In fact, the Obama administration did appear to be playing down or ignoring security threats in Libya at the time. As the report said: “Simply put, in the months leading up to September 11, 2012, security in Benghazi was not recognized and implemented as a ‘shared responsibility’ in Washington, resulting in stove-piped discussions and decisions on policy and security.” The report also noted “known gaps” in the intelligence community’s assessments. And it’s the responsibility of those at the highest levels — the president and the secretary of state — to fill those gaps. In congressional testimony in January, Clinton said that she didn’t read an Aug. 16 cable from Stevens that raised questions about security and that she didn’t know about a decision to reject a request for more security. “I didn’t see those requests. They did not come to me. I did not approve them. I did not deny them,” she said. If so, it’s fair to ask: Why wasn’t Clinton involved?
4. The Benghazi attack could not have been predicted.
The administration’s argument is that there was no specific threat — and it will probably be Clinton’s, too, if she reemerges in public life ahead of 2016. The circumstances were unusual. Stevens was taking extraordinary risks in traveling to Benghazi, where he established contacts with anti-Gaddafi rebels during the uprising. Few U.S. ambassadors would ever be in a similar situation.
But these risks were known before the attack. As the Accountability Review Board report concluded, “At the time of the September attacks, Benghazi remained a lawless town nominally controlled by the Supreme Security Council (SSC) — a coalition of militia elements loosely cobbled into a single force to provide interim security — but in reality run by a diverse group of local Islamist militias.” Why was Stevens allowed to travel to such an unsecure place?
5. Benghazi is a pseudo-scandal manufactured by the GOP.
Republicans have blown Benghazi out of proportion. It doesn’t appear to have been a cover-up, but neither can it be dismissed. It represents a tragic failure of U.S. policy, one that should spark a larger discussion about whether the government has responded poorly to the Islamist threats that have emerged since the Arab Spring. It is reasonable to ask whether the Obama administration, starting with the president himself, created the conditions for Benghazi by being overconfident about the destruction of al-Qaeda and playing down the significance of extremist elements, possibly linked to al-Qaeda, that had emerged in Libya and elsewhere. Unless these threats are better understood, it is easy to imagine a similar disaster happening elsewhere.
Because Benghazi cost precious American lives, it should be investigated carefully rather than politicized endlessly.
Read more from Outlook:
Five myths about the Arab Spring
How to prevent the next Benghazi
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