Updated: November 13, 2012 6:24AM
In assessing the complexities and dangers of the war on terrorism, President George W. Bush would say we have to be right 100 percent of the time but the terrorists have to be lucky only once to inflict death and destruction. That — better than finger pointing over whether the State Department scrimped on security in Libya — is a proper prism through which to view the murders of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
That’s not to say the Benghazi atrocity doesn’t expose the failures of President Barack Obama in confronting Islamist terrorism. But those deficiencies get lost in a fruitless examination from the high ground of hindsight to try to pin blame on someone other than the thugs who killed the Americans.
I’m not dismissing the security failure, but I don’t believe that State Department officials willfully and deliberately ignored warnings of the dangerous environment in Libya. Any posting in the violence-soaked Middle East and North Africa is hazardous duty. I suspect that daily State receives cables, emails and other messages detailing threats to diplomats. Yes, State officials in Washington made a tragic miscalculation in rejecting the security pleas from the men on the ground. And yes, Deputy Secretary of State Charlene Lamb sounded incredibly callous and out of touch in telling a congressional hearing Wednesday, “We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi on Sept. 11.”
But Lamb and others at State made a human mistake, and I suspect they will anguish over it for the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately the struggle against Islamist fanaticism will be a long war, and the terrorists likely will get lucky again. The unspoken counterpoint to Bush’s observation is that we can’t be right a perfect 100 percent of the time. So the Obama administration’s failure is not just in tactically erring on how many security agents should have been in Libya. No, the administration’s strategic negligence came in looking at Islamofascism through rose-colored glasses, claiming too much success in confronting it, and attempting for days to deny that Benghazi was a calculated terrorist attack.
Just this week, Obama bragged “al-Qaeda is on its heels.” He may mean al-Qaeda’s forces in Afghanistan have been diminished, but that ignores the murderous havoc wreaked by al-Qaeda’s ally the Haqqani network. It ignores the reality of surging al-Qaeda branches and affiliates from Iraq to Yemen to Libya and beyond. It ignores the revolutionary Islamist threat of Iran. It ignores the broader Islamist risk as evidenced by the Taliban’s shooting of a 14-year-old girl in Pakistan who’s only sin was to advocate schooling for girls. As Laura Logan of CBS’s “60 Minutes” told the Better Government Association in Chicago, there is no such thing as a “moderate, gentler, kinder Taliban.”
Equally indefensible was the administration’s attempts for nearly a week to deny that Benghazi was a terrorist attack. Wednesday’s congressional hearing was marked by the spectacle of a State official saying those attempts were based on the best information available when he himself had told members of Congress the day after Benghazi that it was a terrorist attack.
But a resurgent al-Qaeda, the continuing threat from Islamist radicalism and a terror attack in Benghazi are inconvenient truths for the Obama re-election campaign. These are vital, consequential issues for voters to weigh in the voting booth.