The investigations continue unabated as the accusations and defenses multiply in the aftermath of the murderous attack on our diplomats in Benghazi. But this much we know: American lives, including that of our ambassador to Libya, were lost. Chris Stevens was respected at home and loved in Libya, where he had become a symbol of America's good will and, more important, the ability of this country and the West in general to act in freedom's cause, not just talk about it.
The energetic and courageous American ambassador had played an important role in Libyans' liberation from the Gadhafi era, whatever the uncertain and tumultuous aftermath of that revolution. And he was playing an even more important one in Libya's uncertain quest for stability and democracy in a part of the world not known for either quality.
Competing narratives of what happened at Benghazi still flood the news, often providing more heat than light. But in all the controversy, one obdurate truth cannot be denied: This administration, this State Department, this president failed in their first duty, to protect American lives. That is the starting point of this story and it could be the end after all has been said.
First our envoys were killed; now it looks as if any hope of finding out just what happened in Benghazi and why may be lost in all the political infighting.
Our ambassador to the United Nations, among others, was still repeating a dubious account of that attack's origins days after she and perhaps the White House knew better. Or certainly should have known better.
Now the word is that the Hon. Susan Rice, that font of misinformation, may be nominated as the next secretary of state to succeed Hillary Clinton — a possibility, perhaps probability, that has understandably infuriated senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Not to mention the growing segment of American public opinion that does not get its news pre-masticated by White House spokesmen, NPR or any of the other usual apologists for this administration's failures.
At first, the official story was that the assault on our compound in Benghazi was the result of a spontaneous demonstration against a made-in-America video that had offended the memory of the Prophet. That line is no longer credible — if it ever was. Doubts about it surfaced almost immediately after the attack, and the director of the CIA at the time, Gen. David Petraeus, has told Congress his agency knew it was bogus almost from the beginning of this affair.
Even days after the attack — or was it more like a week? — Ambassador Rice and Secretary of State Clinton were still emphasizing the supposedly spontaneous nature of the attack at Benghazi without fear of contradiction from the White House. Even now, a shred or two of that old story, full of holes as it is, still surfaces among the administration's defenders.
This vicious assault on our diplomats occurred in the midst of a hard-fought presidential campaign. At the time, Barack Obama was being billed, fairly enough, as the commander in chief who'd succeeded in hunting down terrorist-in-chief Osama bin Laden.
Then came this humiliating news out of Benghazi, just when al-Qaida was supposed to be a spent force. Was that the source of this essentially false narrative about a spontaneous demonstration just getting out of hand? The suspicion is unavoidable and, as the investigations proliferate, will remain in the background as an underlying explanation of this president's changing story about what happened in Benghazi. Cover-ups do tend to unravel. We'll see if that's true in this case.
It's an old rule in the military: A commander is responsible for all his unit does or fails to do, and now this commander in chief, whatever his talk about responsibility, will be held accountable by a judge far more formidable than his political critics or even American public opinion. He will be held responsible before the bar of History.
TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES