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State, national columnists

Shout louder, Hillary

By From page A9 | February 03, 2013

An old-time trial lawyer once said, “When your case is weak, shout louder!”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shouted louder when asked about the Obama administration’s story last fall that the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. ambassador’s quarters in Benghazi was due to an anti-Islamic video that someone in the U.S. had put on the Internet, and thereby provoked a protest that escalated into violence.

She shouted: “We had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”

Students of propaganda may admire the skill with which she misdirected people’s attention. But those of us who are still old-fashioned enough to think that the truth matters cannot applaud her success.

Let’s go back to square one.

After the attack on the American ambassador’s quarters in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, the Obama administration immediately blamed it on the anti-Islamic video.

Moreover, this version of what happened was not just a passing remark. It was a story that the administration kept repeating insistently. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice repeated that story on five different television talk shows on the same Sunday. President Barack Obama himself repeated the same story at the United Nations. The man who put the anti-Islamic video on the Internet was arrested for a parole violation, creating more media coverage to keep attention on this theme.

“What difference, at this point, does it make?” Secretary Clinton now asks. What difference did it make at the time?

Obviously the Obama administration thought it made a difference, with an election coming up. Prior to the attack, the administration’s political theme was that Barack Obama had killed Osama bin Laden (with an assist from the Navy SEALs), vanquished al-Qaida and was now in the process of putting the terrorist threat behind us.

To have the attack in Benghazi be seen as a terrorist attack – and a devastating one – would have ruined this picture, with an election coming up.

The key question that remains unanswered to this day is: What speck of evidence is there that the attack in Benghazi was due to the much-discussed video or that there was ever any protest demonstration outside the ambassador’s quarters?

If there is no evidence whatever, then the whole attempt to say that a protest over a video escalated into an attack was a deliberate hoax by people who knew better.

There is no point in the administration saying that they did not have all the facts about the attack immediately. All the facts may never be known. But the real question is: Did you have even a single fact that would substantiate your repeated claims that some video led to a protest in Benghazi that got out of hand and led to the attack?

Interestingly, Hillary Clinton herself was not featured in this campaign, even though as secretary of state she was a key figure. Hillary was not about to create video footage that could come back to haunt her if she runs for president in 2016.

In a larger context, the Benghazi attack showed that you cannot unilaterally end the “war on terror” or the terrorists’ war on us, by declaring victory.

For years, the Bush administration’s phrase “war on terror” was avoided like the plague by the Obama administration, even if that required the Fort Hood massacre to be classified as “workplace violence.” But, no matter how clever the rhetoric, reality nevertheless rears its ugly head.

Once the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi is seen for what it was – a highly coordinated and highly successful operation by terrorists who were said to have been vanquished – that calls into question the Obama administration’s Middle East foreign policy.

That is why it still matters.

Thomas Sowell is an author, economist and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

Thomas Sowell


Discussion | 4 comments

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  • rlw895January 30, 2013 - 9:16 pm

    I’m glad Sowell believes so strongly in the truth and is so against deception. We should be able to use that against him later. The truth does matter, sometimes more than others. When we are not getting the truth, we should not trust the teller to be honest, especially under similar circumstances. So, the questions are: Were we getting the truth? Did it matter enough to get all huffy about it? What were the circumstances? Let’s start though with Sowell’s truth-telling himself. Actually, I don’t have much of a problem until I get to the “Prior to the attack, the administration’s political theme was that Barack Obama had…vanquished al-Qaida….” The most I can find Obama said was that we had decimated the al-Qaida leadership and had the organization “on the run.” I don’t think anyone would dispute the hit on the al-Qaida leadership. It’s Sowell’s claim that Obama said we had defeated al-Qaida that is not true, or at least a gross exaggeration, as far as I can tell. “On the run” implies that al-Qaida is not on the offensive, but that’s a far cry from “vanquished.” Truth matters, but so do words. Next up, we have “In a larger context, the Benghazi attack showed that you cannot unilaterally end the ‘war on terror’ or the terrorists’ war on us, by declaring victory.” That’s true! What’s not true is the implication that Obama ever “declared victory,” or said anything close to “Mission Accomplished.” Then, finally, we have the zinger at the end: “Once the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi is seen for what it was – a highly coordinated and highly successful operation by terrorists [true!] who were said to have been vanquished [not true, at least if we are to read Sowell’s poor passive voice writing as “who Obama said had been vanquished”] – that calls into question the Obama administration’s Middle East foreign policy.” [huh?] Oh well, ending on a non-sequitur must be an old Sowell trick. Returning to our questions: Were we getting the truth? I agree with Sowell; we were not, as we all know now and the administration admits. That doesn’t make it a lie, which is an untruth told with an intention to deceive, but I willing to go as far as say the administration DID lie to us. Next, did it matter? Well, not to me. It really only mattered to the other side in the presidential campaign, as they tried to make the incident into an issue. But it really only played to the Republican base that wasn’t voting for Obama anyway. To me, what mattered was that the people who died were given the respect that was due them, that the perpetrators be discovered and brought to justice, and that the government learn everything that could be learned from the incident to reduce the risk to our people serving overseas. I don’t think anyone had any doubts the administration was doing their best on all those things no matter what they were telling us about the incident itself. Obama honored the memory of Chris Stevens and the others in his speech at the United Nations two weeks after their deaths. It doesn’t get much better for a career diplomat. Finally, what were the circumstances that led to this lie? Well, there was a very nasty presidential election going on. And it appeared to be close. Under those circumstances, I give anyone a pass unless the lie really mattered to me, and as I already said, this one didn’t. So if we want to know why we didn’t get the truth until much later, blame it on the nastiness of the 2012 presidential campaign and Obama’s opponents in general. If you don’t want the truth, threaten Armageddon if you get it.

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  • Tom ChalkFebruary 03, 2013 - 7:14 am

    RLW895: Are you saying that the GOP got what it deserved for trying to nail the Obama administration and sour his chances for reelection? Brings to mind the old "Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies."

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  • rlw895February 03, 2013 - 12:05 pm

    Tom: No, I'm only saying the Republicans miscalculated how many people would care that the administration was lying about this issue during the campaign. It was a sign of how little the Republicans had to work with in trying to woo undecided voters.

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  • SavetheRepublicFebruary 03, 2013 - 12:49 pm

    So -- you all can spread me as thin as you like, I refuse to be margarinealized.

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