The Selective-Outrage Committee on Benghazi

Republicans are unlikely to learn anything useful from their investigation, since they're more interested in discrediting Obama.

President Obama ordered the assassination of an American citizen without due process. He presided over mass surveillance on millions of Americans. And he illegally ordered U.S. troops to war in Libya without obtaining congressional authorization. An investigation into any of those acts could document serious lawbreaking.

But lawbreaking in service of hawkish national-security policy doesn't interest Republicans. They demand sunlight only when they imagine it will prove Obama is a foreign-policy incompetent whose weakness costs American lives—hence the new House select committee to investigate the Benghazi attack. Normally the GOP acts as though the White House is justified in covering up anything that involves CIA presence in a foreign country. This is the exception. "There is much to be learned still about what happened at Benghazi," says National Review, "and how to be better on guard against such events in the future."

Are there any useful lessons to be learned that weren't covered in the independent accountability report on the attacks? If so, I doubt movement conservatives will learn them. Perhaps you've wondered why there were so many violent militia members in Benghazi just prior to the attack on the American consulate and CIA annex. The answer begins with the civil war in which the United States participated. Zack Beauchamp explains what happened next:

After the war ended in August 2011, Benghazi became an epicenter of militia activity. Because it was the most important base of rebel strength, a lot of rebels who later joined militias hailed from Benghazi and the surrounding environs in the region of Cyrenaica. Some of those groups even attempted to turn Cyrenaica into a functionally independent state, with Benghazi as its capital. In March 2014, that seccesionist impulse almost sparked a second civil war. With all of these Libyan factions busy fighting each other after Qaddafi's fall, no one was really interested or able to root out the jihadi groups that moved in after Qaddafi—some of which had participated in the rebellion, some of which had only shown up after. These violent, anti-American groups thrive in chaos, and swiftly grew in strength in Libya after Qaddafi's demise.

There's definitely a lesson here. If America helps to overthrow a dictator, establishes a consulate at an epicenter of the violent chaos that follows, sends diplomats to staff that outpost, and houses them next to CIA agents using diplomatic cover for good measure, their safety is likely to be threatened. If they're killed, it may be possible to look back at mistakes in getting them a security detail, or warning signs that were ignored, but the main lesson is to stop putting Americans at risk in the aftermath of wars of choice. 

Here's more context:

The mission's confusing legal status made meeting its security needs particularly hard. The Benghazi mission wasn't an embassy or even an official consulate; it was so off-book that the Libyan government was never officially notified of its existence. This strange legal status put the mission outside the normal State Department procedures used to allocate security funding and personnel.

What was the CIA doing there anyway? That crucial question isn't one the GOP is interested in answering. 

Presented by

Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Politics

Just In