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.
The New York Times published a six-part, multi-media report over the weekend on last year's attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and it's arguably the most comprehensive examination of what transpired that's been published by a major news organization to date. It's well worth your time, though this is the excerpt that's understandably generated the most attention:
This is not to say the article paints the administration in a positive light; it doesn't. On the contrary, reading the report on the deadly tragedy, it's clear U.S. officials made poor security decisions, trusted the wrong people, and were broadly ill-informed about the nature of the threats around them.
But when it comes to the political salience, the exhaustive New York Times reporting also makes clear that conservative conspiracy theories, which have long dominated Republican thought, simply have no basis in reality.
For the White House's far-right critics, for whom the notion of a Benghazi "cover up" is practically a foregone conclusion, the exact details of the allegations can get rather convoluted. That said, the basic gist of the argument is that al Qaeda, on the anniversary of 9/11, led the attack that left four Americans dead. The White House knew this, the conspiracy theory goes, but chose to lie and hide the truth. Why? According to the unhinged, President Obama was in the middle of his re-election campaign, during which he boasted about his counter-terrorism successes. To acknowledge that al Qaeda killed four Americans in Libya would, according to the theory, undermine the narrative, making a cover up necessary.
The problem with the allegations, of course, is that facts keep getting in the way, and the NYT report obliterates the conspiracy altogether. Republicans insist al Qaeda led the attack, but it didn't. Republicans insist the attack had nothing to do with the right-wing YouTube video, but it did. Republicans insist the violence was carefully planned, but it wasn't. Republicans insist the White House deliberately misled the public, but it didn't.
Indeed, looking back, the initial remarks Susan Rice made in the immediate aftermath of the attack look pretty accurate a year and a half later.
I'm reasonably confident Rice would be gracious and accept apologies from the Republicans who smeared her, but first they'll have to acknowledge how painfully wrong they were.
By any fair estimation, the Benghazi conspiracy theories unraveled a long time ago, but this latest report serves as a powerful coda. Republicans will be reluctant to accept this, but the right's obsession is no more. GOP policymakers and media invested heavily in their fevered dream -- even using our money for a series of baseless investigations -- but the political scandal was a mirage.
It's over. Move on.