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Responding to the Washington Post on Benghazi

5:50 PM, May 17, 2013 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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That is true. But it’s at least worth noting that the Post can trumpet it now in large part because of reporting done by the “conservative media…obsessed” with Benghazi.

The editorial continues: “Those Cairo demonstrations were triggered by reports of the anti-Muslim video.” That is far from an established fact. The Post is conflating the cause with the pretext. It’s a subtle but important distinction and one many intelligence analysts have made since the days immediately following the attack. As Tom Joscelyn of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies has explained, there is evidence that individuals with strong ties to al Qaeda and its leadership planned the Cairo demonstrations days in advance of the actual protests. This group included Mohamad Zawahiri, brother of Ayman al Zawahiri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as the group’s emir. An intelligence official told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that the demonstration was “a classic information operation,” with the video as the pretext for the assaults on U.S. diplomatic facilities.

The Post goes on: “Second, the email record makes clear that the talking points were not prepared for Ms. Rice but for a Democratic House member who requested them so that he could know what he could tell the press.” That’s true, and also something TWS reported previously. But it’s unclear how that’s relevant. After Obama officials helped revise the talking points, they gave them to her. And judging from the emails, she was in a hurry to receive them before her own prep sessions began. 

The strongest point in the Post editorial comes next. “What’s more an email sent to CIA Director David Petraeus late in the process states that ‘the White House cleared quickly’ a draft that said ‘initial press reporting linked the attack’ to a jihadist militia called Ansar al Sharia, though the militia had denied involvement.” If that’s true, the White House staff was less sensitive than the president about citing the involvement of jihadist groups in the immediate aftermath of the attacks – and less sensitive than others in the administration.

But the Post’s description of that bullet point is incomplete. It read: “The group has since released a statement that its leadership did not order the attacks, but did not deny that some of its members were involved.” Indeed, the denial isn’t really a denial at all. The statement, reported by Bill Roggio of Long War Journal, said only that the “Ansar al Sharia brigade didn’t participate in this popular uprising as a separate entity” and later “the Brigade didn’t participate as a sole entity.”

The editorial returns to this denial two paragraphs later, arguing that State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland “was right to suggest that it would be unwise for the US government, before evening beginning an investigation, to publicly pin blame for the attack on a group that had denied responsibility.”

That’s wrong, too. Not only had Ansar al Sharia not actually denied responsibility, but the investigation of who was responsible was well underway. And the language in the talking points hardly pinned blame on the group; it merely noted their possible involvement. And by that point there was little question that Ansar members participated in the attack. Acting assistant secretary of state Beth Jones wrote in an email to her colleagues on September 12 to describe a conversation she’d had with Libya’s ambassador to the U.S. When the Libyan official raised the possibility that loyalists to Moammar Gadhafi might have been involved, Jones corrected him. “When he said his government suspect that former Gadhafi regime elements carried out the attacks, I told him that the group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al Sharia, is affiliated with Islamic terrorists.” Communications intercepts within the first 24 hours confirmed the participation of Ansar members.

The editorial ends where it began: With a lecture. The Republican focus on “the phony issue of the talking points” is a distraction and their “bigger-than-Watergate rhetoric” makes them “look small-minded, hyperpartisan and foolish.”

There’s real wisdom in the advice for Republicans to avoid hyperbole in their descriptions of Benghazi. But that last line – the one about looking "small-minded, hyperpartisan and foolish" – brought to mind a previous Post editorial on Benghazi.

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