The lead editorials in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal today offer stinging critiques of the Obama administration’s handling of Benghazi.
The Post notes that what happened in Benghazi “increasingly looks like a major security failure” and argues, “sooner or later the administration must answer questions” about that failure and “the policies that led to it.”
Why was there a security failure at the consulate, and how did U.S. forces in Libya and outside the country respond to the emergency? The result is a host of unanswered questions.
Following a single background briefing, the State Department has mostly refused to respond to inquiries about Benghazi, citing an ongoing investigation by a review board. But considerable evidence has emerged that Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who died in the attack, and his security staff were deeply concerned about what they considered to be inadequate security. Fox News reported this week that a secret cable described an Aug. 15 “emergency meeting” at the consulate, at which the State Department’s regional security officer “expressed concerns with the ability to defend Post in the event of a coordinated attack due to limited manpower, security measures, weapons capabilities, host nation support and the overall size of the compound.”
Fox reported that the cable, dispatched to Washington, said the emergency meeting included a briefing about al-Qaeda training camps in the Benghazi area and Islamist militias, including those that allegedly carried out the Sept. 11 attack. In another cable on Sept. 11, hours before the attack, Mr. Stevens described “growing problems with security” in Benghazi and “growing frustration” with the local militias and police, to which the State Department had entrusted the consulate’s defense. Separately, according to a report on ForeignPolicy.com, Mr. Stevens may have dispatched a letter to Benghazi authorities, complaining that a policeman assigned to guard the consulate was photographing it on the morning of Sept. 11.
The Journal argues that the Obama administration has sought to avoid accountability by offering “evasive, inconsistent and conflicting accounts about one of the most serious American overseas defeats in recent years.” The editorial continues: “Unresolved questions about Benghazi loom over this election because the White House has failed to resolve them.”
Among those unanswered questions: “Why did the U.S. not heed warnings about a growing Islamist presence in Benghazi and better protect the diplomatic mission and CIA annex?” And: “What exactly happened on the day of 9/11? During the over six hours that the compounds in Benghazi were under siege, could the U.S. have done more to save lives?” And: “What was President Obama doing and ordering his subordinates to do in those fateful hours? Why has the Administration's story about what took place in Benghazi been so haphazard and unclear?”
These questions, and many others, need answers. The administration has managed to avoid providing them for nearly eight weeks, with a much needed assist from a suddenly lack of curiosity among the truth-seeking journalists at many of America’s most influential news outlets. Perhaps after the election that curiosity will return.