Two reports by leading reporters at the country’s best newspapers offer new research on what happened the night of 9/11/12 at the US mission in Benghazi, but the partisan flack being thrown around in the wake of these new revelations is mostly besides the point.If you haven’t yet read the two reports, you should. David Kirkpatrick’s lengthy “A Deadly Mix in Benghazi” lays out the case against Ahmed Abu Khattala, a “sincere” but “ignorant” Islamist who leads a “purely local” militia. Adam Goldman’s much shorter but also important piece in the Washington Post yesterday reports that US authorities consider another militia leader named Abu Sufian bin Qumu, a leader of Ansar al-Sharia and former Guantanamo detainee, a prime suspect alongside Khattala. Qumu is known to have ties to al Qaeda, a relationship Kirkpatrick did not report.While Republican and Democratic lawmakers continue to bicker bitterly about who is responsible for failing to protect the Americans who died in Benghazi that night, and whether there was some sort of cover-up afterward, it’s important to keep our eyes on what’s important. Firstly, we have a duty to the dead and also to those diplomats and others who venture forth day by day at great personal risk in their country’s service to investigate exactly what happened that terrible night. Anything that can be learned (and anybody who can be apprehended) makes US personnel safer.But the politics of Benghazi are a bit skewed. This has never struck us as an investigation where a smoking gun might turn up that somehow could destroy Hillary Clinton’s 2016 hopes or discredit the current administration.The reason Benghazi continues to reverberate in the body politic is that it was a moment when perception shifted on the Obama administration’s Middle East policy. BB—”Before Benghazi”—people could still make the argument that the President’s policies were working and the region was getting calmer. The Benghazi event blew two important White House narratives out of the water—that the Libyan intervention had gone even a little bit well and that President Obama’s mix of soothing speeches, sympathy with moderate Islamists and drone strikes had marginalized al Qaeda and the radical jihadis. Now even the President’s defenders are arguing that “it’s not his fault” that the region is a disaster and not celebrating the wise policies that stabilized it.
Middle East AflameWhat Happened in Benghazi?