Six weeks following the assault on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya, many questions remain regarding the nature of the attacks, what the Obama administration knew and when, and the way that knowledge was delivered to the public. Adding to that confusion is the GOP’s desire to politicize the issue in the run-up to the presidential election.
Mitt Romney was widely scorned for criticizing Obama in the assault’s immediate aftermath for allegedly sympathizing with the attackers. But days later, Romney, his allies and other pundits found an opening to again criticize the administration. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice claimed that the attack in Libya was an outgrowth of the protests in Cairo against an anti-Muslim film. But the administration’s story soon changed.
This shift in story — while always likely given the nature of intelligence — launched a new round of condemnation against Obama. Accusations and speculation of administration lies and cover-ups have been the major focus of the narrative since then.
But the reality is much more nuanced than what the built-up narrative suggests. The following is a timeline of not the attack itself, but the response to it, by the Obama administration, Mitt Romney’s campaign and the right-wing:
THE IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH
September 11, 2012: Protests take place at the U.S. embassy in Cairo. The anger was reportedly sparked by a video, purported to be the trailer of a full-length movie, called “The Innocence of Muslims,” that portrayed Islam in a highly negative and derogatory light. This demonstration will soon spread to other cities throughout the Middle East, including Khartoum, Sanaa and Tunis.
September 11: Dozens of armed militants launch an attack on an American diplomatic outpost in the Libyan city Benghazi.
September 11: Governor Mitt Romney’s campaign issues a statement condemning the Obama administration’s response to the global protests:
ROMNEY: “I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
September 12: Initial reports surface that Ambassador Chris Stevens has been killed, along with other American citizens. The story of how continues to shift throughout day as details emerge.
September 12: In the immediate aftermath of news of Ambassador Stevens’ death, Republicans criticized the Romney campaign’s statement. But the campaign stuck to its attack. When asked about the statement, Romney foreign policy advisor Richard Williamson, replied, “It was accurate.”
September 12: The New York Times reports that “[f]ighters involved in the assault…said in interviews during the battle that they were moved to attack the mission by anger over a 14-minute, American-made video that depicted the Prophet Muhammad, Islam’s founder, as a villainous, homosexual and child-molesting buffoon.” The Times continues to stand by its story.
September 12: President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton give remarks on the death of Ambassador Stevens and others. Both pledge justice against the perpetrators of the attacks. In his speech, Obama refers to the attack as an “act of terror”:
OBAMA: No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.
September 13: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says during a press briefing and a later press gaggle that the protests around the world were due to reaction to the video. In the gaggle, Carney made clear he didn’t want to speculate in light of the ongoing investigation. His remarks were later taken to mean that the Benghazi attack was based on video.
September 13: President Obama, at a campaign rally in Denver, CO, reiterates the previous day’s statement, referring to the events in Benghazi as an act of terror:
OBAMA: So what I want all of you to know is that we are going to bring those who killed our fellow Americans to justice. I want people around the world to hear me: To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished. It will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America.