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Middle East Aflame
What Happened in Benghazi?

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.

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  • TommyTwo

    I was amused by Richard Fernadez’ jibe at the NYT: “It seems al-Qaeda is everywhere these days, excepting Benghazi.”

  • Kavanna

    The “partisan bickering” is not beside the point. The fact is that the administration wasn’t just out to lunch; it was actively deluding itself with wrong analysis and ideas backing bad policy. They then lied when the incident happened and kept lying to cover up what happened. But that’s not so shocking.

    What IS shocking is that the Times saw fit to demonstrate, once again, that it’s not a newspaper, but a propaganda outlet. It, and the bulk of the US media that slavishly follows it, made sure that the truth was obscured to enough voters that it made a significant difference in the 2012 election. The Times is still trying to defend its participation in the cover-up. I suppose that there still some reporters at the Times who care about getting their facts and story straight. But that’s not the institutional policy. It hasn’t been for almost two decades.

    Recently, Mitt Romney appeared on a talk show, and everyone remarked that he’s not a Mormon, but an alien with psychic powers — his characterization of and predictions about the Obama administration were so dead-on as to be creepy. Even the zombies at MSNBC are waking up.

  • qet

    I don’t think the “which subsidiary of al-Qaeda, Inc.” did the particular deed is nearly as important to US domestic politics as the “planned act by professional terrorists” versus “spontaneous popular uprising due to insulting video produced by a Copt living in the US” is. Clinton’s entire excuse lies in convincing people that the assault could not have been foreseen and that she can’t be blamed when a stupid American racist (never mind the just complaints of the Copts even if the video was crassly done) (again) incites (again) Muslims (again) who we all know by now are very touchy about sarcasm and ridicule directed at any aspect of Islam. If the “independent” voters in this country fall for that BS and elect HRC in 2016 out of some misplaced notion that “it is time for a woman,” then we deserve all the acceleration of our international decline that will bring about, and our only hope will be that she indeed turns out to be Nixon in a pantsuit.

  • TheCynical1

    I don’t like to pre-judge, so this has always struck me as an investigation where a new smoking gun might turn up (or not). It simply depends on whatever facts may emerge in a live controversy that remains ongoing. To paraphrase a former defense secretary, we don’t know what we don’t know.

  • Boritz

    But we got the culprit. The video maker

  • ddh

    Aargh! A “flack” works in public relations: flak is a German acronym for Fliegerabwehrkanonen, or antiaircraft artillery.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    What angers me the most and I think others as well, is that the Ambassador had told the Administration that there was a security problem, and was refused support. And that the Ambassador was under attack for many hours (7 hours), repeatedly requested help and a rescue (but was refused), while there were dozens of armed CIA operatives in Benghazi that could have been sent. In addition military forces could have been sent from Italy, and arrived in plenty of time to save them, again refused by Hillary and Obama. And finally, while all this happened on 9/11, Hillary and Obama repeatedly claimed this wasn’t an Islamist terrorist attack by Al-Qaeda and their sympathizers (that caught them with their pants down), but a reaction to some video that was posted 2 months earlier. This just doesn’t pass the laugh test.

    They were clearly more worried about how it would look politically to have boots on the ground in Libya, than protecting Americans. And when they had screwed the pooch, and allowed Terrorists to murder their own Ambassador on 9/11. They tried to cover up their stupidity, by saying it wasn’t a terror attack on 9/11, but incitement by some obscure 2 month old video.

    This has close similarities to the the Fort Hood terrorist attack, were the terrorist jumped up on a table screaming “Allah Akbar” and gunned down dozens of unarmed soldiers. There Obama called what was clearly a terrorist attack, “Work Place Violence”.

    Obama is clearly willing to Lie, to hide his incompetence at stopping Terrorist attacks in the US and on Americans, in contrast to Bush who never allowed another attack on US soil after 9/11.

  • free_agent

    I suspect the deeper issue is that Obama is (de facto, if not intentionally) withdrawing the Pax Americana from the Middle East. Even if that’s a good idea, it’s not going to sit will with Americans (even if they at heart agree with it). But the cost is that we have no control over what happens there, and our people there must accept whatever level of danger happens to be there.

    OTOH, it might be a good way to get the local regimes to realize how important the Pax is to their well-being, and then we can “reboot” their relationships with us on terms we like.

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