President Barack Obama jets off to campaign events Monday in the critical swing state of Ohio, even as Libyan officials and locals have shredded his defensive claim that a spontaneous protest against a Californian’s anti-Islam video caused the Sept. 11 killing of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador.
“The idea that this criminal and cowardly act was a spontaneous protest that just spun out of control is completely unfounded and preposterous,” Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif told the liberal National Public Radio network.
Instead, the killing was a military-style attack, he said.
That attack hit the poorly guarded group of diplomats, who had to be rescued by Libyan reinforcements.
The Obama administration’s claim that the murderous Benghazi attack was a unpredictable byproduct of a spontaneous protest gives White House officials a short-term way to fend off media questions.
Any investigation may create a damaging pre-election scandal for the president, who touted his ability in 2008 to build peace between the United States and conflict-prone Muslim countries.
But accumulating media reports — and Libyans’ statements — suggest the administration severely underestimated the danger of jihadis in Libya, many of whom have seized weapons from the armory of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. (RELATED: Susan Rice, US ambassador to the United Nations: ‘We’re quite popular in Libya’)
Gadhafi was killed in 2011 after President Obama launched a sustained air campaign to destroy his forces.
Obama refused to send any ground forces to guard Libya’s weapons stockpiles, however, allowing jihadis to capture many shoulder-launched rockets, machine guns, anti-aircraft missiles and much ammunition.
Despite the danger caused by roving Muslim militants in Libya, no U.S. Marines were assigned to guard U.S. diplomats there until after the Sept. 11, 2012 attack.
Some Republican advocates believe the president’s 2012 campaign has already been damaged by the growing gap between the administration’s claim that it is ending war in the Arab world, and the unpleasant reality of Arab politics.
“We’re leaving Iraq. We’re leaving Afghanistan. We’re leaving the area,” Sen. John McCain said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” show.
Islamists “believe the United States is weak, and they are taking appropriate action,” he said.
The discrediting of the administration’s explanation of the Benghazi failure prompted Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign to weigh in, five days after it had highlighted the administration’s “sympathy” for the Islamists’ complaints about the low-budget YouTube video.
“The Obama Administration found itself facing serious questions about its record of leadership in the world, America’s waning influence abroad and the failure of its outreach efforts in the Middle East and North Africa,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said Sept. 16.
The administration’s political problem was exposed Sept. 11, when Islamists began a week of deadly jihadi attacks and political turmoil.
By week’s end, the Islamists were calling for curbs on Americans’ free speech.