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]