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.
In California, just after midnight on Saturday morning, U.S. federal police questioned the film’s producer about possible parole violations, shortly after YouTube refused the White House’s suggestion to take down the video. (RELATED: Obama submits to Brotherhood, asks for suppression of anti-Islam video)
On Sunday, Libya’s president refuted the White House’s claim that the Benghazi attack was a simple anti-video protest that went berserk.
“We firmly believe that this was a pre-calculated, pre-planned attack that was carried out specifically to attack the U.S. Consulate,” el-Megarif said.
In a separate interview with CBS, he said Libyan government forces had arrested 50 people, including foreigners, involved in the attack on the poorly guarded consulate in Benghazi that killed the ambassador and three other Americans.
His description of the attackers as a organized, trained and heavily armed group matches reported statements from a wounded Libyan guard and the owner of the buildings used for the Benghazi diplomatic complex.
On Sunday, Sept. 16, administration official stuck to their claim that the killings were a spontaneous result of an unpredictable protest.
“What happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video,” claimed Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice.
“People gathered outside the embassy and then it grew very violent. … Those with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons, which unfortunately are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya, and that then spun out of control,” she insisted on Fox News Sunday.
She made the same pitch on four Sunday news shows.
That video-did-it claim also came Friday from White House spokesman Jay Carney, and from unidentified officials who spoke to several news outlets.
That same day, the State Department announced it would no longer answer any reporters’ questions about the Benghazi attack. (RELATED: The State Department doesn’t have to answer your questions either)