- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 20, 2012

One of President Obama’s national security boasts in the 2012 presidential election was that al Qaeda’s ranks have been “decimated,” they’re “on the run” and “on the path to defeat.”

So when the evil terrorist network built by Osama bin Laden destroyed the U.S. Consulate in Libya and killed our ambassador and three other officials on Sept. 11, it sent a chilling message that, contrary to Mr. Obama’s preposterous claim, al Qaeda is very much alive and capable of killing Americans with impunity on U.S. soil.

Indeed, despite Mr. Obama’s election-year claim that al Qaeda had been all but put out of business, their deadly reach has since spread throughout the Middle East, North Africa, the Far East and elsewhere.

This is why when their attacks occurred in Benghazi during the final, critical weeks of the campaign, the Obama administration went to great lengths to soft-pedal its official explanation to the point of hiding the fact that al Qaeda was involved at all.

The first explanation came from the State Department, which said that the attack was a peaceful protest triggered by anger over an anti-Muslim Internet clip in the U.S. that got out of hand. In fact, it led to the killing of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others, who perished in the fiery siege. Its statement made no mention of al Qaeda terrorists.

It was clear soon after that, as details tumbled out in a flood of dispatches and eyewitness accounts, that this was not only a terrorist act, but by the al Qaeda network Mr. Obama said he had crushed.

That wasn’t the story the White House or Mr. Obama’s campaign advisers wanted voters to hear, because they feared it would hand GOP challenger Mitt Romney an effective national security issue against the administration.

Mr. Romney did immediately criticize the State Department’s “protest” explanation, correctly charging that this was a terrorist attack that raised the question why the consulate was not given adequate security to protect its staff.

The administration quickly shot back, accusing Mr. Romney of “playing politics” with the killings, a political tactic the White House and its allies in Congress have been using ever since. A compliant news media gave the Obama response headline treatment.

But just three days after the Benghazi killings, then-CIA Director David H. Petraeus told the House intelligence committee behind closed doors that al Qaeda had led the attack. His conclusion no doubt had already been shared with the White House in Mr. Obama’s daily intelligence briefing.

Nevertheless, on Sept. 16, five days after the killings, the White House sent U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice to five separate Sunday morning TV news programs, where she continued to peddle the phony political explanation that the attack started as a “spontaneous reaction” to Muslim outrage over the anti-Muhammad video.

While Mrs. Rice observed vaguely that “extremists” may have been involved in the attack on our consulate, she never uttered the name of “al Qaeda.”

As Republicans escalated their charge that the White House’s laundered narrative of the attacks had the smell of a cover-up, the administration finally admitted publicly that the incendiary killings in Benghazi were the work of terrorists, though there was no mention of al Qaeda.

That came nearly a week after Mrs. Rice’s unbelievable explanation on the Sunday talk shows that was at odds with the real story on the ground.

“I think it’s very odd the story line they chose omitted al Qaeda, which would help the president enormously,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Sunday on “Meet the Press.”

Sen. John McCain of Arizona has been, with Mr. Graham, among the White House’s fiercest Republican critics of its handling of the attacks and what he perceives to be a cover-up to protect the president in the final weeks of the election. Both have maintained a drumbeat of criticism of Mrs. Rice and the White House, fueling the emerging scandal that has become a staple on the nightly news and that shows no signs of going away anytime soon.

Mr. Obama lashed out at his critics at a White House news conference last week and defended Mrs. Rice, charging that “to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.” If Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham “and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me,” he said.

Mr. McCain, who has threatened to block Mrs. Rice if she is nominated to take Hillary Rodham Clinton’s position as secretary of state, now calls her a “bit player” who was responsible for “passing on a narrative” that misled the American people. “I blame the president more than anybody else,” he says.

The White House has had an all-purpose, dismissive response to the GOP’s relentless assault of what we may now correctly call “Benghazigate”: partisan politics.

The fact remains that two intelligence committees, one led by Republicans in the House and the other by the Democrats in the Senate, are now investigating who was responsible in the White House chain of command for writing a bogus narrative that left out any mention of al Qaeda, who were the perpetrators in the case. Conflicting news reports surfaced on Tuesday over whether the Office of the Director of National Intelligence might have deleted the terrorism references as the finger-pointing continues.

Does Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, who has been the Democrats’ point man in rebutting the GOP’s charges, still think that is nothing more than partisan politics?

There is another important part of the Benghazi debacle that seems to have been given little or no attention lately, and that is why the desperate pleas for additional security at our consulate fell on deaf ears at the State Department.

Neither Mrs. Clinton, nor anyone on the president’s staff has explained why Stevens‘ repeated cables demanding further protection in an increasingly dangerous environment were ignored.

Mr. Obama and his White House political team may think — or have deluded themselves into thinking — that al Qaeda has been decimated and no longer threatens us.

There is a courageous U.S. ambassador and three of his bravest associates whose deaths offer irrefutable testimony that Mr. Obama’s campaign boasts about the end of al Qaeda are partisan politics at their worst.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.