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Attacks 'Grew Spontaneously Out of a Video Protest'

5:50 PM, Oct 17, 2012 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Dave Weigel at Slate corrects me on an entry in my long Benghazi rhetoric timeline today.

He quotes from my piece:

On September 18, one week after the attack, David Letterman asked Obama whether the attack was an act of war. The president once again invoked the video produced by a “shadowy character” and said “this caused great offense in much of the Muslim world.” He said nothing about a terrorist attack and tied the incidents in Benghazi directly to the film. 

This, Weigel writes, is “completely misleading.” And he’s right. I was wrong.

Obama did indeed say something about a terrorist attacks.

You had a video that was released by somebody who lives here, sort of a shadowy character who -- who is an extremely offensive video directed at -- at Mohammed and Islam, making fun of the Prophet Mohammed. This caused great offence, uh, in much of the much of the Muslim world. Uh, but what also happened was extremists and terrorists used this as an excuse to attack a variety of our embassies.

That’s my mistake. And in a debate which turns on specificity of language, nothing is more important than accurately rendering what the two sides have said.

My point, very poorly made, was that Obama once again emphasized the video and passed on an opportunity to very clearly declare: What happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack.

It seems clear that the White House wanted to avoid this kind of statement until it had no choice – after National Counterterrorism Center head Matthew Olsen said under oath that it was a terrorist attack.

And on that point, I can add something to the timeline that makes that even clearer. American Crossroads highlights something from the 9/20/12 gaggle with Jay Carney that I’d been told (before the gaggle was transcribed) was off-the-record.  

Carney says twice that his use of the phrase “terrorist attack” was new for the White House. And, as I point out in my longer timeline, reporters hearing this from the White House certainly regarded it as “news” – and did again a week later when Carney was asked to clarify that it was the president, and not just his spokesman, who believed that the Benghazi assault was a terrorist attack.  

Weigel runs into his own problems later, though, when he claims that Susan Rice, like Obama, “never suggested that the falsehood that the Libya attacks grew spontaneously out of a video protest.” Weigel points to her interview on ABC to back up his contention:

We believe that folks in Benghazi, a small number of people came to the embassy to -- or to the consulate, rather, to replicate the sort of challenge that was posed in Cairo. And then as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons, weapons that as you know in -- in the wake of the revolution in Libya are -- are quite common and accessible. And it then evolved from there.

If Rice didn’t say that the attack “grew spontaneously out of a video protest” in the section he quotes, it’s probably because she said it immediately before that. In fact, Rice said almost precisely what Weigel says she avoided saying.

When Jake Tapper ask Rice about Benghazi, she said:

Our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous – not a premeditated – response to what had transpired in Cairo. In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated.

So the attacks “grew spontaneously out of a video protest.”

In short, there’s no question the Obama administration sought to downplay for more than a week what the intelligence demonstrated clearly: Benghazi was a premeditated, highly organized terrorist attack conducted by al Qaeda-linked terrorists.

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