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On Benghazi, Not Very Definitive

Our government's curious switch of allegiances is highly relevant to another pivotal question that the authors elide: Why did the State Department have an office in Benghazi in the first place? As the authors point out -- while making a compelling case that the security provided at the site was appallingly inadequate -- Benghazi has long been one of the most perilous places on the planet for Americans. So why have an installation there? And why was Amb. Stevens in Benghazi on September 11 -- the anniversary to the 9/11 attacks, and thus a particularly attractive date for jihadists who'd already demonstrated a desire to kill Americans in Benghazi? These questions have still not been answered, and this book does not attempt to grapple with them.

In an interesting and related twist, the authors initially take pains to point out that the State Department's facility in Benghazi was not a consulate; it was, instead, a "Temporary Mission" that was "set up on a much more ad hoc basis." Yet, the authors decide to join the chorus anyway, weakly explaining that they will call the temporary mission a "consulate," even though it was not one, because "it served a similar purpose." But it did not: A consulate is a mini-embassy that conducts diplomatic services; the Benghazi "temporary mission" did not. U.S. diplomatic services in Libya are provided in Tripoli. In Benghazi, the best the authors can say is that State hoped to "help build diplomatic inroads ... during a transitional period in Libya[.]"

Well, whatever was going on elsewhere in Libya, it was not much of "a transitional period" in Benghazi. There, as in Derna, the populace prominently featured jihadists who hated America, both during and after Qaddafi's reign. As the authors suggest, the CIA certainly had reasons to be in Benghazi: to gather intel against anti-American actors (intel we were no longer getting from Qaddafi); to hunt down WMD and the rest of Qaddafi's extensive arsenal that were sure to fall into jihadist hands once the Obama administration decided to switch sides; and to gather up weapons -- presumably for Brennan's covert pipeline to Syria, although the authors are not entirely clear on what, if anything, the CIA knew about this alleged scheme. But why on earth did the State Department need a facility in a place so dangerous, a place where Western targets were so regularly attacked that other countries (like Britain) had the good sense to leave?

When it comes to the fallout of the massacre, the authors assume an irritating "above it all" posture, harrumphing that commentators on the left and right have leveled only politically motivated, recklessly inaccurate criticisms -- such that this purportedly "definitive" and courageously apolitical book is necessary. Obama detractors come in for special condemnation, with the authors claiming to explode their "myths" about presidential malevolence. But their assertion that the principal case against Obama is that he is a "callous, evil man" who expressly denied military help to Americans under siege is a straw-man.

To be sure, there was a fringe claim that the administration ordered military commanders to stand down as they were preparing to send air support and other assets to the bloody scene -- a report which, as the authors observe, has been debunked. Nevertheless, the principal condemnation of Obama has been his dereliction of duty, not any affirmative obstruction of subordinates. The president was well aware, early on, that the compound was under terrorist attack, yet he was weirdly disengaged and failed to take rudimentary aggressive and protective measures, an abdication that was likely the difference between life and death for at least two of the victims -- Woods and Doherty. In the aftermath, despite being well aware that the operation against the compound had been a lengthy, coordinated terrorist assault, and that there had been no protest in Benghazi over the infamous "Mohammed video," the president and his underlings willfully misled the public by insisting, for many days and in several high-profile forums, that the murders were the result of spontaneous rioting over the video. That shameful sleight-of-hand came to include the adhesive prosecution of the producer of the video -- under the guise of a probation violation -- resulting in his imprisonment for, in effect, exercising his constitutional free-speech rights (which is to say, resulting in the imposition of sharia blasphemy standards over First Amendment liberty).