The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
The Real Libya Scandal

benghazigate

There’s a prospect that the murky events surrounding the tragic death of Ambassador Stevens on September 11, 2012, in Libya are about to make a comeback as a major storyline. Three witnesses advertised as “whistleblowers” are set to appear in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this week, and the Beltway media and its assorted partisan pundits are getting their bibs on for another serving of BenghaziGate.

As a political story, l’affaire Benghazi has lots of juicy questions to resolve: Did Susan Rice knowingly lie on the Sunday talk show circuit? Did Secretary Clinton cut out the State Department’s counterterrorism bureau while responding to the attack? (And if so, why?) What did the President know and when? This is all very interesting—perhaps even consequential, as it comes at a time when rising criticism over handling of the Middle East is leading a growing chorus in the establishment to turn on the White House, at least on matters of foreign policy.

For us, the questions of whether the administration did everything it could to ensure Ambassador Stevens’s safety, and how exactly it described what happened in the chaotic days following the attack, while important, are not the main issue. We are more interested about how much the administration’s relative neglect of the country and the broader region after its “Mission Accomplished” moment—when Qaddafi was deposed (and murdered) and the emergence of a “democratic” Libya was being heralded across the MSM as proof of the wisdom of Obama’s style of hands-off “leadership”—has set us back.

We would argue that it’s quite a lot. It’s no secret that we were no fans of the Libya intervention, and we’ve continued to track the deteriorating situation on the ground there before and after four brave Americans met their untimely, regrettable ends in Benghazi. And judging by reports like these in the Daily Beast today, the trend appears to be continuing:

Since the assault last September on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that left ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead, Libyan jihadist groups have been undergoing a reconfiguration, with more of them coming under the direct sway of AQIM. One Libyan intelligence source likens it to a “swarm of bees” accepting a new queen bee.

According to this source, AQIM didn’t order or plot directly the assault on the U.S. Consulate but was involved in the decision to attack, which was taken not by a single mastermind, but by a committee of Libyan and Egyptian jihadist ringleaders. “Radical cells in several of Benghazi’s revolutionary militias were involved in the decision,” he says, including members of the February 17 Brigade, the militia that also had guards detailed to protect the consulate.

He says the leaders of the militia most frequently blamed for the attack, Ansar al-Sharia, were not involved in the assault, although radical subordinates were. Other attackers came from the Omar Mukhtar brigade, the Abu Salem Martyrs Brigade, and the Rafala Sahati brigade. Three Algerian members of AQIM were present at the assault on the consulate and for the subsequent attack on a nearby CIA compound, where consulate staff fled. “They are now fighting in Syria,” he says.

What a mess.

Meanwhile, what increasingly looks like a deliberate political attempt to blame the whole Benghazi attack on a crude and unimportant anti-Islam film has slandered Muslims around the world by reinforcing the stereotype of them as ravening hordes of unthinking fanatics stirred to mob action by trivial causes. It also deflected attention away from growing evidence that al-Qaeda’s ideological influence, political reach and military capacities have metastasized even as the administration claimed to be wiping them out. Judging from what’s been said in the press recently, it appears that virtually no one in the administration believed the talking points poor Ambassador Rice carried with her on the weekend news shows. It’s often said that a diplomat is someone sent forth to lie for their country, but one suspects that Ambassador Rice really wants to know who sent her into the arena with the most bogus story since the Age of Yellowcake.

We are interested in seeing some political accountability for what increasingly looks like a deliberate attempt to mislead the American people on a matter of national security for the sake of political gain, but we care even more about a serious national discussion about our Middle East strategy. In Libya, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, things are not headed in the right direction, and we see little sign that Tehran is ready to cave.

It seems clear that despite the best efforts of the Obama administration, the United States is being pulled into rather than escaping from the region, and we need a new approach to these new realities, the sooner the better.

