Eli Lake reports on White House deliberations over retaliation for the killing of Amb. Christopher Stevens and other Americans in Benghazi. U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly have compiled a list of suspects in the assault. According to some intelligence officials, there is enough detail to take military action to kill or capture ten of the operatives tied to the planning of the attack.
The administration supposedly is considering whether to pursue these operatives through law enforcement or via military means like drone strikes or special operations. It is also weighing the risk that delay will enable the suspected terrorists to flee against the risk that acting now, before we have more information, will lead to unjustified killings and/or harm our relationship with the Libyan government.
It’s difficult to believe that any self-respecting admninistration would treat the response to 9/11 assault in Libya as a law enforcement issue or would let the feelings of the Libyan government drive its decision. And it’s difficult to believe that even the Obama administration would do so with the election just around the corner.
If anything is holding Obama back, it may be doubts about the quality of the information it possesses. The intelligence officers who are touting their information to reporters may hold it in higher regard than the policymakers to. They may also differ with policymakers about the feasibility of taking out the bad guys.
The Obama administration does have an interest in concealing, at least for now, the extent to which al Qaeda has taken root in Libya. But that interest would not be undermined by killing the handful of individuals identified as responsible for last month’s attack.
Perhaps Obama fears that targeting terrorists in Libya would cause new deadly attacks on American interests, including new attacks in Egypt, where al Qaeda is also taking root. Maybe, on balance, Obama would rather keep a lid on the situation, at least until after the election.
But don’t be surprised if Obama seeks retribution before the election. And, assuming he doesn’t bungle it, give him credit for taking action, just as we would in the case of a Republican president.