The Washington Times: Five unanswered questions about Benghazi attack

Originally printed in The Washington Times, October 31st, 2012

Nearly two months after the murder of four American citizens in Benghazi, Libya, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, there remain many more questions surrounding this tragedy than credible answers provided by the Obama administration. The American people want to know what happened on Sept. 11, 2012, and they deserve to hear an explanation directly from the president. Among the many questions that still need to be answered about the Benghazi attack, here are five of the most important ones.

Why was security at the consulate so inadequate despite two previous attacks this year and the repeated pleas over many months from security agents on the ground and our ambassador for greater assistance?

On the anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and after multiple attacks this year on our consulate and other Western interests in Benghazi, why were our forces in the region not ready and positioned to respond rapidly to this foreseeable emergency?

Why did President Obama and his administration spend nearly two weeks insisting that the Benghazi attack had been the result of a spontaneous protest to a hateful video, when all evidence clearly concluded that it was a planned terrorist attack by an al Qaeda affiliate?

At any point during the attack in Benghazi, did any member of the U.S. government, including senior administration officials, reject requests for greater military and intelligence assistance for our personnel on the ground in Benghazi? Did anyone order U.S. military and intelligence personnel in Benghazi or nearby in the region who offered help to stand down?

How can the president insist that “the tide of war is receding” when al Qaeda affiliates have grown stronger on his watch across the region, including LibyaSomaliaYemenMaliIraq and Syria — and when one of these al Qaeda-affiliated groups has killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans and driven us out of Benghazi?

Rather than providing straightforward answers to the American people on these and other questions, the administration has been playing a blame game ever since the attack occurred. First, officials sought to blame the attack on a spontaneous demonstration caused by a hateful video. When it was reported that no such demonstration had occurred and the attack clearly had been committed by terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda, the administration next sought to shift blame to the intelligence community. Now the administration is citing a lack of situational awareness in Benghazi as why no U.S. military personnel or assets were called in to respond to the attack, which lasted nearly seven hours.

Emails sent from our personnel on the ground in Benghazi within hours after the attack began clearly identified it as a sophisticated militant attack. There never should have been any debate over this point. The administration knew within hours after the assault on our consulate began that it was a terrorist attack. Though the attack occurred on the anniversary of the worst terrorist atrocity in our history, and though it was preceded by two earlier attacks on our consulate in Benghazi this year, the administration did not have adequate forces ready and in position in the region to respond to this foreseeable attack.

Regardless of what the president said in the Rose Garden on Sept. 12, the fact is that he and members of his administration refused to characterize the attack in Benghazi as an act of terrorism for as long as two weeks after the attack. The president himself spoke about the events in Benghazi at length in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 25 and never once characterized the attack as an act of terrorism. In press interviews around the same time, the president instead sought to blame the attack on a demonstration against the video.

Ultimately, the reason it is so important to learn all of the facts surrounding the attack in Benghazi is because there are larger national security issues at stake. The administration wants us to believe it has diminished the threats posed by terrorism — that “the tide of war is receding,” as Mr. Obama has said — and now we can focus on “nation-building at home.” The tragic events in Benghazi show how false and misleading the administration’s narrative is. The fact that it continues to act under this misguided assumption is only increasing the dangers we face around the world.

We do not need an administration-led investigation to answer the question of what the president knew, what he was told and what action he chose to take before, during and after the Benghazi attack. The American people deserve to know the facts about the attack in Benghazi, and the facts that have come to light thus far paint a disturbing picture the president needs to step forward and explain.

By: Sens John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte and Ron Johnson