A vehicle and surrounding buildings smoldering after they were set on fire inside the US mission compound in Benghazi, September 11, 2012.

The ‘threat’ shouldn’t be overgeneralized

During his first presidential campaign, Mitt Romney was asked about whether he’d try to hunt down Osama bin Laden, who, by that point, the Bush/Cheney administration had largely given up on. Romney said he intended to “get him,” but quickly added that he didn’t want to “buy into the Democratic pitch that this is all about one person.”
He said, “This is about Shi’a and Sunni. This is about Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the worldwide jihadist effort.”
It was, even at the time, an odd thing to say. Romney never got around to explaining what “this” referred to, and according to his vision, Hezbollah, Hamas, al Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood were all effectively the same thing. They’re not.
This came to mind because the temptation to group unrelated people in the Middle East together apparently hasn’t gone away.
The rising threat from Islamic extremists has set the stage for Republicans to make a splash with the launch of their Benghazi investigation next week. […]
“ISIS has now woken up the American people to the fact that the threat is real, and Benghazi is certainly symptomatic of that,” said Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who is not a member of the Benghazi panel, in an interview.
Really? Republicans – including the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee – are now trying to connect ISIS and Benghazi, just because?

This just isn’t a responsible approach.
ISIS has committed many acts of brutal and deadly violence. The attack in Benghazi in 2012 isn’t one of them. To say that Benghazi is “symptomatic” of the threat posed by ISIS is to conflate unrelated elements in a misleading way.
It’s important for Americans to understand – and it’s especially important for the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee to understand – we’re not just talking about one thing when dealing with terrorist threats. Various groups and networks have different goals, some of which are in conflict with other groups and networks. They’re not all in the same part of the world. They don’t all enjoy the same benefactors. They don’t all agree on religion.
“ISIS has now woken up the American people to the fact that the threat is real, and Benghazi is certainly symptomatic of that”? Well, no, not really. There may be an overarching threat – there are terrorists who intend to do harm – but to make a connection between ISIS and Benghazi is to blur important lines about the nature of the threat.
It’s this kind of let’s-lump-groups-together approach that led Americans to assume al Qaeda was involved in 9/11, and has apparently led an important House lawmaker to tie ISIS to Benghazi.
The “American people” almost certainly knew “the threat is real” before ISIS’s recent murders of American journalists, and before the Benghazi attack two years ago. The next step is smart policymaking in addressing the threat, which means appreciating the differences and details.