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.
Today, nine months later, the success of the Benghazi attack is being compounded by the intense, self-destructive domestic dispute that it set off inside America.
Ever the opportunist, al Qaeda (and all of America’s enemies) can draw two conclusions from Benghazi. First, America’s appetite for strong, decisive military action, even in defense of its assets, has significantly diminished. Twelve years ago, following al Qaeda’s most successful and destructive attack ever, the U.S. came after it with solidarity of purpose, united leadership, and tremendous force. Since then, though it’s never completely destroyed the militant organization, America has extinguished critical personnel, impaired or ruined important infrastructure, and on various battlefields, forced it into a defensive posture. Psychologically, America had leverage as long as it possessed the will to identify al Qaeda as the enemy and respond to its attacks.
But now, in the wake of Benghazi, it’s clear the parameters of the war have changed: America, unwilling to retaliate with force, even in defense of its own personnel, is in retreat! What an opportunity.
As significant as this first lesson is, the second is more important and profound.
What happened in Benghazi on Sept. 12, 2012, and especially inside America following the attack, exposed a gaping and unprecedented weakness in U.S. foreign policy: Benghazi revealed that even when attacked by a foreign enemy America’s leaders will engage in immoral, lawless behavior—behavior that only inflicts further damage on America—in pursuit of personal ambition and their radical agenda.
No doubt you’ve heard a little about the Benghazi scandal. How the White House and State Department deliberately refused to dispatch military assistance upon hearing the fearful shrieks of American officials violently ambushed the night of Sept. 11, 2012. How high-ranking government officials then edited intelligence documents, removing terms and phrases that identified al Qaeda’s central role in the attacks. How Susan Rice, America’s ambassador to the United Nations, fluttered between the Sunday news shows blaming the attack on a YouTube video few had ever heard of. How the mainstream media for months refused to investigate the red flags surrounding Benghazi, in effect advancing the cover-up by the State Department and White House.
Consider the damage inflicted on America by all the lies and deceit.
For going on nine months now, keys figures at the highest level of government—in the White House, the State Department, the cia and fbi—have devoted both time and resources to what happened in Benghazi. Thousands of man-hours, not to mention valuable government resources, have been invested in “spinning” the narrative, mitigating the damage, and alleviating the political and legal fallout. It’s hard to quantify, but how much government bandwidth has already been devoted to Benghazi? Not the terrorist attack, but the post-attack, self-inflicted domestic scandal.
All this “work” comes at a cost—to the White House, the State Department, to government agencies. To Americans and America.
Think about the discord and disunity sown by Benghazi and the resulting scandal. Within the White House and State Department. Inside the cia and fbi. On Capitol Hill, between Republicans and Democrats (as if America’s leaders needed another issue to argue over). Within the media. Surely it undermined the solidarity and cohesion between crucial government agencies, between the fbi and the State Department, the State Department and the White House. If I worked for the State Department, or the fbi, or virtually any government agency, Benghazi would have taught me two lessons. First, trust no one. And second, in the event of a terrorist attack or major crisis, always act first and foremost to protect myself, my job, my reputation, my career.
What about the damage caused by the violent media firestorm ignited by Benghazi? It’s pitted political parties, as well as government officials, congressmen, senators, politicians, military and intelligence officials—people who are supposed to be on the same team, working together for the same ultimate cause—in fierce, almost hand-to-hand combat. This isn’t to imply Benghazi isn’t an important story that shouldn’t be investigated by the media. It absolutely should. Still, the necessary media controversy is producing destructive division.
What about the financial cost? This too is hard to measure, but surely between the legal fees and the thousands of man-hours devoted to it, the bill is already in the tens of millions.
Al Qaeda might have murdered only four Americans in Benghazi last September, but again, think on the damage caused by the resulting scandal.
The damage inflicted on the unity within America’s government and its institutions.
The damage inflicted on the level of trust the American people have in their government and its institutions.
The damage inflicted on the confidence of personnel within the government and its institutions.
The damage inflicted on the solidarity between the institutions created to defend America.
The damage inflicted on America’s reputation throughout the world.
Although the Benghazi scandal grew out of an al Qaeda attack, it’s important to note: Al Qaeda wasn’t responsible for the post-attack destruction. What happened in Benghazi and the subsequent ruinous scandal was the result of American leaders and officials placing self-interest—specifically the reelection of Barack Obama—ahead of national interest, and what was morally and legally right. The Benghazi scandal happened because high-ranking U.S. officials engaged in lies and deception.
The post-Benghazi catastrophe was a direct function of the culture of immorality and lawlessness that pervades America’s leadership.
Though al Qaeda wasn’t responsible for what happened after its attack last September, there’s little doubt that it took note of how the success of its attack was greatly compounded by the lawless character of the American government. Witnessing America’s self-destructive behavior in the aftermath of Benghazi surely emboldened al Qaeda and America’s enemies, and no doubt inspired them to intensify their pursuit of America’s destruction.
Benghazi marks a tragic and historic moment in U.S. history: America’s enemies can now consider the U.S. government, thanks to its immoral character and lawless behavior, manifested in its propensity for lies and deceit, an indirect ally. ▪