Libya, US Cannot Agree on Origins of Benghazi Attack
Libyan authorities have now arrested over 50 suspects in the killings of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and 3 other Americans in what the Libyan interim assembly President has called a planned attack by Al Qaeda, affiliates and sympathizers. US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, however, contradicted this view, holding to the theory that there was a spontaneous uprising of protest from an anti-Islam video, that gradually got hijacked by extremists.
“Our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous – not a premeditated – response to what had transpired in Cairo,” Rice told me this morning on “This Week.”
“In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated,” Rice said, referring to protests in Egypt Tuesday over a film that depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud. Protesters in Cairo breached the walls of the U.S. Embassy, tearing apart an American flag.
“We believe that folks in Benghazi, a small number of people came to the embassy to – or to the consulate, rather, to replicate the sort of challenge that was posed in Cairo,” Rice said. “And then as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons… And it then evolved from there.”
To me this defies logic. First of all, a guard working at the US consulate in Benghazi told McClatchy that there were no protests in the area until the grenades started flying. Second, the fact that militants targeted not only the consulate but a safehouse suggests that more was involved here than merely a protest gone awry. Third, I’m trying to figure out how a generic protest turns into a targeted assassination mission. It takes a little time to aggregate the kind of heavy weapons used in a mission like this. The idea that they heard about a protest and just turned the ignition on their plan doesn’t strike me as credible.
Then you have to think about why the Administration wants to downplay the possibility of this being a premeditated attack. There are political reasons, obviously. But it could also represent a downplaying of the role of global unrest, unrelated to a YouTube video that the participants in the unrest have almost to a man never seen. The protests continued today, without an end in sight. More ominously, the unrest could be coming from economic factors like the rise in global food prices and the general nature of crushing poverty on communities. That’s a discussion that American leaders don’t want to brooch. Heck, they have to deal with it in their own country.
For all the talk of energy independence, we remain an economy very tied to the price of oil. Therefore, the price spikes that inevitably spring from this unrest have a real impact at home. You would think that would focus minds on identifying the source of the unrest, describing it, and working to eradicate it in ways that do not cause blowback or perpetuate the unrest with different actors. But it hasn’t.