Bad Ideas Created Benghazi
The deadly cost of trying to sever Islamic terrorism from its roots.
Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The House Select Committee on Benghazi report confirms what we pretty much already knew. The Obama administration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton completely politicized this country’s foreign policy in order to ensure the reelection of Obama and to serve the future presidential ambitions of Hillary Clinton. Along the way Obama, Clinton et al. made dangerous decisions, such as establishing the consular outpost in Benghazi, and ignoring the consul’s pleas for more security. They also ignored the many warning signs of incipient attacks, bungled the response to the attack on September 11, 2012, and then obfuscated, spun, and outright lied in the aftermath. The House report adds new details that flesh out the story, but enough had already been leaked to confirm Clinton’s despicable sacrifice of American lives on the altar of her obsessive ambition.
Toxic ambition, sheer incompetence, and the self-serving politics of the individuals involved mean they bear the primary responsibility for this disaster. But Benghazi illustrates as well the climate of bad ideas that make such decisions possible. Bad politicians eventually go away, but malignant ideas and received wisdom are deeply rooted in our institutions, transcending individuals. The Benghazi fiasco illustrates two particularly tenacious ones.
The military intervention in Libya, the origin of the Benghazi tragedy, was another act of Western wishful thinking about “democratizing” and “reforming” the Muslim world. Despite the failure of George W. Bush’s efforts to bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan, the so-called “Arab Spring” revolutions encouraged the Wilsonian “freedom and democracy” promoters in 2011 to make Libya yet another poster-child for this doomed project. Moreover, intervention seemingly could be done on the cheap. No troops need be deployed, since jets and missiles could topple the psychotic Muammar Gaddafi––an autocrat straight out of central casting, whose genocidal bluster gave the West a pretext for intervention.
For Hillary and Obama, this was the perfect opportunity to show those neocon militarists what “smart power” was all about, and strike a contrast with the “cowboy” Bush’s “unilateralist” bumbling in Iraq. A UN resolution was secured, and a NATO-led coalition of 19 states assembled for enforcing a no-fly zone. The mission soon escalated into bringing about regime change and the death of Gaddafi.
For a while, this was a perfect, low-cost, quick little war that would illustrate the various shibboleths of moralizing internationalism: international diplomatic approval for the use of force, multilateral coalition building, a reliance on air power that minimized casualties among participating militaries, and a smaller role for the US, which would be “leading from behind,” as an Obama advisor said. This last idea reflected Obama’s belief that the US needed to diminish its role in world affairs and avoid the arrogant overreach that stained its history abroad, most recently in Iraq. This notion of America’s global sins is another bad idea reflecting ideology, not historical fact.
For Secretary of State Clinton, the Libya intervention would be the showcase of her tenure at State and proof of her superior foreign policy skills and presidential potential. Of course, we all know that the toppling of Gaddafi has been a disastrous mistake. Gaddafi was a brutal creep, but he kept in check the jihadists from Libya eager to kill Americans in Iraq and foment terror throughout the region. His departure created a vacuum that has been filled with legions of jihadist outfits across North Africa, including ISIS franchises. They are armed in part with weapons plundered from Gaddafi’s arsenals such as surface-to-air missiles, assault rifles, machine guns, mines, grenades, antitank missiles, and rocket-propelled grenades. Yet eager to protect her defining foreign policy achievement, Hillary kept open the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi even as other nations pulled out their personnel because of the increasing danger caused by the new Libyan government’s inability to control and secure its territory.
Four dead Americans were the cost of political ambition and adherence to the bankrupt idea that liberal democracy can be created on the cheap in a culture lacking all of the philosophical and institutional infrastructure necessary for its success: inalienable rights, equality under the law, transparent government, accountability to the people, separation of church and state, fair and honest elections, and the freedom of speech and assembly. The folly of expecting democracy in a culture alien to it became clear in the aftermath of Gaddafi’s downfall, when the Libyan National Transitional Council’s Draft Constitutional Charter proclaimed, “Islam is the religion of the state, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia).” The idea of exporting democracy, however, still has a tight hold on many in the West both on the left and the right, which means we have not seen the last of its bloody and costly failures.
