The mystery night
By: Rich Lowry
May 23, 2013 12:07 AM EDT
On “Fox News Sunday” last weekend, White House aide Dan Pfeiffer was asked about President Barack Obama’s whereabouts the night of the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi.
This was the night when we lost our first ambassador in 30 years, and when three other Americans were killed in an attack that lasted all night long at multiple locations within the eastern Libyan city. Since the president is commander in chief, one would think where he was and what he did during such an event would be of obvious public concern.
Not according to Pfeiffer. He deemed the president’s location, and specifically whether he was in the Situation Room, “a largely irrelevant fact.” If it is so unimportant, why not simply tell us? It’s not as if we haven’t heard largely irrelevant information before. Humor us. Then everyone can judge the value of the fact for himself.
Obama’s actions and nonactions on that terrible night are a blank spot in his presidency. We simply don’t know much about them, and the White House has always been perfectly content to leave it that way.
We know he was meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey on an unrelated matter at 5 p.m. Washington time, when he learned of the attack. In congressional testimony, Panetta said he had no contact with the president or the White House after that point.
Dempsey said he didn’t hear from the president, either. Although he did stipulate that “his staff was engaged with the national military command center pretty constantly through the period, which is the way it would normally work.” Fine, but one wonders: What is the standard operating procedure when a U.S. ambassador goes missing and is killed?
Next, we know that the president talked to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at 10 p.m., when the assault that killed Chris Stevens and State Department computer expert Sean Smith was over but the mortar attack that killed two former U.S. Navy SEALs at another facility hadn’t yet taken place.
What about the rest of the time? Pfeiffer assures us that the president kept “in constant touch that night with his national security team and kept up to date with the events as they were happening.”
He must have experienced the loneliness and responsibility of command during all his unspecified phone calls with unspecified national security personnel from an unspecified location until unspecified hours of the night.
When the White House has a good story to tell, we hear about it. As Boston Herald columnist Michael Graham points out, the president has been in constant evidence responding to the Moore, Okla., tornado. The White House blog on Wednesday informed us, among many other things, that the president spoke to Mayor Glenn Lewis and Gov. Mary Fallin “to reiterate that he had directed his administration to provide all available resources to support the response led by the governor and her team.”
The Osama bin Laden raid will be one of the most documented episodes of his presidency. Immediately after killing bin Laden, Obama gave a long, detailed interview to “60 Minutes.”
He talked about what information the CIA first brought him about bin Laden’s location and what orders he gave in response. When the planning began and how it proceeded. How involved he was in multiple meetings in the Situation Room. Every nuance of his thinking. The dynamic of the debate among his advisers. The mood in the Situation Room during the operation. And on and on.
In the case of Benghazi, the military maintains that nothing could have been done to save the lives lost that night, and it may well be right. But no one could say how long the attack in Benghazi would last or if there would be follow-on attacks in Tripoli. An engaged commander in chief would have been coordinating with his military and prodding it to see if it could do more, faster to respond to an attack that resulted in a national humiliation.
The day after his mystery night, Obama publicly emerged. He gave a statement at 10:35 a.m. condemning the Benghazi attack — and left Washington at 2:20 p.m. for a fundraiser in Las Vegas.