Peggy Noonan and the ‘implied question’

Peggy Noonan and the 'implied question'
Peggy Noonan and the 'implied question'
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This comes up from time to time, but one of the challenges for conservatives pushing Benghazi conspiracy theories is the leap of imagination. In order to actually see the elusive wrongdoing that only Republicans and Fox News can see, one must accept bizarre accusations with no basis in fact.

Take the increasingly unhinged Peggy Noonan, writing in the Wall Street Journal today about what she believes is an “implied question” surrounding the story (via Simon Maloy).

Far worse is the implied question that hung over the House hearing, and that cries out for further investigation. That is the idea that if the administration was to play down the nature of the attack it would have to play down the response – that is, if you want something to be a nonstory you have to have a nonresponse. So you don’t launch a military rescue operation, you don’t scramble jets, and you have a rationalization – they’re too far away, they’ll never make it in time. This was probably true, but why not take the chance when American lives are at stake?

Just so we’re clear, Noonan, a prominent Republican pundit and veteran from the Reagan White House, wants readers to believe President Obama and the U.S. military were so desperate for the Benghazi attack to be a “non-story,” they left Americans in jeopardy, on purpose, so as to achieve some kind of political advantage that no one seems able to identify.

And when we dig deeper to the heart of the far-right argument, what we ultimately discover is that proponents of the conspiracy theory believe the president is a sociopath – and if you’re skeptical of their assertion, then the Benghazi narrative that the right has cooked up really doesn’t make any sense.

As Marc Ambinder explained this week, “One of the reasons why Americans aren’t outraged about Benghazi is that the event is a series of tragedies in search of a unifying explanation, and one that ‘Obama is evil’ doesn’t cover. Because really, to suggest that the Pentagon or the White House would deliberately – and yes, this is EXACTLY what Republicans are suggesting – prevent special operations forces from rescuing American diplomats BECAUSE they worried about the potential political blowback because they KNEW exactly who was behind it (al Qaeda) is – well, it is to suggest that Barack Obama is simply and utterly evil.”

And since the American mainstream generally doesn’t see the president as some kind of psychotic loon, it’s awfully difficult for most to take the Benghazi conspiracy theories seriously.

I suppose, to this extent, it’s become the latest in a series of political Rorschach test – has Fox News convinced you that Barack Obama is an inhuman madman? If yes, then it stands to reason Benghazi is the most important story in the world. If no, this story is about a tragic attack that left four Americans dead, but it’s about little else.

This is about the time in which my conservative readers send me several dozen emails about the ABC News report on the CIA’s Benghazi talking points. Apparently – I hope you’re sitting down – when multiple agencies are dealing with a crisis, and don’t yet have all the facts, talking points undergo multiple changes.

But doesn’t this bolster the Republican arguments? Actually, no, it doesn’t. As Greg Sargent explained:

The talking points confirm that the intelligence community had determined at the time that the “the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate.” The key words there are “spontaneously” and “evolved.” That assessment does not change in any of the subsequent revisions.

This confirms that the version of events the administration initially offered was, in fact, grounded in the intelligence community’s assessment at the moment (which turned out to be wrong).

But what about the fact that references to al Qaeda were removed? We’ve known about this for months, and the story hasn’t changed. Officials didn’t want to “prejudice the investigation” and were reluctant to put intelligence gathering efforts at risk.

I suppose if you’re really desperate for hints of a controversy, one could make hay of the fact that the edits were more substantive than initially believed, and maybe some folks at the State Department wanted to cover their butts, but really, I still don’t know why anyone should care. These are the sort of things one expects given the circumstances – conflicting accounts of a crisis abroad – and barely register on the scandal-o-meter.

In fact, in some ways, the new details undercut Republican theories more than they substantiate them.

Peggy Noonan and Benghazi

Peggy Noonan and the 'implied question'