Missing the Lessons of Benghazi

by Pete Hoekstra

It is hard to find any real legitimate new content in the NYT’s recent “investigative” report on the tragic failure of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and the devastating attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi 15 months ago. The report states that it has confirmed that al-Qaeda was not involved in the attack. It reaches this lame conclusion because it was unable to find a direct connection between core al-Qaeda and the attackers. The very nature of al-Qaeda is that it is both operational and inspirational. The attackers were radical jihadists who hated the West and the United States. It is immaterial whether they were a direct affiliate of AQ or not. They share the same aspirational goals. The Times’ conclusion is a conclusion with no meaning.

The report’s second conclusion — that the attacks were inspired by a video is thin to nonexistent. I have talked with individuals present at the riots in Cairo. They will tell you that the Cairo attacks weren’t even inspired by the video, but by extremists who cared more about the Blind Sheikh than any video. More evidence exists that the attack in Benghazi was premeditated and that the timing was driven by the ambassador’s presence in Benghazi, not by external events.

The report misses the main take-away from Benghazi: The State Department totally misread the threat environment in Benghazi on September 11. The State Department believed that it could engage with radical militias. This is consistent with the State Department’s belief that it could engage constructively with the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the extremist regime in Iran. That assumption is just plain wrong. You cannot engage with these extremist elements and expect to influence their behavior.

The scary thing is that there are still many in the Obama/Clinton/Kerry foreign-policy regime who believe that negotiating with terrorists will lead to positive outcomes. The story of Benghazi is exactly the opposite. Those who hate us will exploit any and every perceived weakness. Benghazi is a sad testament to a failed U.S. foreign policy throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

Benghazi shouldn’t be a debate about whether the attackers were directly or indirectly connected to AQ. It should be a debate about why we have lost the Middle East and North Africa, why radical jihadism is growing, and how we will confront it, contain it, and ultimately defeat it. It was Senator Feinstein who recently stated that radical jihadists who want to impose sharia and recreate a caliphate are as big of a threat today as they were in 2001. Benghazi is proof that she is right. That is the threat the U.S. faces, and after five years of the Obama/Clinton doctrine we have lost ground to the jihadist threat. That’s the take-away the NYT’s investigative report should have uncovered and reported.

— Peter Hoekstra is the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

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