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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Debunking Juan Williams’s Debunking of the “GOP’s false narratives about the Benghazi attack”

Ahead of Monday night's debate, Juan Williams, one of the few calm voices of reason on the American left, endeavored to, in his words, "make three corrections to the record about the campaign’s most controversial foreign policy topic: the murder of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya." (There were also three other Americans who were murdered; let's not forget them.) He put out this column, in which he articulated three "false narratives" about the terrorist attack on our consulate in Benghazi and purported to correct each one. After reading his corrections, however, I felt the need to make some corrections of my own. 

Juan first attempts to correct  "the charge that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice lied to the American people in the days after the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi." I'm not going to delve into the what constitutes a "lie", but as I have explained, Ambassador Rice did make statements that were later proven to be false. In trying to exculpate her, Williams goes beyond the approved Democratic talking point--that Rice's statements, while factually inacurrate, were based on what the intelligence community told her--and tries to claim that the ambassador was actually telling the truth! 

The "simple fact," according to Williams, is that the "Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper has confirmed that Rice told the truth in describing the assessment of the intelligence community at the time of her remarks." That is a fact, but it is not so simple. Clapper's office did put out a statement on September 28 that said, in part: 

In the immediate aftermath [of the attack], there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo. We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available. Throughout our investigation we continued to emphasize that information gathered was preliminary and evolving.
The problem is that Rice and other administration officials went beyond simply "describing the assessment of the intelligence community at the time"; on September 14th, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told the press corps, "We have no information to suggest that [this] was a pre-planned ... attack." Secretary Clinton herself said this was in response to a video. Rice and others weren’t just relaying the assessment of the intelligence community; they were telling the country that the administration had no information that the attack was pre-planned or premeditated, and that was false. 

The second "false" narrative Williams attempts to correct is actually twofold, as he presents it: 

It is being charged that requests for extra security in Benghazi were denied by the administration.

The suggestion is that the attack would have been stopped, and the ambassador still alive, if the requests had been granted.
Notice that the first sentence is a factual statement, while the second is merely an inference. I actually haven't heard any Republican charge "that requests for extra security in Benghazi were denied"; there were requests for added security in Tripoli, as Williams points out in his article, not Benghazi. Maybe he's heard something I haven't. Regardless, I'll not take issue with the contrary inference(s) he draws from the indisputable fact that the administration denied requests for security reinforcements in Libya, but then Williams offers up his own opinions about this charge:
There is an air of hypocrisy about this second charge from Republican critics.

House Republicans voted to cut nearly $300 million in funding from Embassy Security as part of their most recent budget.
That is true; however, that budget never became law, so these cuts were never made, and Charlene Lamb, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and head of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security,
testified under oath earler this month that budget considerations played no role the decision not to increase security.

Williams's "third and final correction comes in response to the charge that the attack on Benghazi is evidence that al Qaeda is resurgent." Williams says this "attack" comes from the Romney campaign, who he accuses of arguing that, "notwithstanding the Obama administration’s claims, the threat from al Qaeda has not significantly diminished despite the death of Osama bin Laden."

I've not seen/heard anyone on the Romney campaign make this claim; what I have seen and heard is
Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, tell CBS News that "al Qaida has come back." Williams curiously doesn't mention this; instead, he argues that "missions authorized by the Obama administration have killed the top commanders of the terrorist group, including bin Laden," and that "President Obama’s drone strikes targeting al Qaeda members have decimated the remaining members of the group."

In support of this proposition, Williams quotes National Secretary Council spokesman Tommy Vietor as saying that “Our assessment that we have decimated al Qaeda leadership is unchanged. Dozens of their senior leadership have been taken off the battlefield as a result of the president's anti-terror policies.”

If the statements by Allen and Vietor can be reconciled, then it's probably because "decimat[ing] al Qaeda leadership" hasn't translated into quelling the threat this vast terrorist network poses to us and the rest of the civilized world. The claim (which again, I haven't seen anyone on the Romney campaign make) that the attack on our consulate in Benghazi evinces a resurgence on the part of al Qaeda might be better "debunked" by pointing out that we're not sure al Qaeda had anything to do with the attack, but Williams doesn't even try to argue this point. Instead, he offers a flimsy argument that doesn't even rebut the straw man he created. 

Williams concludes his piece by accusing the GOP of a "political strategy that is based on deliberate misinformation about the Benghazi assault," a very serious charge. As you can see, however, none of the three specific memes Juan attributes to the GOP contains "deliberate misinformation". 

This is serious business. A U.S. consulate was beset by terrorists who took the lives of four Americans. The Obama administration has not been straight with us about what they knew and when they knew it. If the best defense our president's supporters can put forward consists of hair-splitting and straw-man arguments, then maybe. well...our president's actions were pretty untenable.

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