December 30, 2013

A WAR OF TALKING POINTS:

Why We'll Never Stop Arguing About Benghazi (BLAKE HOUNSHELL, December 29, 2013, Politico)

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO's extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam. 

"Months of investigation." "No evidence." A swipe at Congress. These are the kinds of authoritative statements you make when you're pretty darn sure of your reporting. [...]

This story isn't going anywhere. And here are six reasons why:  [...]

Ideology. Beyond politics, many on the right were and are deeply offended by the initial claims, offered up by officials like former U.N. ambassador Susan Rice and now backed up by the Times story, that a video mocking the Prophet Mohamed helped trigger the attack on the Benghazi mission. To these critics, this explanation is tantamount to saying America asked for it--and the administration's repeated denunciations of the video rankle. It's a gripe that no amount of evidence will assuage.

People don't agree on what al Qaeda is. There's a long-running debate among experts about whether al Qaeda is more of a centralized, top-down organization, a network of affiliates with varying ties to a core leadership or the vanguard of a broader movement better described as "Sunni jihadism." As Clint Watts, a counterterrorism analyst formerly with the FBI, writes: "There are lots of militant groups around the world which host members that fought in Iraq or Afghanistan or support jihadi ideology. But that doesn't mean they are all part of al Qaeda." For instance, is Ansar al-Sharia, an extremist group that everyone agrees had a presence at the Benghazi attack site, an al Qaeda affiliate? Some, including Issa and Rogers, say it is; others insist it isn't. To make matters more confusing, there are at least two Ansar al-Sharia groups in Libya--one in Benghazi and one in Derna, a city to the east--and dozens of other extremist groups. What about Abu Khattala, the U.S. government's lead suspect and the central figure of the Times story? He evidently shares a jihadist outlook--but Kirkpatrick found no ties between Abu Khattala and al Qaeda. [...]

And on the debate will go. Vast amounts of ink have already been spilled about the Benghazi tragedy, and vast amounts will doubtless be spilled in the weeks and months ahead. What we're not likely to argue much about: Libya itself, a deeply troubled country that Americans once thought was important enough to liberate--and then, scarred by a mysterious attack, left to its fate.

No al Qaeda attacks, no military spending gravy train.
Posted by at December 30, 2013 2:59 PM
  
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