White House hedges on claim anti-Islam YouTube video caused Benghazi attack

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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White House spokesman Jay Carney took a half-step back from the administration’s widely derided claim that an anti-Islam YouTube video prompted the Sept. 11 jihadi attack in Benghazi that killed the ambassador and three other Americans.

He also took a half-step toward admitting a failure by the administration, saying “Libya is a very volatile place … where there is an abundance of weapons, including heavy weapons.”

The recognition of loose weaponry is a tacit admission of the jihadis’ success in scooping up heavy armaments during the administration’s extended bombing attacks against former ruler Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.

The administration did not deploy troops to Libya, even as rebels, thieves and jihadis looted thousands of shoulder-launched antiaircraft missiles, anti-tank rockets and machine guns.

The administration’s no-troops policy was different from President George W. Bush’s strategy in the 2003 Iraq campaign, where U.S. air attacks complemented a large ground force that secured a large percentage of Iraq’s huge supplies of weaponry and explosives.

Shortly before the 2004 election, the New York Times published a front-page article slamming the Bush administration for not securing explosives at Iraq’s Al Qa’qaa storage site, prior to the extended insurgency by Sunni tribes allied with the deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

In recent days, Libyan officials have testified the attack was conducted by a well-organized group, not by berserk protesters. News media broadcast footage of rocket-carrying jihadis outside the Benghazi consulate on the night of the attack.

A Sept. 18 Reuters report underscored the campaign-trail political risk to the administration, reporting that U.S. intelligence agencies warned Middle east embassies of possible attacks on Sept. 11 because of the video.

However, the consulate in Benghazi was largely unprotected, and relied on hired Libyans for much of its defense.

GOP advocates say the administration missed warnings and provided too little protection to the ambassador.

Carney’s Sept. 18 step-back was complemented by his emphasis on the administration’s limited understanding of developments in the region.

“We have provided information about what we believe was the precipitating cause of the protests and violence, based on the information that we have had available,” Carney said

The “based on” clause allows Carney to justify initial claims that the attack was caused by an anti-Islamic video posted on YouTube by a California filmmaker.

The “reaction to the video was the precipitating factor in protests and violence across the region, and what I’m also saying is that we made that assessment based on the evidence we have … at this time.”

Several Islamist government in the region lodged protests against the video and demand the producers be punished, and that U.S. laws bar or curb criticisms of Islam.

The administration subsequently suggested that Google remove the video from its YouTube service. Federal officials also questioned the filmmaker after California police picked him up shortly after midnight Saturday morning at his home.

However, the White House has since taken a harder line against Arab governments, who have the power to allow or to prevent attacks on embassies during the president’s election campaign.

On Sept. 18, for example, The Washington Post published an article saying that the White House has delayed the award of planned aid to Egypt until after the election.

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