Clinton, Obama and what should have happened as Benghazi unfolded

White House/Pete Souza

Denis McDonough, Deputy National Security Advisor, left, talks with President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and Chief of Staff Jack Lew in the Oval Office, Sept. 11, 2012.

Article Highlights

  • Here’s what should have happened on September 11, 2012.

    Tweet This

  • Here’s the problem the press and Obama’s allies fail to grasp: There was no obvious reason to cover up what happened in Benghazi.

    Tweet This

  • This “witch hunt” is rooted in the ongoing efforts of the Obama administration to obfuscate what happened in Libya.

    Tweet This

Democratic politicos, the press, and the liberal punditocracy have decried the “witch hunt” over Benghazi.  But this “witch hunt” --  more properly called the responsible exercise of checks and balances in our government -- is rooted in what is the almost inexplicable and ongoing efforts of the Obama administration to obfuscate what happened in Libya on that terrible day of September 11, 2012.

Here’s what should have happened on September 11, 2012: Hillary Clinton should have put out a press release acknowledging the death of U.S. personnel in Libya.  She should not have mentioned “inflammatory material posted on the internet”, because she had no reason to do so.  But that mistake can be forgiven in light of ongoing demonstrations in Cairo, purportedly over an obscure video that defamed Muslims.

Here’s what should have happened on September 12, 2012: The President should have canceled his Vegas fundraiser and stayed in Washington to determine details about the attack in Libya.  He should have put out a simple statement indicating a thorough investigation, and not have alluded to “efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others”, implicitly tying the video to the Benghazi attack.

On September 14, 2012, Hillary Clinton should have made clear that Al Qaeda related groups were responsible for the attacks in Libya; instead she doubled down on the YouTube video.  And White House spokesman Jay Carney lied again, telling reporters “we were not aware of any actionable intelligence indicating that an attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was planned or imminent.”  

Really?  On September 11?  With cables begging for increased security?  With Al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri calling for revenge attacks for the killing of senior Al Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al Libi – “the Libyan”? Really?

And most of all, what shouldn’t have happened was Obama administration ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice hitting the Sunday shows to speak about “spontaneous” demonstrations in Benghazi.  What, terrorists, where?  

Much has been made of the forensic work being done by Rep. Darrell Issa, and he has been accused repeatedly of flogging a dead horse.  

Yes, he has uncovered clear evidence that talking points were edited in order to diminish the appearance of an Al Qaeda terrorist attack.  

Yes, he has uncovered whistle blowers within State who were ignored in the nominally “independent” review of what transpired in Benghazi.  But this, apparently, is not enough.  

Here’s the problem the press and Obama’s allies fail to grasp: There was no obvious reason to cover up what happened in Benghazi.  And because there was no obvious reason, it appeared that the administration was aware of something it wished to hide from the American people in a thicket of lies, half-truths and deliberate omissions.  We should expect that the Congress of the United States would wish to get to the bottom of such a cover up.

The simple facts of the Benghazi attack are clear, and the mistakes that were made in that first day are even forgivable because mistakes are made in the fog of battle.  But when such mistakes are made, serious leaders admit them and move on.  

What would have happened if the president of the United States had stepped into the Rose Garden on September 12 and said: “Yesterday, a number of statements were made with which I am not comfortable.  We are uncertain about what happened yesterday in Benghazi.  We are investigating aggressively, and we will share our findings when we have them.”  

Why not?  In part because of naked politicking and a desire to avoid undercutting the I-killed-Usama-Al-Qaeda-is-on its-heels meme of the election.  In part, because, apparently, the Obama administration cannot admit fault.  

What would have happened if Hillary Clinton had said, “I am deeply disturbed that requests for better security for Benghazi were not taken seriously, and I will get to the bottom of this and heads will roll”? What would have happened if requests for additional security hadn’t been dismissed?  If those at the scene and with knowledge of the attack had been interviewed by investigators and not intimidated?

The answer, clearly, is that there would be little reason for an investigation.  There would be little reason for hearings and lawyers.  Because the administration would have been honest and up front from the get-go about mistakes that were made.  But they didn’t and they weren’t and it should come as no surprise to anyone that those who choose to hide the facts, intimidate their critics and otherwise cover up a story are going to be investigated.  Should we not expect that?  And applaud it?

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author



  • As a long-time Senate Committee on Foreign Relation senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia, Danielle Pletka was the point person on Middle East, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan issues. As the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, Pletka writes on national security matters with a focus on Iran and weapons proliferation, the Middle East, Syria, Israel and the Arab Spring. She also studies and writes about South Asia: Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

    Pletka is the co-editor of “Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats” (AEI Press, 2008) and the co-author of “Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran” (AEI Press, 2011) and “Iranian influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan” (AEI Press, 2012). Her most recent study, “America vs. Iran: The competition for the future of the Middle East,” was published in January 2014.


    Follow Danielle Pletka on Twitter.

  • Phone: 202-862-5943
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Alexandra Della Rocchetta
    Phone: 202-862-7152

What's new on AEI

image Getting it right: US national security policy and al Qaeda since 2011
image Net neutrality rundown: What the NPRM means for you
image The Schuette decision
image Snatching failure from victory in Afghanistan
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
  • 22
  • 23
  • 24
  • 25
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Event Registration is Closed
Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.