It strikes many Americans as bizarre that the Obama administration would make up a story — an anti-Muslim video provoked the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and the murder of four Americans — when the truth, that it was a planned al-Qaeda attack, was both obvious and explainable (the world remains a dangerous place).

It makes sense only when you see the Libya cover-up in the context of a bigger misrepresentation, that al-Qaeda was nearly extinct. Last week Bloomberg reported:

Terrorist groups in Mali and Yemen that are affiliated with al-Qaeda are “gaining strength,” in large part by taking hostages for ransom, a senior U.S. Treasury official said today.

“The U.S. government estimates that terrorist organizations have collected approximately $120 million in ransom payments over the past eight years,” said David Cohen, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, in a speech to the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House in London.

Lara Logan, the CBS reporter brutally assaulted during the Egyptian revolution last year, spoke Tuesday in Chicago about what she called the “lie” that al-Qaeda is weaker, the Chicago Sun-Times reports:

Her ominous and frightening message was gleaned from years of covering our wars in the Middle East. She arrived in Chicago on the heels of her Sept. 30 report, “The Longest War.” It examined the Afghanistan conflict and exposed the perils that still confront America, 11 years after 9/11.

Eleven years later, “they” still hate us, now more than ever, Logan told the crowd. The Taliban and al-Qaida have not been vanquished, she added. They’re coming back. ...

The Taliban and al-Qaida are teaming up and recruiting new terrorists to do us deadly harm, she reports.

You see, if al-Qaeda was not decimated by the assassination of Osama bin Laden but has morphed, changed locations, gained a foothold in the Maghreb and remained potent in Afghanistan, the justification for many of Obama’s foreign policy moves (e.g. the severe cuts in defense, the expedited withdrawal from Afghanistan) is undermined. Better to see if the media would buy a “the movie made them do it” excuse to slide through to Nov. 6 than to come clean that much of what the Obama team has been telling us about al-Qaeda and the “Arab Spring” is nonsense.

Mary Habeck at Foreign Policy writes:

The murder of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans in Libya on September 11 has created a growing political backlash in the United States, but there are three other reasons that this attack is significant. First, an al Qaeda unit successfully assaulted American soil for the first time since 9/11. Second, we were — once again — caught by surprise, and third, the attacks show that al Qaeda is not just alive and kicking (as I mentioned in my previous post), but that our current strategy for dealing with the group is failing.

She continues that this is the culmination of a long period in which the administration very deliberately downgraded the al-Qaeda threat.

For the past 18 months there has been a building narrative among both the expert community and this administration that, with the death of Bin Ladin, al Qaeda is nearly finished and that there is nothing left but a small group of “dead-enders,” known as the “core,” that need to be dealt with. Al Qaeda, in the narrative, is so weakened that it can barely stay alive, let alone carry out successful and complex attacks like that in Benghazi.

This narrative is based on a false view of al Qaeda: that the “core” is a small terrorist group whose main objective is attacking the United States, that the affiliates have primarily local concerns, that there is little command and control between the “core” and the affiliates, and that, therefore, the United States must only kill off the central leadership to be safe.

As with so many problems in the Obama administration, the failure to interpret current events puts us in danger going forward.

Whether you believe the administration honestly concluded it had effectively ended the al-Qaeda threat with bin Laden’s killing or you think it has deliberately politicized the intelligence, the result is the same. We have dead Americans, diminished stature and no viable strategy going forward. That’s the real scandal.