Benghazi cannot be dismissed with “long ago” or “what difference does it make” exasperation, given it may have the cover-up and civil-liberties aspects of Watergate and the weapon-transfers and foreign-policy implications of Iran-Contra.
1. Can a State Department be credible that on its own accord seeks to alter intelligence synopses, and deny facts to maintain a pre-election narrative? For all the criticism of the State Department under most Republican presidents, at least the tension between State and the administration kept State honest and independent. But Benghazi shows that State has now almost descended into an arm of the 2012 reelection effort, in the manner of the media itself, as we saw in Candy Crowley’s exasperation over the Benghazi dispute in the third presidential debate. In Watergate, intelligence and law-enforcement officials were pressured to change their assessments to reflect pseudo-national security concerns; but in this case, the State Department and/or administration officials themselves willingly refashioned them as the political situation apparently demanded.
2. Civil libertarians should be concerned about the free-speech/due process implications in the fate of the otherwise petty criminal Mr. Nakoula, who was summarily jailed — coincidently right after the president had referred to his video at the U.N. with, “The future must not be determined by those who insult the prophet of Islam.” But so far there is no evidence that Mr. Nakoula’s amateurish YouTube trailer had anything to do with the violence in Benghazi. Instead his crime seems to have been offering an ideal scapegoat for a pre-election narrative of a right-wing, bigoted Islamophobe, whose extremism prompted an understandable pushback against innocent Americans abroad, and who could make amends to the Muslim world by going back to jail, while offering a rhetorical occasion for the president of the United States to remind the Muslim world that we all suffer from the excesses of common enemies such as intolerant reactionaries like Nakoula.
3. Usually an administration errs on the side of caution in cases of potential violence at embassies and consulates. But did the pre-November narrative of a moribund al-Qaeda in the aftermath of the bin Laden raid, and a Libyan spring blooming after the “lead from behind” American-aided removal of Qaddafi, trump on-the-ground worries about the safety of our diplomats? In other words, both before and during the attacks, did the State Department and/or the administration decide that the dangers to our diplomats were outweighed by greater fears of a possible embarrassing Mogadishu-like shoot-out? Were military recommendations ignored, or massaged before being voiced?
4. What exactly were we doing in Benghazi, with both a consulate and a CIA compound, and what if any were the connections between the late ambassador, Libyan weapons, Syria, arming rebels, Turkey, etc.? And who exactly were the terrorists working for, or what exactly were they trying to achieve?
5. Why did not Secretary Clinton or President Obama simply come out and say that they misread the requests from Libya and should have beefed up security, and that al-Qaeda remains a deadly foe that tries to attack us and our Libyan allies? Had they just been honest, the public would probably have forgiven their laxity. The subsequent resignations of the secretaries of state and defense, and the director of the CIA will make reconstruction of events much more difficult.