What should we make of the NYT’s blockbuster weekend report on the September 11 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi? According to the Times, there’s no evidence that al Qaeda was involved in the attack and there’s substantial evidence that the fabled anti-Muslim video actually played some role in fomenting the attack.
Given that the proponents of the maximal contrary view were almost always politically motivated administration opponents and, in a non-trivial number of cases, crazy people, I think there’s a good chance this may end up being the final verdict on the story. At least for the empirically minded segment of the population.
But let’s not leave it at that. This is one article by one publication, albeit it would seem a rather extensive one and by some of the best reporters in the business. But any report, any investigation can be wrong, incomplete, subject to new details and evidence. To be crystal clear, I’m not trying to dismiss or throw cold water on this report at all. It’s the closest we have and perhaps will ever get to a definitive independent take on what happened.
But let’s not stop there. What if it had been tied to al Qaeda, what if the original idea that it was tied to public unrest over the video had been wrong? ‘al Qaeda’ has become so decentralized and fluid in recent years, it’s hard to know, just in definitional terms, how one could ever come to a definitive conclusion on this question. The salient point in this whole non-scandal – from the start – has been that the fog of war makes it very difficult to know with certainty who attacked you in the middle of the night, why they did it or who they were taking orders from. Republicans trying to make a ‘scandal’ out of this, from the beginning, have been trying to argue that it was crystal clear from the word go that this was an al Qaeda terrorist attack and that whole video thing was just a cover to protect the administration’s election season claim that al Qaeda was on its heels.
That kind of certainty is almost never possible from the first moment in a situation like this. Sometimes it never is.
What’s more, the administration antis- on this were always wedded to a flawed dichotomy between ideologically motivated thugs showing up and killing you with RPGs and a “terrorist attack.” As Hillary Clinton, in exasperation, once put it, at this point, what difference does it make? Or more specifically, what difference does it make what you thought it was as it was unfolding thousands of miles away in a chaotic locale and situation where the folks hired to protect you are from a militia called the February 17 Martyrs’ Brigade?
The bottom line is that this was a disaster for the US and the US diplomatic corps. Four Americans were killed. It was always a bit murky precisely what happened. And it’s been a shame that the President’s opponents, with basically zero evidence but help from lackeys like Lara Logan and many others, have been trying to pump it up into a cover up for the last year.
If this new report shows definitively that the conspiracy theorists were wrong, great. But that’s just icing on the cake. None of us should be wedded to one theory of how and why this happened. But neither should we knowingly give comfort to our enemies by fighting among ourselves over nonsense and lies.