A fight is brewing over a foreign policy disaster of monumental proportions.
It's been more than two months since the terror attack by al-Qaida on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed, and major questions remain unanswered as the issue heats up this week.
It's fair to chalk up the administration's reticence to the presidential election. But the Obama administration's desire to get past the election without full disclosure will not immunize it from responsibility for the events leading up to the deaths of this country's ambassador to Libya.
Two leading Republican senators, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, criticized United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice over her initial explanations of the attack, and the criticism seemed to touch a raw nerve with President Barack Obama at his news conference Wednesday.
"They should go after me," the president said, calling the criticism outrageous. Part of the reason Obama reacted so strongly is that he is considering nominating Rice to replace Hillary Clinton when she steps down as secretary of state.
Clinton boldly stepped up to take what she called "responsibility" for the events, without explaining for what she was accepting responsibility. She certainly was not accepting any blame. Neither is anyone else in the administration, particularly Obama, who up until now has been noticeably reluctant to address the subject.
Three big questions surround the attack.
Official documents show consulate personnel in Benghazi warned higher-ups in the U.S. State Department of an impending attack more than two weeks before the Sept. 11 assault and pleaded for help. Why was additional security denied to our people? Alternatively, if more security was denied, why weren't consulate personnel pulled out of such a dangerous area?
Other foreign and private entities already had left Benghazi because of the al-Qaida threat. Yet the U.S. consulate remained in place and unprotected, decisions that led directly to death and disaster.
Once the attack began, why didn't U.S. officials outside Benghazi provide assistance? The CIA and the Defense Department, refusing to be hung out to dry by a silent White House, have provided timelines of their response to the attack. But no real explanation has been given of who decided not to come to the aid of Americans under attack and why that decision was made.
Finally, and most incredibly, why did the White House cling to the claim for so long that this was not a terrorist attack — but rather a demonstration that got out of hand? Consulate video shows there was no demonstration prior to the attack, and there were indications shortly after the attack that al-Qaida was taking credit for it.
Yet, Rice was sent by the administration to appear on Sunday talk shows days later to repeat the transparently false claim the attack came from demonstrators enraged by a video ridiculing Prophet Muhammad. Obama also repeated Rice's spurious statement.
From where did such a whopper come and why was it given?
The attack on our consulate and the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens has been a foreign policy disaster, one that shows al-Qaida remains a distinct threat to Americans in the Middle East and elsewhere. Given that reality and the obvious reluctance to discuss all the issues involved, it's clear the Obama administration's first priority in the aftermath was to keep it from becoming a political disaster as well.