On Sunday, December 29, The New York Times demolished the arguments of Republican critics and hysteria-mongers over the September 11, 2012, attack on a US diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, that left Ambassador Chris Stevens dead, along with three other Americans. But the piece, which began on the front page and filled three entire pages of the newspaper—complete with maps and diagrams—also raised important, unanswered questions about the Obama administration’s mistakes that allowed the attack to succeed in the first place.
The Times article has sparked sputtering outrage among Fox News pundits and other neoconservative commentators and by Republicans in Congress who’ve tried to gin up a phony crisis over the attack and the supposed cover-up by then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her cohorts. There’s been somewhat less response among the saner critics of the administration for its failure to anticipate the assault on the facility, despite plenty of warning and a general atmosphere of lawlessness and anti-Western and radical Islamist militia activity in and around Benghazi.
The Times’s conclusion: that the attack had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, which hadn’t established itself in post-Qaddafi Libya, and that it indeed began in part as a protest against the poorly made, provocative anti-Islam video that been circulated via the Internet and which caused an almost simultaneous attack by protesters against the US embassy in Cairo, too. Said the Times:
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.
The Times added, citing intercepted messages from Al Qaeda gathered by US intelligence, that Al Qaeda had tried and failed to penetrate Libya in the wake of Muammar Qaddafi’s ouster, but had largely failed, except for a small beachhead in southern Libya. And, it said, the man who orchestrated the Benghazi attack was a quixotic, perhaps mentally ill man who’d managed to assemble a small but well-armed militia, one of many that were created in the Benghazi area.
Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, has long maintained that the attack in Benghazi was Al Qaeda–related, and he’s been predictably apoplectic about the Times report. But, in his comments on Fox News Sunday, Rogers seemed to back away slightly by saying that Al Qaeda had an “aspiration” to attack the United States in Libya. Said Rogers:
“There was aspiration to conduct an attack by al-Qaida and their affiliates in Libya; we know that. The individuals on the ground talked about a planned tactical movement on the [U.S.] compound. All of that would directly contradict what the New York Times definitively says was an exhaustive investigation.”