[Photo from the BenghaziGate hearings from January 23, 2013, courtesy Getty Images]

Published on May 6, 2013 5:21 pm
  • http://www.facebook.com/corlyss.drinkard Corlyss Drinkard

    It’s hard not to criticize almost everything this feckless administration has done or not done in the name of its “vision,” which more often than not seems to be a set of self-satisfying hallucinations strung together with labels and slogans from the 60s left. Where the vision has been grand, the execution has been miserly. Where the vision has been gratifyingly restrained, it’s been simply wrong as well as poorly executed.

  • Andrew Allison

    With respect, “We are interested in seeing some political accountability for what
    increasingly looks like a deliberate attempt to mislead the American people on a matter of national security for the sake of political gain,
    but we care even more about a serious national discussion about our Middle East strategy” is not the issue, which is: did the administration lie to Congress and the people. If we can’t trust our government to be truthful, we are in trouble!

    • dan

      Absolutely. Not taking actions that may have saved lives, then a coordinated response to the world that was a lie, and then locking up someone as a scapegoat (who is still in jail) for false reasons–this needs some “political accountability”!? And, in any case, it is simply NOT possible to have a “serious … discussion” with the administration which took the above actions. My respect for WRM has decreased substantially.

    • http://www.facebook.com/corlyss.drinkard Corlyss Drinkard

      “did the administration lie to Congress and the people.”
      Disagree. They lie to all the time. Some motives are more acceptable than others. National security is a totally acceptable reason. I don’t what to know what they do in my name to keep me and my fellow citizens safe. Lying to promote a treasured administration narrative based on a childish fantasy that only the uberLeft would find commendable is contemptible and should be punished in the most extreme manner.

      • Andrew Allison

        I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. With what did you disagree? I was suggesting that, “Lying to promote a treasured administration narrative based on a childish fantasy that only the uberLeft would find commendable is contemptible and should be punished in the most extreme manner.”

        • http://www.facebook.com/corlyss.drinkard Corlyss Drinkard

          Many people have trouble with the notion of the American government lying – about anything. I’m in favor of keeping secret that which needs to be secret in order to further national security interests. I’m not in favor of lying to protect pols’ reputations or favorite delusions. My apologies if I misconstrued your intent.

      • bobby_b

        “I don’t want to know what they do in my name to keep me and my fellow citizens safe.”

        I can live with that only if the people who are making those decisions have, by their acts and words, convinced me that they are honest and honorable and that, when they lie for national security purposes, it still causes them a twinge in the “this is wrong” area of the brain.

        I’ve seen no such showing from this gang.

        • http://www.facebook.com/corlyss.drinkard Corlyss Drinkard

          Agreed. They’re not even as competent as Carter was, and that’s saying a lot, given the latter’s devotion to useless gestures.

    • circleglider

      “Political accountability” clearly does not include anything related to swaying an otherwise incredibly close election.

      The election is over; move on. Nothing to see here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Luke-Lea/579129865 Luke Lea

    re a serious national discussion about our Middle East strategy. . .

    That means defining out strategic objectives.

    a) insure the free flow of oil out of the Persian Gulf (on which world economic stability depends)

    b) insure the security of the state of Israel (and the values which that state represents)

    Some might say b conflicts with a but I don’t think so: in the final analysis it has to do with establishing the rule of law in international relations, upon which the world’s peace ultimately depends.

    Of course we are a long way from the final analysis. ;)

  • Douglas Levene

    It now appears that the Administration scapegoated the maker of the anti-Islamic video for political purposes. While that is troubling enough, what is far more troubling is that the Administration apparently used every lever at its disposal to jail said filmaker, who is still in jail. Isn’t anyone else bothered by this? The administration falsely blames a man for causing an international crisis by making a video – and remember the media chorus calling for his jailing and punishment – and then apparently instructs the DOJ to jail him for a parol violation, where the violation mostly consisted of activities relating to making the video. Where’s the accountability? I tell my students in China that the US does not have any political prisoners but this case gives me pause.

    • Kavanna

      The scapegoating was clear last fall, before the election. The raid on the consulate was planned ahead of time. The administration then scrambled for a rationale: a negative movie review turned violent.

      The filmmaker (Nakoula) is still in jail.

      Hillary soon to be thrown under bus.

