The ill wind blow­ing past Beng­hazi

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY WES­LEY PRUDEN

It’s an ill wind that blows no­body good, and that evil wind from the Mid­dle East comes just when Barack Obama needs a dis­trac­tion most. Just when the main­stream me­dia fi­nally dis­cov­ers the deadly screw-up in Beng­hazi and can no longer avoid talk­ing and writ­ing about it, the Pales­tini­ans fire vol­leys of rock­ets reach­ing Tel Aviv.

The pres­i­dent him­self is in South­east Asia, mis­pro­nounc­ing the names of ev­ery­one he meets, and try­ing to play kissy­face with Aung San Suu Kyi, the heroic woman who led the strug­gle to free Burma from the grip of evil gen­er­als. In the pho­to­graphs, the lady is try­ing to keep her mouth out of the way of Mr. Obama’s kiss­ing equip­ment.

The pres­i­dent was just be­ing friendly, but she doesn’t look as if she’s en­joy­ing her­self. (Can’t the U.S. government af­ford a pro­to­col of­fi­cer to ex­plain to the pres­i­dent that Asians are gen­er­ally not fans of the Amer­i­can ob­ses­sion with hug­ging and slob­ber­ing over ev­ery­one in sight on first meet­ing?)

Mr. Obama got wrong the name of the new re­former pres­i­dent, Thien Sein, call­ing him “Pres­i­dent Sein,” in­stead of “Pres­i­dent Thien.” The Burmese de­scribe this as “a slightly af­fec­tion­ate ref­er­ence” that likely made his hosts cringe. This was not as bad as Jimmy Carter’s in­fa­mous in­vi­ta­tion to a wel­com­ing crowd in Poland to share a sex­ual ad­ven­ture with him. Mr. Jimmy could blame his in­ter­preter, who was con­fused by a word with two dif­fer­ent mean­ings. Mr. Jimmy suf­fered in­ter­na­tional hu­mil­i­a­tion and the rest of us got a big laugh, or at least a large chuckle.

Amer­i­cans, ap­par­ently even Har­vard Law School grad­u­ates, are never very good with lan­guages, and par­tic­u­larly with un­fa­mil­iar forms of ad­dress, but pres­i­dents travel with aides who are paid to know such things. Mr. Obama even got the name of the coun­try wrong, us­ing “Myan­mar,” the pref­er­ence of the evicted evil gen­er­als, in­stead of “Burma,” which is pre­ferred by the re­form­ers and Aung San Suu Kyi, whose name the pres­i­dent also man­gled. “Burma” is the pre­ferred us­age of the State De­part­ment, and the White House ex­plained that the pres­i­dent used “Myan­mar” as “a diplo­matic nicety” in def­er­ence to the dis­carded or­der. Mr. Obama is said to be work­ing on an ex­pla­na­tion to blame Ge­orge W. Bush, who once called Greeks “Gre­cians,” for which he caught con­sid­er­able flak from the pop­guns of the me­dia’s Gaffe Pa­trol.

The pres­i­dent’s mag­i­cal mys­tery tour of South­east Asia, mak­ing no real news, is a per­fect dis­trac­tion from the real events of Beng­hazi and the Mid­dle East. Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton fell on the pres­i­dent’s sword a fort­night ago, and now U.N. Am­bas­sador Su­san E. Rice must fol­low. The White House and its acolytes in the me­dia are try­ing to make the Beng­hazi story about what Mrs. Rice, the am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, knew and when she knew it. The pres­i­dent’s men are por­tray­ing her as the lit­tle woman who only told five Sun­day morn­ing talk shows what the big, brave men at the CIA wrote out for her to say. If the talk­ing points were doc­tored, well, why blame the White House?

The White House ex­cuse for the mis­in­for­ma­tion about what hap­pened in Beng­hazi was “faulty in­tel­li­gence.” That ex­pla­na­tion falls apart on closer ex­am­i­na­tion. The Washington Guardian now re­ports, quot­ing se­nior of­fi­cials, that the pres­i­dent and “se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials” were told within 72 hours that the Beng­hazi at­tack was largely the work of or­ga­nized ter­ror­ists, not street mobs writ­ing a cri­tique of an ama­teur video por­tray­ing Muham­mad as a pe­dophile.

The tim­ing here is cru­cial. The con­sulate was at­tacked on Sept. 11, a Tues­day, and Pres­i­dent Obama was told not later than Fri­day that it was a ter­ror­ist at­tack. Mrs. Rice was dis­patched Sun­day morn­ing, two days later, with the bright, shin­ing lie, and re­peated it five times. Mrs. Clin­ton and the pres­i­dent’s res­i­dent press flack did so as well.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s story blam­ing the CIA for faulty talk­ing points has changed slightly: the talk­ing points in­cluded dis­in­for­ma­tion to mis­lead ter­ror­ists. Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein of Cal­i­for­nia, chair­man of the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, now says Mrs. Rice’s lie was “within the con­text” of what was pre­sented as fact. Who knows who, if any­one, is telling the truth?

The pres­i­dent, try­ing to re­as­sure Is­rael in its hour of max­i­mum peril, says the Is­raelis are within their rights to an­swer the Pales­tinian rock­ets. Well, duh. With that and five bucks, a re­as­sured Is­raeli can get a de­caf latte at Star­bucks. A de­caf latte is con­sid­er­ably more than we sent J. Christo­pher Stevens, the Amer­i­can am­bas­sador beg­ging for help as ter­ror­ists closed in on the Amer­i­cans in Beng­hazi.

Wes­ley Pruden is ed­i­tor emer­i­tus of The Washington Times.

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