Hard to believe, but just two months ago, Barack Obama's re-election was viewed as almost inevitable. Pundits and the MSM touted the President's small, but steady lead in the polls, and the seeming inability of GOP challenger Mitt Romney to close the gap.
But obviously, something happened on the way to four more years. When they write the history of 2012 campaign, scholars will likely focus on the first presidential debate in Denver. For millions of Americans who had only seen Mr. Romney through the filter of Democrat attack ads, he suddenly appeared on their screens as a competent, viable alternative to President Obama and his miserable economic record. After Denver, Mr. Romney began to surge in the polls, establishing his own lead that may carry him to the presidency.
Still, it would be a mistake to ignore the impact of that other significant event of recent months: the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, and the subsequent unraveling of Team Obama's narrative about the strike and their handling of the situation.
In the days following the assault, we were told it was the result of an internet video that insulted the prophet Mohammed. The supposedly led to a "spontaneous" protest that evolved into a full-scale attack on the consulate and a nearby CIA "safe house," complete with heavy weapons. Administration references to the video (as the inspiration for the assault) continued for at least two weeks.
Yet the truth began to quickly emerge. It was subsequently revealed that senior U.S. officials--including the President--were monitoring events in Benghazi as they unfolded. We also learned that Ambassador Chris Stevens (who died in the attack) made repeated requests for increased security at our diplomatic facilities in Libya, but those requests were rejected.
Making matters worse, it also disclosed that an American drone monitored the final hours of the gun battle. And, thanks to the diligent reporting of Fox News, the public discovered that two of the Americans who died, former SEALs Glen Doherty and Ty Woods, were still alive at least five hours after the attack began. They, along with their colleagues, made several requests for assistance by the U.S. military, but those were also denied.
And more revelations are on the way, according to Fox News anchor Bret Baier who (along with his colleagues Jennifer Griffin and Catherine Herridge) have led their network's reporting on Benghazi. What may be revealed is anyone's guess, but the steady drip of damning information has clearly undermined Mr. Obama's claims about his expertise in foreign policy. At this point, it seems likely that the President was watching as a group of terrorists stormed two American facilities in Libya, and the commander-in-chief did virtually nothing to aid our personnel in Benghazi, despite the availability of U.S. military assets in the Mediterranean and southern Europe.
So, how did we get to this point? Historians may someday write of political pressures or even the "fog of war" (another narrative that has found some favor with the White House). But in reality, Team Obama has been done in by its own incompetence, and a losing battle with the intelligence community.
Make no mistake. Many of the most damning revelations about Benghazi have come straight from intelligence operatives and the agencies they represent. Relatively early in the scandal, administration officials hinted that the "spooks had gotten it wrong." Given Mr. Obama's penchant for throwing folks under the bus, intel officers connected to Benghazi were not going to suffer a similar fate. As the White House tried to spin it way out of the scandal, new details kept emerging, forcing the narrative back to the truth.
The intel leaks were also motivated by anger towards senior intelligence officials, who seemed anxious to do the administration's bidding. When the Director of National Intelligence (James Clapper) and the CIA Director (David Petraeus) offered assessments that stressed the "role" of the infamous video, the initial trickle of leaks became a steady stream. After all, many of the men targeted at Benghazi were CIA officers (or contractors working for the agency). Members of the clandestine service and the paramilitary division rightfully perceived that their comrades were being hung out to dry, and they decided to fight back--against the administration and the leadership of our intelligence apparatus.
So at this point, the White House finds itself in a losing battle against the truth, and a presidential election just eight days away. It doesn't take a political pro to understand that Mr. Obama is simply trying to run out the clock and limit the number of new revelations before next Tuesday. That's one reason you could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from Chicago as Hurricane Sandy churned ashore along the eastern seaboard. Not that they wish any hardship on a lot of blue state voters; it's simply the realization that Sandy will dominate the news cycles for the next couple of days--at a minimum--leaving less time for the Benghazi scandal.
Admittedly, the number of voters who pull the lever over foreign policy and national security issues is rather small--not enough to shift the balance of a presidential election. But when Benghazi is viewed through the "competence" prism, the effect is telling, giving voters one more reason to reject Mr. Obama.
For many Americans, the myth of the president's invincibility began to unravel (for good) in Denver. But don't underestimate the impact of that fateful night in Benghazi, and a White House response built on little more than lies and spin.
ADDENDUM: And the brown stuff keeps hitting the fan. Late last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said military forces were not dispatched to Benghaz because we lacked "real-time" intelligence on the ground situation. Never mind that UAV that was overhead, providing continuous video coverage of the battle. Or the e-mails and radio traffic from our personnel at the scene. Or continuous SIGINT reporting from the National Security Agency. To be fair, the intel picture in any fluid situation is far from perfect. But to sa we lacked "real-time intelligence" is nothing more than a lie.
We should also note that the FBI and the National Counter-terrorism Center (NCTC) identified terrorist links to Benghazi just two days after the attack. That was in sharp contrast to a briefing from CIA Director Petraeus, who was touting the "video" angle about the same time. Not exactly General Petraeus's finest hour. If Mitt Romney becomes our next President, we imagine he'll be looking for a new CIA Director and someone to replace Jim Clapper as DNI.