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Saturday, October 20, 2018

After a year of demanding answers about the terrorist attack that took place in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, the right wing got them in the form of a well-reported exposé by The New York Times‘ David Kirkpatrick.

And they don’t like these answers at all.

From the night of the murders, Republicans have been shamefully trying to politicize the attack that killed four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens, first as a means of stopping the re-election of President Obama, and then to damage the reputation of former secretary of state and possible candidate for president in 2016, Hillary Clinton. (We know the desperate attempt to prolong this “scandal” is all about smearing Hillary Clinton because Republicans have said it’s all about smearing Hillary Clinton.)

Within hours of Stevens’ death, GOP nominee Mitt Romney accused the Obama administration of “sympathizing” with extremists, as the State Department tried to protect the lives of diplomatic personnel in the face of protests across Northern Africa ginned up in opposition to an offensive depiction of Islamic religious iconography being spread on YouTube. Sensing they had a crisis to parallel 1980’s taking of hostages in Iran, Republicans continued to wage a campaign designed to paint the Obama administration as weak on terror. The Romney campaign suggested that the president was refusing to label the attack as “terrorism” and Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) suggested former UN Ambassador Susan Rice was lying and covering up the involvement of al-Qaeda when she offered CIA-approved talking points that the video played a major role in the attack.

Kirkpatrick’s reporting substantiates just about everything Ambassador Rice said as she appeared on several Sunday morning news shows just days after the attack:

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that al-Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

This reporting closely echoes the original investigation ordered by Secretary Clinton and  led by Thomas Pickering, an esteemed diplomat who served under Presidents Ford, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton.

It was clear that the video played a role, even before Kirkpatrick’s report. But it was unclear if it was the actual motivation for the attack or just a major factor in the unrest destabilizing the region. The Times‘ Middle East correspondent clearly asserts it was central.

It was also unclear if al-Qaeda had played a role in the killings. But this new report likely won’t settle that question, despite Kirkpatrick’s certainty, because the makeup of the terror network is so murky. “There’s a long-running debate among experts about whether al-Qaeda is more of a centralized, top-down organization, a network of affiliates with varying ties to a core leadership or the vanguard of a broader movement better described as ‘Sunni jihadism,'” Politico Magazine’s Blake Hounshell points out.

All of this leads to a question Secretary Clinton asked when testifying in front of a Senate committee.