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Benghazi Blues: Massive Conspiracy or Hack Politics and Dumb PR?

In what may be a good way to guarantee that the controversy doesn't go away, President Barack Obama spent several minutes during his Monday press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron angrily denouncing what has become a media firestorm over the Benghazi disaster as a "sideshow."

Obama knew better than that when he decided not to nominate UN Ambassador Susan Rice for secretary of state back in December.

"The whole issue of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow," Obama argued. "Who executes some sort of cover-up or effort to tamp things down for three days? So the whole thing defies logic."

Yes, it does. Because Obama poses an excellent question: Why put together a spin program that will fall apart in a few days? For that is exactly what happened. The spin, which was obviously wrong from the beginning, had already fallen apart by the time Rice made her notorious round of appearances on the Sunday chat shows. That is why Rice embarrassingly contradicted the Libyan leader on one of the shows.

As I wrote at the time, Obama was just plain fortunate that Mitt Romney so mishandled the Benghazi disaster from the start, foolishly charging Obama with "apologizing" to the real protesters -- against the hate-Islam video that later sparked something of a global riot -- who stormed the US embassy in Cairo earlier on the anniversary of 9/11.

Last week's congressional hearing with a few State Department "whistle-blowers" provided some dramatic underpinnings to the Benghazi controversy, and further confirmation that there was no protest gone wrong but a terrorist attack gone right. But there were no smoking guns. A big whiff of cordite, however, emerged on Friday when ABC News revealed the extensive revisions that Rice's talking points had undergone, with repeated interventions from State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland and an editing meeting in the White House the day before Rice appeared on those five Sunday chat shows.

As this contradicts previous White House statements that the talking points were developed only by the intelligence community and that the only change was a minor one of no longer calling the Benghazi facility a "consulate" because it was really a "diplomatic facility."

As it happens, as has been previously reported, the torched Benghazi compound was really neither. It was primarily a CIA facility.

Examining the revisions to the Benghazi story makes it clear that there were clashing bureaucratic imperatives at issue.

The State Department didn't want to get blamed for failing to anticipate or be prepared for the attack on the Benghazi mission/intelligence base. Or, of course, for the death of its ambassador, one of the most popular in the Muslim world, who had worried about the dicey security situation.

The CIA didn't want to look like it was out to lunch for not knowing about a 9/11 anniversary attack on its own folks in a town in which it had a large intelligence-gathering presence, or for the failure of Libyan security forces it had vetted to defend the facility.

Amusingly, perhaps anticipating the preferred but very short-sighted spin of the pols, whomever wrote the first set of CIA talking points described the Benghazi attack as, wait for it, a protest gone wrong. Then the scales were balanced, not at all coincidentally against the interests of State, by repeated references to CIA warnings against terrorist threats.

Which were removed, along with specific references to jihadists. Leaving Rice to sail forth on a sea of Sunday chat in all her career-zapping glory: "Despite what we saw in that horrific incident where some mob was hijacked ultimately by a handful of extremists," Rice opined.

"There's no question, as we've seen in the past with things like 'The Satanic Verses,' with the cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad, there have been such things that have sparked outrage and anger and this has been the proximate cause of what we've seen," Rice averred.

This makes the PR around the Benghazi disaster quite bizarre, as Obama himself correctly assessed in his peeved press conference remarks. For instead of getting more accurate, the spin got increasingly wrong as the process went on, even as reality, reflected by news reports and the consistent statements of the Libyan government, was becoming ever clearer.

The Benghazi talking points ought to be emblazoned on a monument to sheer political hackery and breathtakingly incompetent PR.

There is, of course, another view. (Besides the view in which all this was just A-okay.) For many see a massive conspiracy, of which the disastrous spin about the Benghazi disaster is merely the tip of the iceberg. A conspiracy in which American values are flouted and American security subverted in the service of appeasement of the global jihadist conspiracy.

Let's put aside this administration's dogged hunt for Osama bin Laden, the very risky Navy SEAL raid it devised and ordered to take down bin Laden, and, oh yes, the absolute decimation of Al Qaeda Prime leaders and operatives through a vastly expansive program of drone strikes and special ops raids. A program so expansive it may be generating more jihadists than it is eliminating.

The big conspiracy line falls apart once you ask who this Victoria Nuland at the center of the talking points revision is. Is she a lefty apologist for anti-American forces who has wormed her way next to Hillary Clinton?

Er, no. She is a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, a woman who served as the Bush/Cheney administration's ambassador to NATO. Perhaps she is influenced by her nefarious radical lefty/Quran-hugging husband, then.

That would be Robert Kagan, widely noted as a neoconservative intellectual, foreign policy adviser to John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign and co-founder (with right-wing columnist William Kristol) of the late Project for the New American Century. This very influential neoconservative outfit began agitating for the invasion of Iraq in 1998.

Deep conspiracy theorists about Obama and "jihadist appeasement" should look elsewhere. Or find a new hobby.

And Obama needs to rethink how public relations is done in his administration.

My old mentor, Silicon Valley marketing guru Regis McKenna, used to say: "The best public relations is the truth."

That sounds too idealistic for this era, so let's re-write that in terms this snarky culture won't reject with a shallow snicker: The best public relations is reality-based.

The Benghazi talking points were anything but reality-based, and they'd only gotten worse by the time Ambassador Rice charged on to those Sunday chat shows.

There are bigger issues here, of course. Like, how did the Benghazi disaster actually happen? And how do we defeat, or at least contain, something, jihadism, which is not simply an organization but an idea, a virus which will not be eradicated simply with bombs and bullets?

Maybe there will be some interest in that, some day.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.

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