Why Benghazi Conspiracy Theories Don't Catch On
National Review's Jim Geraghty does a public service today. While many on the right use Benghazi as just another stone on which to sharpen their antipathy for Obama, others -- Geraghty is apparently one -- genuinely believe the death of four American diplomats in Libya last year is a political scandal.
Geraghty can't understand why others don't share his view, and has asked some pointed questions, which I've copied verbatim and adapted into a Q&A format below. My answers don't necessarily speak for others, but here's why I've always considered the Benghazi conspiracy theories a partisan pastiche that simply ignores real-world contingencies.
Q: Benghazi is one of those issues where we on the right look at Americans on the other side of the partisan divide and wonder whether we're from the same planet.
Don't they care that our ambassador and his team were sent to a facility with ludicrously insufficient security?
A: Well, sure. But when you're working in the midst of a civil war, operating out of a mission building adjacent to a Central Intelligence Agency facility in a land known to be thick with jihadists, there is a limit to how safe one can be. Benghazi was not a safe place. Perhaps, in retrospect, no diplomats should've been there at all. But people -- and governments -- take risks to advance their interests. And intelligence and the security bureaucracies that wield it sometimes fail, with tragic result.
Q: Don't they care to know whether something could have been done that night to save those men, and if so, why a rescue mission wasn't launched? Look at a map. This is a Libyan city on a coast, facing the Mediterranean, south of Europe and all of our NATO allies. Less than a year earlier, we had been running a major multinational combat operation right there.
A: The sense that the U.S. government can effectively manage a civil war zone and control for all contingencies is at the foundation of Benghazi conspiracy theories. Yes, something could've been done. Maybe even something effective. Or maybe not. Strategies fall apart and execution is wanting on a regular basis in many parts of government and private industry.
Q: Don't they care that the explanation offered by our government was false? These folks who screamed "Bush Lied, People Died" from 2003 to 2008 now shrug about lies about how and why Americans were killed.
A: Administrations, including this one, fudge facts pretty frequently. Sometimes they do it for domestic political purposes. Sometimes for foreign political purposes. Sometimes to safeguard classified information. Sometimes for reasons difficult to discern. The Benghazi conspiracy narrative has always faltered over the central question of motive: Why would an administration launch a massive cover-up of an event that promised little electoral fallout?
Let's leave aside that any such cover-up, encompassing multiple agencies and who knows how many people, would've failed not just thoroughly but ridiculously. Let's focus only on motive. Had four U.S. diplomats been killed in Orlando, Florida, raising terror fears across the land, the Obama administration, fresh off its Osama bin Laden victory tour, would have been in a pickle. (Although not an impossible one; the instinct to rally around the president is still strong.)
But American voters had not been led to believe that Libya in the throes of civil war was Disneyworld. So death and injury to Americans operating there appeared inconceivable primarily to partisans who had spent the previous years lunging at random events in hopes of damaging a president whose election (and reelection) evidently still confounds them.
Did the State Department fail in Benghazi? Yes. Did the CIA fail? Yes. Could better precautions have made the deaths less likely? Yes. Do agencies sometimes fail at difficult tasks without the aid of conspiracies? Yes, they do.
Q: Don't they care that despite Obama's pledge that "justice will be done," no one has been caught, jailed, or executed for their role in the attack?
Remember when the previous president promised to get Osama bin Laden? Sometimes these things take a while. It doesn't mean the desire for justice is insincere.
In the end, the Benghazi conspiracy exists as an entity outside and disconnected from the Obama administration. It's a product not of government action or inaction, but of a certain vision, or double vision: One that contends that government -- especially the Obama administration -- can't do even the easy things right while simultaneously insisting that a surprise attack amid the chaos of Libya should have, would have, been repelled with precision and control … if only dozens of people at the CIA, State Department, Pentagon, National Security Council and White House weren't evil, duplicitous and corrupt.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)