From President Obama on down, the recap was simple: A crowd of demonstrators angry over an obscure YouTube video that denigrated Islam’s Prophet Muhammad spontaneously stormed the complex.
Pentagon chieftains likewise said the military did all it could in the ensuing eight-plus hours of the attacks, during which two former Navy SEALs — security contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty — were killed by mortar fire while trying to protect a nearby CIA annex.
Today, the public knows that those early administration pronouncements were false. They were uttered with less than two months to go in a presidential election campaign in which Mr. Obama declared al Qaeda on its heels.
In fact, no demonstration occurred outside the mission on Sept. 11, the 11th anniversary of al Qaeda’s attacks on New York and Washington. The attackers were a heavily armed, well-organized band of Islamic extremists, most notably the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Shariah.
Security, rather than “robust,” was nearly nonexistent. The local militia hired to guard the compound fled as extremists set fires that ultimately killed Stevens and Smith as they sought safety in living quarters known as “Villa C.”
As for the Pentagon, questions persist as to why no forces were in a position to reach Benghazi to rescue the diplomats, CIA officers and the former SEALs under fire at the annex. The only help they got came from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, whose team did not arrive until nearly daybreak Sept. 12.
The story line of the Benghazi scandal is filled with misleading statements and poor decision-making:
•A president who publicly clung to the idea that an American dabbler in YouTube productions prompted the deaths of four Americans.
•Altered “talking points” that the administration used on a series of Sunday interview shows to tell Americans that the attack was a protest rather than an orchestrated assault by terrorists.
• The world’s most powerful military as a spectator as the attack unfolded.
Republicans say the sequence of events adds up to a cover-up of mismanagement and of the fact that Islamic militants carried out the killings. The White House refrains from using such terms as Islamists and jihadists, and instead prefers the term “violent extremists.”
Mr. Obama calls Republicans’ pursuit of the talking points a “sideshow.” Hillary Rodham Clinton, then secretary of state, says the requests for extra security never reached her desk and she played no role in the infamous talking points.