Benghazi attack: Why the White House changed its story
President Obama had to reassess his view of what caused the attack in Libya that killed US Ambassador Christopher Stevens, raising questions about whether the White House has a solid grasp on the angry convulsions rocking the Middle East.
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But the past two weeks have also been a reality check for an administration still trying to understand the Benghazi incursion and the continuing protests across the region, an effort underscored for many Americans by the sight of the black Salafism flags, often claimed by Al Qaeda elements, flying over the US Embassy in Cairo on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.Skip to next paragraph
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Before making broad judgments, some foreign policy analysts urge Americans to consider myriad factors playing into the protests and violence, including localized grievances and power vacuums still unfilled after the US-backed “Arab Spring” uprisings last year. In fact, the US has come to believe that the Benghazi attack may have been partly a response to the drone-killing of a regional Al Qaeda leader with ties to Libya rather than to broader anti-Americanism.
“The current anti-American backlash in the region is the byproduct of genuine misunderstanding, real ignorance, and political jockeying among Islamic groups,” Abdeslam Maghraoui, a Duke University political scientist, tells the AP.
Yet some conservative commentators seized on the White House’s about-face on the genesis of the Benghazi attack as insight into a president unwilling to starkly assess American policy abroad, including what many conservatives see as an apologetic tone and outreach to groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.
Obama acknowledging that the 14-minute trailer to the film was not the root cause of the attack, writes the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer, is for a “staggered and confused” White House to “admit that its doctrinal premises were supremely naïve and its policies deeply corrosive to American influence.”
Some Americans are starting to ask similar questions in the wake of the consulate attack in Benghazi and continued anti-American protests in the region.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll taken before the White House confirmed Benghazi was a terror attack shows support for Obama’s foreign policy slipping by 5 percent since August, to below 50 percent, with 12 percent of independent voters withdrawing their support.
To be sure, the events in Benghazi are just now starting to emerge from the “fog of war” as an official State Department investigation is underway to determine the extent, and cause, of the security breach. But one growing perception in the Middle East is that the murder of Ambassador Stevens and three other embassy personnel may have been a revenge killing by a group known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb that has been exploiting the power vacuum in Libya.
While the White House may have been under pressure to say something concrete about the Benghazi attack before more details were known, the late acknowledgement of a terror attack suggests to some that the Obama administration has struggled to understand the dynamics of the tumult.
In the case of the Benghazi attack, “I think this is a case of an administration saying what they wished to be true before waiting for all the facts to come in,” a senior retired CIA official told the Daily Beast.
IN PICTURES: Anger across the Muslim world