  • joe___h

    I hope Professor Mead did not write this:

    We are more interested about how much the administration’s relative neglect of the country and the broader region after its “Mission Accomplished” moment—when Qaddafi was deposed (and murdered) and the emergence of a “democratic” Libya was being heralded across the MSM as proof of the wisdom of Obama’s style of hands-off “leadership”—has set us back.

    The Obama administration did not have a “mission accomplished” moment any more than the Bush administration did–the sign as we all know was for a returning aircraft carrier, but the popular media, much like Herbert Walker Bush’s ignorance of grocery scanners, made it a political myth. No one in the MSM ever talked about a “democratic” Libya; Tunisia and Egypt perhaps, but never Libya: where are the hyperlinks to support this assertion?

    When did possibly lying to the American public about a foreign policy failure become jejune?

    Another gem:

    It’s often said that a diplomat is someone sent forth to lie for their country, but one suspects that Ambassador Rice really wants to know who sent her into the arena with the most bogus story since the Age of Yellowcake.

    This is from the Andrew Sullivan Blue Book: the use of the passive tense, the unattributed, straw man argument and the unreferenced, but oddly capitalized conclusion. Are we talking about the Bush administration’s use of yellow cake before the Security Council or former Ambassador Wilson’s infamous and laughable NYT op-ed? Or both?

    One suspects one can’t know the mind of Ambassador Rice, so why does one so pretend?

    The masthead says Walter Russell Mead’s blog, but increasingly it seems the students publish without adequate editing or supervision.

    • bobby_b

      “I hope Professor Mead did not write this:”

      We could hold, as our primary value, that if Mr. Obama did lie to us right before the election for political gain, then he has delegitimized his continued exercise of the office he holds.

      We could then be outraged and vocal, and exhort lots of others to join us, and then, after the next presidential election, Obama will be out of office.

      Or we could be more concerned about the most serious danger to threaten the very wobbly semi-truces of the Mideast that we’ve really ever seen, dangerous to the extent that, if we ever paid any more attention to that “Nuclear Clock” (the one that got so devalued when everything was always “11:59:59: . . . “), we’d be trying to split tenths of seconds and getting ready to shield our eyes at the first hint of an airburst . . .

      We could then be outraged and vocal, and exhort lots of others to join us,
      and then, after the next presidential election, Obama will be out of
      office.

      Either way, this guy is going to cause us to experience a small-to-medium nuclear exchange with . . . somebody. Lots of choices. Heck, I could see England doing it at some point if he disrespects them any more blatantly and inexcusably.

  • Anthony

    l’ affaire Benghazi…. all have resonance and foreign policy game theory consideration. Yet, Middle East foreign policy discussion now generally ensues within vitriolic context domestically such that it becomes difficult to separate signal from noise – and most importantly given region’s history, we need less polemics and more actionable intelligence.

  • Lorenz Gude

    I’ve read those who think Benghazi will lead to impeachment but I don’t believe it in my heart. So I understand WRM’s lack of full gospel enthusiasm for the issue. And I also think that it is actually more important that we improve our foreign policy than who wins the next round in the politics of personal destruction. These politics blind both sides to what their opponents get right which is the basis from which a more effective foreign policy must arise. Instead all we get is “Accentuate the Negative, eliminate the Positive and don’t mess with Mr. Inbetween”

  • charlesrwilliams

    A man sits in jail on a flimsy pretext because he offended some Muslims! It is the job of our political leaders to defend Americans in the exercise of their rights – not to pass judgment on how they exercise those rights – certainly not before the United Nations.

    And then there is Hilary Clinton, revealed once again to be dishonest, self-serving and incompetent for high office. “What does it matter now? They are all dead.” That video clip sums up who Hilary Clinton is and why her presidency would be a disaster.

    And then there is the media which once again turns its back on the painful truth about their idol Barack Obama.

    And finally there is the painful truth that killing bin Laden and all the drone attacks have not succeeded in ending the threat of Islamic terrorism. They cannot because the “enemy” is a cancer within Islam that metastasized long before al Qaeda emerged from the swamp. The enemy is not a terrorist conspiracy but a popular movement with an ideology rooted in religion.