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Permanent Spin

Oct 1, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 03 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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The same thing happened less than six months later, after Faisal Shahzad attempted to blow up his Nissan Pathfinder in Times Square. Two days following the botched attack, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano took to the Sunday shows to dismiss reports of a conspiracy and insisted that the attempted bombing was just a “one-off” by a single attacker. It wasn’t. A week later, after much of the information had leaked, Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged that the United States had “evidence that shows that the Pakistani Taliban was behind the attack. We know that they helped facilitate it, we know that they probably helped finance it and that he was working at their direction.”

In each instance, top administration officials quickly downplayed or dismissed the seriousness of the events, only to acknowledge, after the shock had worn off and the media had turned to other news, that their initial stories were incorrect. Whether it was because the attempted attacks were unsuccessful or because the media simply lost interest, the administration largely escaped serious criticism for making claims that turned out to be wrong.

They’ve had mixed success this time. On the one hand, as the final elements of the administration’s story began to unravel in the middle of last week, the New York Times did not find those facts fit to print. On Thursday morning, the same day White House spokesman Jay Carney would finally admit that the Benghazi assault was “a terrorist attack,” the Times did not publish a story about Libya. It wasn’t as though it took serious digging to find the contradictions. One day earlier, Fox News had reported that intelligence officials were investigating the possibility that a former Guantánamo detainee had been involved in the attack. A story by Reuters raised questions about administration descriptions of the protests, noting “new information” that “suggests that the protests at the outset were so small and unthreatening as to attract little notice.” The story reported: “While many questions remain, the latest accounts differ from the initial information provided by the Obama administration, which had suggested that protests in front of the consulate over an anti-Islamic film had played a major role in precipitating the subsequent violent attack.” And CBS, as noted, reported that same day that there simply were no protests.

And what about the film? The Obama administration has sought to explain nearly everything that has happened over the past two weeks as a response to the video. President Obama denounced it during his remarks at the memorial for the four Americans killed in Libya. So did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. White House spokesman Jay Carney has mentioned it almost daily. At the end of last week, the United States spent $70,000 to buy ads in Pakistan to distance the U.S. government from its message.

That’s ironic. In its effort to deflect blame for the unrest, the administration has given more attention to this obscure film than it ever would have gotten if they’d simply ignored it. It’s true that radical Islamists used the film to help populate the 9/11 protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo. But they also told fellow radicals to join in a protest of the continued detention of Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheikh who was behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. And some of the others who gathered were “Ultras”—soccer hooligans looking for trouble.

The American embassy in Cairo first drew attention to the film in its statement. And the administration—after initially distancing itself from that statement—has made it the centerpiece of its public relations campaign ever since, as protests spread to more than 20 countries. The result: Every Muslim with access to media is now aware of a bizarre video that had a few thousand views on YouTube on September 10.

That’s exactly what the radicals wanted, according to a U.S. intelligence official familiar with the reporting on Egypt. The focus on the film was an “information operation” by jihadists designed to generate rage against America. If he’s right, it worked.

Barack Obama came to office promising to repair relations with the Islamic world. What he couldn’t accomplish by the mere fact of his presidency, through his name and his familiarity with Islam, he would achieve through “smart diplomacy.”

Instead, over the last four years, and particularly the last two weeks, the defining characteristics of his foreign policy have been mendacity, incompetence, and, yes, stupidity.

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