Putting Benghazi in context

My initial impression of the murderous attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was probably similar to yours. A horrific incident. A security failure. Another example of radical Islamic overreaction to the most tepid of incidents — in this case, an amateurish, offensive video about Islam.

I believed Ambassador Susan Rice as she peddled the video story during her Sunday TV appearances on Sept. 16. I believed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she repeatedly cited the video as the incendiary element behind the "spontaneous demonstration," going so far as to condemn the video on a paid ad broadcast to the Muslim world. And I believed the president as he (also repeatedly) blamed the video before a worldwide audience at the United Nations. Parenthetical note: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney did not make this list. I typically do not believe much of anything from him.


I continued to carry these initial impressions into early October. But developments over the past month have convinced me that either something went terribly wrong in the chain of command, or there is an ongoing political cover-up, given the relevance of the story to the president's reelection campaign — or both.

We now know that in the immediate aftermath of the attack, the president of Libya believed it to be "pre-planned, pre-determined"; that three calls for assistance went up the chain of command during the attack; that a known al-Qaida affiliate took responsibility for the attack that very night; that a CIA drone fed the entire seven-hour firefight back to the White House Situation Room; that deadly mortar fire (not exactly a normal tool of "mobs") killed two Americans on a compound rooftop; that the father of slain American Tyrone Woods says Hillary Clinton told him that we would "prosecute [that person] who did the video"; and that many members of Congress had serious concerns regarding the initial Benghazi briefing conducted by the heretofore untouchable CIA Chief David Petraeus.


In numerous recent columns, I have made the point that stories (either accurate or not) tend to enjoy extended shelf lives when they fit into a pre-existing narrative. Such is evident in the White House's relentless attack on Mitt Romney's "47 percent" comment; such a statement paved the way for the president's campaign to perpetuate the image of an un-empathetic corporate raider with little concern for the middle class.

Republicans have articulated a different narrative in the case of an Obama White House possessing a strong predisposition against using the phrase "terror war" or "terror attack" — even when the phrase clearly applies.

Witness the administration's ridiculous attempt to label the Fort Hood shootings "workplace violence." Well, it was workplace violence — but conducted by a Muslim extremist who shouted "Allahu akbar" as he commenced the coldblooded murder of 13 Americans. Additional note: The shooter (Army Major Nidal Hasan) has been praised as a "hero" by the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, he of Sept. 11 infamy.

Other Obama administration storylines support the indictment: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's appalling attempt to replace the term "terrorism" with a new, more politically correct phrase: "man-caused disaster"; the administration's claim that al-Qaida and its allies are "on the run" despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary; the president's indulgent rhetoric during his 2009-2010 Muslim-centric apology tour; and the Obama/Clinton determination to "reset" relations with heretofore hostile regimes "without preconditions."

Piece it all together, and there you have it: a narrative that provides context to the administration's rapidly-falling-apart storyline on Benghazi.

Some in the mainstream media have attempted to minimize the administration's Benghazi missteps as the product of understandable confusion given the "fog of war." Others see a Fox News hatchet job on a vulnerable Democratic incumbent president. Hopefully, most will at least ask themselves why a now-discredited explanation about a video few have ever seen was so feverishly peddled to the American public — and the world.

An American ambassador and three other Americans are dead. Inexplicably, one of the most dangerous consulates (and most vulnerable ambassadors) in the world lacked a Marine detail. A no-name amateur filmmaker is still being held in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Detention Center without bond. Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice remain silent.

The American people deserve the truth, Vegas fundraisers and important elections notwithstanding.


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, the author of "Turn this Car Around" — a book about national politics — and Maryland chairman for the Romney presidential campaign. His email is