In the Arena

Benghazi Baloney

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Scott Shane has a fine piece of analysis today about the real issues involved in the Benghazi imbroglio–which is to say, the issues not being raised by the vindictive John McCain.

A word first about McCain: It has emerged in recent days that Susan Rice had a lot to say about McCain when she was working for Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign. She called him “reckless” and “confused” and mocked the market stroll he took in Baghdad, wearing body armor. I would suppose that these things hurt. And so did the fact that Obama wiped the floor with McCain during the foreign policy presidential debate that autumn, since McCain fancied foreign policy as his greatest strength–actually, it’s his greatest weakness. Certainly he’s making a fool of himself now.

Now, about the real issues:

1. diplomatic security: Republicans have routinely voted to cut funds for the State Department in general, and for State Department security in particular. In this particular case, as I’ve noted before, security was determined by the Ambassador, Chris Stevens, who was opposed to fortress America-style embassies and consulates. As Shane notes, this is a conversation worth having: how do our diplomats go about collecting information–an essential part of their role–in countries in turmoil?

2. Al Qaeda: Was Benghazi an Al Qaeda ¬†attack? Were the simultaneous riots in Cairo an Al Qaeda attack? In both cases, the demonstrators were predominantly salafist extremists, who are contesting the less extreme Muslim Brotherhood throughout the region. The bright line here is between those who believe in democracy and those who believe in theocracy. We’re hoping the Muslim Brotherhood turns out to be the former–the jury’s still out–but we know that the salafists are the latter.

Is it fair to say that salafists are Al Qaeda? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. There is certainly ideological overlap. But was there actual coordination between the Benghazi street gang (which is what a “militia” often is in that part of the world) ¬†that launched the attack on the consulate and the Al Qaeda hierarchy? And so, another bright line: we probably should only call attacks that are planned and organized by the various branches of Al Qaeda–central (Pakistan), Yemen, Maghreb–”Al Qaeda” attacks. In this case, a local salafist militia made a spontaneous decision to use the demonstrations elsewhere in the region to move against the local U.S. consulate–a heinous act, but not quite an Al Qaeda attack.