In the case of Benghazi, the cover-up may be the crime and the distraction
November 5, 2012
For all the mystery surrounding what exactly happened in Libya
on September 11, the basic facts are not in question: The U.S.
consulate in Benghazi and the nearby CIA annex was assaulted and
the American ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were
killed. The Obama administration has been less than forthcoming
about events, and critics have rightly pressed for answers.
The net effect of all this, though, has been to create first and
foremost a political battle over whether someone lied to the press
or to the American people. The search for the liar (did Obama
always know the attack wasn’t triggered by the YouTube video
The Innocence of Muslims) or an incompetent (did Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton really wave off requests for heightened
security?) obscures far more troubling issues about the U.S.
presence in Libya.
Let’s take a step back. In 2009, President Obama embarked on
what Mitt Romney and Republicans have characterized as an "apology
tour." The president visited many nations and
acknowledged some mistakes in past U.S. policy. He also
promised that the country would do better in the future. Of course,
any sort of self-criticism of foreign policy is unacceptable to
interventionist-minded Republicans (especially if made while
traveling overseas), and so was born the idea of the apology tour,
even if the self-evidently interventionist Obama was only making a
Consider, for instance, Obama’s intervention in the Libyan civil
war. Compared to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, it’s small
fry, but its consequences could be just as disastrous. It set a
precedent for the president to authorize the use of military force
himself, on behalf of the "writ
of the international community," and enter a war on the side of
a largely unknown group of rebels. As it turns out, the rebels in
Libya range from government officials to Islamist militants
and Nigeria to potential perpetrators of the 9/11 Benghazi
At one of his last hearings as a sitting member of Congress,
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) brought to light information that
helps explain what happened in Benghazi. As the civil war had
gotten underway, Col. Moammar Qaddafi had originally blamed the
Al Qaeda and acid.
A month later, as the U.S-backed intervention began, CNN asked
whether Al Qaeda might take advantage of the
situation, noting that
a diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks from 2008 pointed to one
rebel stronghold as a source of the foreign fighters in Libya. One of the
larger rebel groups that came under the anti-Qaddafi coalition, the
Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, was itself founded by mujahedeen
returning from Afghanistan, and its leader admitted Al
Qaeda links just days after the U.N. resolution that set American
military action in motion.
Kucinich got Lt. Colonel Andrew Wood to offer that
Al Qaeda’s presence was certainly more established in Libya than
America’s. Worse still, in the wake of the rebel victory, somewhere
between 10,000 to 20,000 surface-to-air missiles have gone missing.
White House emails reveal that the Islamist militant group that
almost immediately took responsibility for the Benghazi attack
also bragged to
Al Qaeda about it. The new Libyan government, meanwhile, insisted
from the beginning the Benghazi attack was perpetrated by Islamist
militants. And yet, as Jamie Dettmer reported at The Daily
Beast, the investigation has stalled, and Libyan officials are
worried about what the eventual American response might be. "They
had surveillance drones monitoring that night. They will have
identified some people and traced where they are now," Dettmer
quotes an advisor to Libya’s Congress. "They worry," Dettmer
reports, "about a drone strike on targets in eastern Libya—that
would be a gift to jihadists, they say."
Obama has of course made drone strikes one of the centerpieces
of his foreign policy. And Mitt Romney provides essentially no
alternative to more of the same. "We can’t kill our way out of this
mess," Mitt Romney told Obama at the foreign policy debate last
week, before prescribing more killing as the solution to every
problem American faces abroad. "I...feel the president was right to
up the usage of that [drone] technology, and believe that we should
continue to use it, to continue to go after the people that
represent a threat to this nation and to our friends," the
Republican nominee said just minutes later.
And so despite whoever wins Tuesday’s election, the response to
the murder of an American ambassador and three others may well be
the sort of action that will "be a gift to jihadists." What won’t
be questioned is the sort of intervention—unilaterally decided by
the president and then passively accepted by a pliant Congress—that
dropped American diplomats into an unstable situation that no one
had a handle on.
Finding out whether (or when) Obama and his spokespeople started
dissembling about the Benghazi attack is important, but it’s
ultimately less important than confronting the mind-set that will
lead to more half-baked interventions that then lead to more death
and destruction of American lives.
"It is harder to recognize Congress’ role in the failure to stop
the drone attacks that are still killing innocent civilians and
strengthening radical elements abroad," Kucinich told fellow
congressmen at the Benghazi hearing. "We want to stop the attacks
on embassies? Let’s stop trying to overthrow governments."