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Until Friday, there were two possible explanations for why the White House failed to immediately call the Benghazi attack an act of terrorism. One was incompetence, the other was worse.
Now there is only one, and it is the worse one. Based on the persuasive testimony of ex-CIA boss David Petraeus, it is clear the Obama administration made a deliberate decision to mislead Congress and the American people.
The repeated claim that the attack was spontaneous and grew out of a demonstration against an anti-Islam video — a claim made by the president and secretary of State as they stood next to the bodies of four dead Americans — was a monstrous lie. It was vile and done for the basest of reasons.
Because we now know the truth of what happened — CIA reports were edited to remove the names of al Qaeda groups involved in the attack, Petraeus said under oath — we also know the motive. It was political self-preservation, meaning the president and his team put politics first.
The timing helps tell the tale. Just days removed from his Charlotte convention, where he danced on the grave of Osama bin Laden and boasted that al Qaeda was decimated, Obama couldn’t bear to admit that affiliated groups were thriving in North Africa. And he certainly couldn’t admit they had carried out a murderous attack on our consulate on the 11th anniversary of the most awful day in American history.
To do so would be to acknowledge the failure of his decision to ignore hard-line Islamists and that his team had erred egregiously in rejecting pleas for more security from Libya Ambassador Chris Stevens.
So the president lied, including in a speech to the United Nations, where he cited the video as the reason for the attack. He sent out reams of flunkies to do the same, including his snide press secretary, Jay Carney.
Most notably, UN Ambassador Susan Rice went on five Sunday television shows to spin the nonsense about the hijacking of a demonstration — a demonstration that never existed. Rice made a fool of herself, and now, she, too is damaged goods.
Oddly, Petraeus, brought down by the reckless affair with his biographer, nonetheless looks like the only honest man in the drama.
A briefing he gave soon after the attack is now more suspect because it adhered to the party line, despite his belief that it was always a terrorist attack.
But Friday in his testimony behind closed doors, Petraeus told the truth as he knew it, even though the administration announced the day before that it was investigating his conduct at the CIA.
If that was meant to pressure him to protect the president, it failed spectacularly. Whatever his personal failings, Petraeus reinforced his reputation for professional integrity.
The next move is up to Congress. While Democrats are predictably and shamefully trying to deny the significance of Petraeus’ revelation, Republicans say they are determined to get the full truth, wherever the hunt takes them.
Especially as the president begins a new term, and huge economic and tax difference must be resolved, the country would be better served if the administration co-operates. But their behavior up to now does not make that seem likely. Having built their web of lies, it would be hard to suddenly come clean.
The first tests will come with the next round of hearings. Any attempt by the White House to block the appearance of any official who played a role in shaping the false narrative should be seen as proof that the stonewalling continues.
In that case, the full power of the constitution must be brought to bear. Nobody is above the law, even the president.
To continue reading Michael Goodwin's New York Post column on additional topics, click here.