Imagine you are Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri, the enigmatic leader of al Qaeda.
For more than a decade now you’ve been engaged in a ferocious war with the United States. For years the cycle has been the same: You execute an attack; the U.S. counterattacks, sometimes with devastating force; you retreat, reposition, and plan your next assault. Then one day, following a particularly lethal attack Sept. 11, 2012, on America’s consulate in Benghazi, Libya, something odd happens. America doesn’t retaliate, not during the attack nor after. In fact, it appears that key decision-makers in the U.S. government deliberately refused to defend their personnel from your attack, and even refused to disclose intelligence to the American people clearly identifying al Qaeda as the attacker. Better still, America’s government then attempted (unsuccessfully) to cover up its lies and subterfuge.