BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON
“You hate to think that the President would purposely mislead the American people, but it sure looks like it to me.” — House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon 9/21/2012
Let’s give the President the benefit of the doubt for now on whether he is coming clean on events in the Middle East that led to the death of our Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three others. But Chairman McKeon should hold that thought.
We should focus first on UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who on Sunday, September 16th, went on a national media bender to deliver three messages: One, the violent protests in Libya were spontaneous. Two, the protests were caused by the release of an American video that insulted the Prophet Mohammed. Three, the two former Navy Seals who were killed in Libya were part of a security detail protecting the Ambassador to that country.
The overwhelming evidence is that the first message is not true. Other evidence suggests the second message isn’t true either. The Obama Administration has now acknowledged that message three is also false.
That brings us to a conundrum. Where is the fault? Is it in the messenger, the message, or both? Either Ambassador Rice, deliberately falsified information with the intent of protecting President Obama from political fallout, or she unknowingly communicated false information fed to her by whoever sent her off on the propaganda tour de force.
She either lied or was misled by her own people. Lying defiles the office she holds. Allowing herself to be exploited badly damages her credibility and ours.
Whatever the case, Ambassador Rice should resign.
Masters of politics find ingenious ways to excuse bad behavior, confuse issues, create diversions and blow smoke. The Obama house of wizardry is particularly good at manipulating perceptions, oftentimes because it has such a receptive audience in the media. So Ambassador Rice no doubt will be cast as a victim and not a villain and therefore excused of her malfeasance, if, in fact, her performance gets any media scrutiny at all.
What she said and what she did is important because the American people deserve more than an oversimplified, sound-bite explanation for what is occurring around the world and where the American Government stands.
The Muslim world is an active volcano, spewing the molten lava of anti-American hatred across the landscape of nearly a dozen countries. Our interests are threatened and our diplomats and military personnel are endangered. Our alliances and our foreign policy are being tested and strained and in some cases shredded.
This is no time to play fast and loose with the facts, or hide from responsibility, or spend a lot of time finding other people at fault.
This is a time when both our leaders in Congress and the Administration, and most of all, the media, should be in full education and information mode, helping us all understand the complexities of Islamic politics and the challenges faced in the struggle to amalgamate nonsectarian government and religious supremacy.
The protestors are thousands among a population numbering in the billions. But as is the case with American extremism, the few get more attention than the many and so our images and perceptions are distorted and contorted, leading us to misunderstand and misinterpret.
I don’t know whether the protestors reflect a sentiment that is widely or narrowly held. I don’t know much about the interchange between those governments and the vast array of political factions that share and compete for power. Confusion is understandable when in Libya protestors attacked the stronghold of the protestors (militia) who killed four Americans in Benghazi the same week that a Pakistani Cabinet minister offered a $100,000 for the head of the anti-Islamist movie producer.
And, like our President, I’m not sure who are friends and who are enemies. It would be nice if he had a little better grasp of it, but then he began his presidency with such a bloated, self-indulgent sense of what he could do to reshape the Muslim-American relationship, it’s not surprising he’s having a difficult time dealing with these new realities. He may want to pull his Nobel Peace Prize down from the shelf and see if the inscription offers any inspiration. But I digress.
When violence erupts and Americans die, victims of a foreign war over radical ideas, we have a right to be angry and expect our government to respond forcefully and deliberately with more than the fickle finger of blame. Our country’s response must be enlightened, guided by intellect more than rage and it also must have the buy-in of an informed and knowledgeable public or it will not stand the test of time or credulity.
That cannot happen when senior government officials either deliberately mislead the public or unknowingly misinform them.
This Administration and those to follow need senior professionals capable of exercising independent and intelligent judgments about what they say and why they say it. History is replete with proof. No Administration has ever been well served by blind loyalty, and the public has never been well served by it either.
Editor’s Note: Mike Johnson is a former journalist, who worked on the Ford White House staff and served as press secretary and chief of staff to House Republican Leader Bob Michel, prior to entering the private sector. He is co-author of a book, Surviving Congress, a guide for congressional staff. He is currently a principal with the OB-C Group.