“The President — our position is, as reflected by the [National Counterterrorism Center] director, that it was a terrorist attack,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Sept. 26, 15 days after it had occurred.
“It is, I think by definition, a terrorist attack when there is a prolonged assault on an embassy with weapons,” he acknowledged.
Carney justified the administration’s changed language by saying the White House had learned more about the attack since Sept. 11.
“We made clear that our initial assessment and interim reports [blaming the video] were based on information that was available at the time,” he said.
However, Obama continues to downplay the jihadis’ role, perhaps because their involvement bolsters the GOP’s criticism of his Muslim outreach policy as unwise and ineffective.
Instead, Obama continues to campaign for re-election, minimizes his public comments on the attack and stresses the role by played by the video.
In his Sept 25 speech to the United Nations, he again highlighted the video’s supposed role.
“That is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, as a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. … It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well,” he said.
“There’s no video that justifies an attack on an embassy. There’s no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan.”
That YouTube video was almost unknown until its existence was broadcast by an Islamist TV station in Egypt.
The TV station used the video’s existence to boost numbers at a planned Sept. 11 protest at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Despite effort by that embassy to denounce the video, the Cairo protesters invaded the embassy and burned the U.S. flag, shortly before a different group of jihadis attacked the Benghazi facilities in next-door Libya.
Under orthodox Islamic Sharia law, criticism of Muhammad or the Islamic god Allah is blasphemous and punishable by death.
There is minimal public support in Arab countries for free speech that criticizes Islam.
Numerous Arab politicians, including Egypt’s elected president and prime minister, have since tried to boost their support by calling for punishment of the video maker, and for restrictions on Western’s legal ability to discus and criticize Islam.
In numerous post-attack statements, Obama has sidestepped these calls for the establishment of blasphemy laws in the United States.
On Sept. 25, for example, he used his speech to the United Nations to declare that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”
In that address, Obama defended free speech but urged “the voices of tolerance [to] rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.”