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PRUDEN: The ill wind blowing past Benghazi
It's an ill wind that blows nobody good, and that evil wind from the Middle East comes just when Barack Obama needs a distraction most. Just when the mainstream media finally discovers the deadly screw-up in Benghazi and can no longer avoid talking and writing about it, the Palestinians fire volleys of rockets reaching Tel Aviv.
The president himself is in Southeast Asia, mispronouncing the names of everyone he meets, and trying to play kissyface with Aung San Suu Kyi, the heroic woman who led the struggle to free Burma from the grip of evil generals. In the photographs, the lady is trying to keep her mouth out of the way of Mr. Obama's kissing equipment.
The president was just being friendly, but she doesn't look as if she's enjoying herself. (Can't the U.S. government afford a protocol officer to explain to the president that Asians are generally not fans of the American obsession with hugging and slobbering over everyone in sight on first meeting?)
Mr. Obama got wrong the name of the new reformer president, Thien Sein, calling him "President Sein," instead of "President Thien." The Burmese describe this as "a slightly affectionate reference" that likely made his hosts cringe. This was not as bad as Jimmy Carter's infamous invitation to a welcoming crowd in Poland to share a sexual adventure with him. Mr. Jimmy could blame his interpreter, who was confused by a word with two different meanings. Mr. Jimmy suffered international humiliation and the rest of us got a big laugh, or at least a large chuckle.
Americans, apparently even Harvard Law School graduates, are never very good with languages, and particularly with unfamiliar forms of address, but presidents travel with aides who are paid to know such things. Mr. Obama even got the name of the country wrong, using "Myanmar," the preference of the evicted evil generals, instead of "Burma," which is preferred by the reformers and Aung San Suu Kyi, whose name the president also mangled. "Burma" is the preferred usage of the State Department, and the White House explained that the president used "Myanmar" as "a diplomatic nicety" in deference to the discarded order. Mr. Obama is said to be working on an explanation to blame George W. Bush, who once called Greeks "Grecians," for which he caught considerable flak from the popguns of the media's Gaffe Patrol.
The president's magical mystery tour of Southeast Asia, making no real news, is a perfect distraction from the real events of Benghazi and the Middle East. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton fell on the president's sword a fortnight ago, and now U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice must follow. The White House and its acolytes in the media are trying to make the Benghazi story about what Mrs. Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, knew and when she knew it. The president's men are portraying her as the little woman who only told five Sunday morning talk shows what the big, brave men at the CIA wrote out for her to say. If the talking points were doctored, well, why blame the White House?
The White House excuse for the misinformation about what happened in Benghazi was "faulty intelligence." That explanation falls apart on closer examination. The Washington Guardian now reports, quoting senior officials, that the president and "senior administration officials" were told within 72 hours that the Benghazi attack was largely the work of organized terrorists, not street mobs writing a critique of an amateur video portraying Muhammad as a pedophile.
The timing here is crucial. The consulate was attacked on Sept. 11, a Tuesday, and President Obama was told not later than Friday that it was a terrorist attack. Mrs. Rice was dispatched Sunday morning, two days later, with the bright, shining lie, and repeated it five times. Mrs. Clinton and the president's resident press flack did so as well.
The administration's story blaming the CIA for faulty talking points has changed slightly: the talking points included disinformation to mislead terrorists. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, now says Mrs. Rice's lie was "within the context" of what was presented as fact. Who knows who, if anyone, is telling the truth?
The president, trying to reassure Israel in its hour of maximum peril, says the Israelis are within their rights to answer the Palestinian rockets. Well, duh. With that and five bucks, a reassured Israeli can get a decaf latte at Starbucks. A decaf latte is considerably more than we sent J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador begging for help as terrorists closed in on the Americans in Benghazi.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
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