The More Complex Truth of Benghazi

By Paul R. Pillar (Originally published on Dec. 30, 2013)

David Kirkpatrick’s investigative piece in the New York Times about the Sept. 11, 2012 lethal attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi is well worth reading, though not because its conclusions ought to have been surprising to any disinterested observer of what was going on in Libya at the time.

Once dust from the confusion in the very first hours after the incident settled, the conditions that gave rise to the incident were fairly clear. One was widespread popular outrage, exhibited not only in Libya but also beyond its borders, from a scurrilous video that many Muslims found insulting to the founder of their faith.

Another was lawlessness that has prevailed in Libya ever since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi Рand continues to prevail there Рand that is characterized by a m̩lange of militias and other armed groups with a variety of interests and grievances, some of them antipathetic to the United States.That this has not been broadly understood is due mainly to the unrelenting effort of some in the opposition party in the United States to exploit the death of four U.S. citizens in the incident to try to discredit the Obama administration and its Secretary of State at the time (who is seen as a likely contender in the next presidential election).

The line propounded in this effort is, first, that the incident can have only one of two possible explanations: either the attack was a completely spontaneous and unorganized popular response to the video, or it was a terrorist attack that had…

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