videotape that was originally blamed for the Benghazi terror attacks.

Benghazi happened "a long time ago." — White House spokesman Jay Carney on May 2, 2013.

"What difference, at this point, does it make?" — Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (on the causes of the consulate attacks).

Readers of this column recognize I am not a fan of conspiracy/cover-up theories. There are usually plenty of (substantive) reasons why a politician should be supported or opposed without getting into unsubstantiated allegations or disprove-able theories. But the record reflects that the American public has been misled about the events of Sept. 11 in Benghazi, Libya.

So why does the Obama administration continue its campaign to minimize a terror attack on an American consulate that killed a sitting U.S. ambassador? And why the lack of repercussions from a populace that tends to draw lines in the sand when misled by the federal government?

Political pundits from the right and left have advanced different explanations, but I herewith submit four rationales for your consideration:

1. The attacks inconveniently contradicted the Obama administration's campaign narrative about how the death of Osama bin Laden signaled the beginning of the end for al-Qaida;

2. The Obama re-election effort needed a convenient "sounds good when you say it real fast" explanation for Benghazi in the days leading up to what everyone envisioned would be a close presidential election;

3. The last thing candidate-in-waiting Hillary Clinton wants is to be continually reminded about her State Department's complicity in failing to protect an ambassador who had repeatedly requested additional security for his minimally protected consulate; or

4. Parts of all of the above.

On the basis of what we know today, I choose No. 4.

No. 1 fits the administration's initial post-bin Laden narrative about how al-Qaida and its progeny were "on the run" and how an Obama-approved drone campaign had reduced the terror organization to a shadow of its former self. Rhetoricians among you will note that the president eliminated the "on the run" line from his campaign stump speech in the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks.

No. 2 fits because the phoniness of the now completely discredited "disgusting video" cover story would not come to light until after the election. Indeed, the apologetic, remorseful tone of those early video condemnations from the American president and his secretary of state might look pretty silly today. (Recall Ms. Clinton's emotional promise to the father of slain Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods that the videographer would be "arrested" and "punished.") But everyone sure bought the story line in the days and weeks after the attack.

Also, No. 2 falls well within the Obama-inspired effort to convince us that America is not truly engaged in an extended war against Muslim jihadists who wish to impose their bizarre interpretation of Islam on the world. (Remember the "workplace violence" moniker given to the Fort Hood killings, the goofy "overseas contingency operations" label assigned to what may be a nonconventional but nonetheless very real war, and the insistence that domestic terror attacks be handled within the criminal justice system rather than through military tribunals.)

No. 3 makes a lot of sense if Hillary is truly (quietly) putting together her 2016 presidential campaign. Recall her indignant responses (before House and Senate investigatory committees) to charges that the administration was dilatory in preparation and response to the attacks on the diplomatic compound. She also denied having seen repeated requests for additional security from her Libya team and any involvement in the crafting of Susan Rice's Sunday morning news show talking points memo in which the attack was linked to the anti-Muslim video.

So, the former secretary of state deems the matter sufficiently investigated and is now ready to move on. In one respect, she has a point: Post-Benghazi stonewalling and government negligence in failing to protect the lives of the U.S. ambassador and his senior staff proved to be a non-issue in the November election. But it shouldn't have been.

Last week's whistle-blower hearings showed that putting politics aside in political Washington is almost impossible. It was Republicans on offense and Democrats on defense, as expected. But maybe enough suspicions have arisen that we may finally receive the whole story on the Benghazi murders, including what the president and secretary of state actually did that day and night. Four grieving American families deserve it. The rest of us deserve it, too.

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and the author of "Turn this Car Around," a book about national politics. His email is ehrlichcolumn@gmail.com.

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