Equally bipartisan has been the next bad idea: that al Qaeda, ISIS, et al. are fringe “extremists” who have “hijacked” Islam, and that the vast majority of Muslims are “moderates” grieved by this tarnishing of their noble faith. It was George W. Bush who said in his first address after 9⁄11 that Islam’s “teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah,” establishing the model for his administration’s policy of “outreach” to Muslims. Obama has taken this delusion to surreal extremes, refusing in the face of mountains of evidence to link the numerous ISIS attacks of the last few years to Islam, and proscribing “jihad” and “radical Islamist” from the government’s communications and training manuals.
It was this imperative to sever Islamic terrorism from its roots in traditional Islamic doctrine that in part accounted for the lies that Hillary, Obama, and their minions like National Security Advisor Susan Rice told in the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks. They peddled the narrative that a spontaneous protest against an obscure Internet video insulting Mohammed had morphed into a violent attack. This lie traded in the delusional belief that despite its 14-century-long record of invasion, murder, slaving, colonization, and occupation––all in fulfillment of the divine commands “to slay the idolaters wherever you find them” and “to fight all men until they say there is no god but Allah” –– Islamic doctrine could not possibly justify the actions of modern terrorists. So powerful was the need to protect this belief and, of course, her political future that Clinton lied to the faces of the parents of the four dead Americans, promising to “get” the hapless filmmaker, even as she knew on the very night of the attacks that there was no protest against the video near the consular outpost.
Nor are the various pretexts for this evasion of historical fact convincing. The worst is that making explicit the link between jihadism and Islam will endanger innocent Muslims and stoke “Islamophobia.” There is no evidence that this is the case, and hate crimes against Jews still vastly outnumber those against Muslims. Not much better is the notion that pious Muslims, supposedly offended by “blasphemers” like al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS, will not cooperate with police and the FBI if we state simple facts about their faith and its history.
This idea is psychologically preposterous. It assumes that Muslim pique at infidel statements about their religion trumps their assumed desire to stop the violent “distorters” of their beloved faith. It also assumes that to Muslims, such insults justify keeping quiet about the planned murders of innocents––a damning indictment of the very people whom the “nothing to do with Islam” crowd are so anxious to mollify. Worse, it confirms the unique triumphalism of Islam, whose adherents expect from non-believers deference to their faith, even as Muslims across the globe are slaughtering and torturing people simply because they are non-believers. Such careful monitoring of our discourse about Islam, at the same time Muslim intellectuals routinely attack the West for its alleged historical sins against Islam, is a sign of weakness and fear that encourages our enemies to hit us again.
We’ve been operating by this double standard for decades, and terrorist groups have expanded across the globe, while jihadist violence has murdered Americans in Boston, San Bernardino, Fort Hood, and Orlando, to name just the deadliest attacks. It’s safe to say that the tactic of flattering Muslims and confirming their sense of superiority to infidels has failed to keep us safe.
But if we really want to be honest, we won’t just rely on the weasel-word “Islamist,” which still suggests that the beliefs of the jihadists are somehow a doctrinal aberration. Those of both parties who continually talk about “moderate Muslims” and use the word “Islamist” to distinguish them from jihadists should heed Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan: “The term ‘Moderate Islam’ is ugly and offensive; there is no moderate Islam; Islam is Islam.” Using “Islamic” rather than “Islamist” will recognize the continuity of modern jihadism with traditional Islamic doctrines. Whitewashing that fact has done nothing to stop jihadist violence, and it is an enabler of those ordinary Muslims who refuse to acknowledge Islam’s illiberal and violent doctrines.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton deserve the opprobrium history will inflict on them for sacrificing our security and interests to their personal ambition and ideological obsessions. But bad ideas had a hand in the killing of four Americans in Benghazi, and those bad ideas will continue to cripple us until we discard them and start facing reality.