While the White House and its still media allies are still mumbling about an offensive video, it is quite clear that the Mohammed movie was never anything but a distraction used by the Islamists to set the stage and by the Obama administration to avoid admitting that the attacks were not spontaneous protests, but planned assaults.
The reason that Obama and his associates have done everything possible to avoid describing the attack on the Benghazi consulate as a planned terrorist operation is because the difference between a spontaneous attack and a planned attack is that the failure to prevent a planned attack represents a serious intelligence failure.
Was the planned attack on the Benghazi consulate truly unknown ahead of time or was it a known element that was not taken seriously enough and allowed to go forward for political reasons?
merican embassies in Africa had been a favorite target of Al Qaeda before September 11 and with the Arab Spring and the influx of jihadist fighters into North Africa, there was every reason to anticipate that an attack on the Benghazi consulate was coming.
During the summer a string of attacks had targeted consulates in Benghazi. While the American consulate was only struck by a bomb, the Tunisian consulate was overrun by a group of gunmen claiming to be protesting an art exhibit offensive to Islam. There were no shots fired and no casualties because the consulate staffers were absent that day.
The possibility that a Western ambassador would be attacked with heavy weapons had also made itself known that same summer when the British Ambassador’s convoy was attacked by an RPG in Benghazi. The Tunisian consulate and British convoy attacks together formed the template for the attack on the American consulate which was a larger and more sustained version of both of these attacks.
Everyone at the consulate and outside it, from Christopher Stevens to Sean Smith’s Internet pen pals, seemed to know that something was coming. Libyan security officials said that they gave three days warning to the United States. Diplomatic sources have claimed that the Obama administration had 48 hours warning and that the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security had even issued an alert.
Beginning on September 11, 2012, a coordinated series of attacks by Salafis took place across the Middle East. The timing, targets and tactics all lead to the inescapable conclusion that these were not spontaneous protests, but were attacks that had been planned for months in advance in anticipation of a pivotal calendar date.
Coordination across so many different countries would have almost certainly been over the Internet, and intelligence agencies closely monitor forums frequented by members of Islamist groups. Even if there was no intelligence information that the attacks were coming a month ago, by the time that ordinary Salafists were nerving each other up for the protests, alarm bells should have been going off and likely did go off.
One open question is what exactly did all those warnings and alarm bells amount to? In a revealing slip, Libyan Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif said, “The most we expected was taking down the American flag and burning it. We didn’t expect what happened to take place.”
That is likely what the Libyans passed on to the United States and what the State Department and the CIA anticipated would happen based on their intelligence: a larger scale repetition of the Tunisian consulate attacks similar to what had happened in Cairo and would continue happening in other cities the next day.
The Obama administration may have known that a series of attacks on American diplomatic facilities was coming, but it expected them to consist of limited raids followed by flag burnings and random vandalism, rather than the aggressive and sophisticated attack that actually took place in Benghazi. Had Obama taken those attack warnings more seriously, then the outcome in Benghazi would have been quite different.
Instead of bolstering security, the Benghazi consulate continued relying on a Muslim Brotherhood militia to keep it safe. What was expected to be a brief standoff with an American flag burned, a jihadist flag raised and militias from both sides participating in a dance whose steps were known to both parties ahead of time, turned into something else instead; a heavy assault using inside information obtained with the complicity of members of the Libyan government and its security forces.
The big question is the one that administration spokesmen have been dodging by calling the attacks a reaction to the Mohammed movie. Obama, Clinton and Rice actually know quite well that the attacks were not a reaction to a movie and it is likely that at least two of those named knew that the attacks were coming. The question is why nothing was done about them.
To understand the answer, you must look at the region through the eyes of a bleeding heart diplomat. From that perspective, attacks are a provocation whose goal is to provoke a reaction. The last thing that the State Department was prepared to do, in a region where the Arab Spring had seen violent reactions to police and military suppression of protests, was to offer a show of force. Instead they relied on local security and kept the Marines disarmed or far away.
If things had not gone wrong in Benghazi, then the attacks would have humiliated the United States but caused no physical harm. Obama would have benefited from the crisis and did benefit from it through the “Rally ‘Round the Flag” effect that bumps up the poll numbers of White House occupants when a foreign military crisis takes place. From our perspective the attacks showed Obama’s weakness, but his poll ratings actually rose due in part to the attacks.
During the Iran Hostage Crisis, Jimmy Carter’s approval ratings rose from 32 to 58 percent. Obama’s campaign-oriented administration was likely hoping for at least a modest bump from the riots. What they did not expect was that the attacks would go beyond limited assaults on embassies and lead to an actual slaughter in Benghazi.
That is the dirty little secret that is likely to be hiding behind the wall of misstatements and lies thrown up by the White House and the State Department. It is a wholly unsurprising secret that blends the old policies of appeasement with the new policies of cynical campaigning while putting country last. And the harder the loose thread of the administration’s knowledge of events is pulled, the likelier it is that the secret will come spilling out into the light.
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Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.