The New York Times is out with a revisionist account of the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi. The Times says that in months of investigating, it “turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault.” The Times also claims that the attack “was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.”
I suspect that the Times story tells us more about Hillary Clinton’s assessment of the threat Benghazi poses to her likely 2016 run for president than it does about what happened in Benghazi. But to the extent that the Times story is viewed as shedding a new, different light on the Benghazi, perhaps the House should hold new hearings on the attack.
The Times bases its claim that neither al Qaeda nor any other international terrorist group had a role in the attack on its view that Ansar al-Shariah is a “purely local extremist organization.” But Peter King, a member and former chairman of the House’s Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, points out that Ansar al-Shariah is widely believed to be an affiliate terror group of Al Qaeda. King accuses the Times of engaging in mere semantics, and he is probably right.
The Times chooses to focus on a militia leader named Ahmed Abu Khattala, whom it characterizes as “an erratic extremist” and very much his own man. But I believe that other leaders connected to the attack have been tied to al Qaeda or its affiliates. I will try to document this in a future post.
The Times’ claim that the Benghazi attack “was fueled in large part by anger” at the video about Islam also seems unpersuasive. Greg Hicks, the deputy to Ambassador Christopher Stevens who was killed in the attack testified to Congress that the video was “a non-event in Libya.” Moreover, an independent review of more than 4,000 social media postings from Benghazi found no reference to the video until the day after the attack.
The New York Times seems to have uncovered social media references to the video that precede the Sept. 11 attack. Even so, the relative absence of such references undermines its claim that the video played a significant role in the attack.
I don’t mean to deny that some of those who attacked the U.S. compound were influenced by the video. But the Times’ own reporting shows that a “grave” threat to American interests in Benghazi predates the controversy over the video. The failure of the Obama administration, and especially Hillary Clinton, to prepare to meet that threat remains indisputable.
The Times stops short of claiming that the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi was “spontaneous.” It says, instead, that the attack was not “meticulously planned.”
That may or may not be true. But the quality of the planning — good enough, as it turned out — seems irrelevant. Again, what matters is that the State Department should have been prepared for the attack and taken action accordingly. This the New York Times does not dispute.
It also matters that the Obama administration’s account of the attack, per Susan Rice, was inaccurate even if one accepts the Times’ dubious reporting. The Times acknowledges this, though it chooses to characterize Rice’s account as just a “misstatement.”
The adequacy or inadequacy of the Obama administration’s response as the Benghazi attacks unfolded also matters. So does the treatment of those in the State Department who have dared to question Hillary Clinton’s actions relating to Benghazi.
Whatever else the Times story demonstrates, I believe it shows that this story won’t go away as long as Hillary Clinton aspires to be president.
JOHN adds: The Times story tells us little or nothing about Benghazi, but it does remind us that Hillary Clinton is the Times’s preferred nominee for president in 2016, and therefore the Democratic Party’s. The Times article is a preview of the Benghazi defense that Hillary will mount over the next two years. It is, I think, pathetically weak, but then, memories are short. And the Democrats believe that hardly anyone really cares about foreign affairs. If they nominate a former Secretary of State for president, that theory will be tested.