Debate about what really happened prior to and during the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans has been scrambled by a 7,000-word New York Times story that concludes there was "no evidence" al Qaeda or any other international terrorist group was involved.
The story by reporter David Kirkpatrick also asserts that "contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam."
Predictably, many Democrats and members of the traditional media's liberal precincts jumped on the story as proof that President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other administration officials have been unfairly smeared by Republicans in the 15 months since the attack. Similarly, many Republicans see the Times as being complicit in a coverup, noting the convenient benefit to Clinton as she prepares a widely expected 2016 presidential bid.
Forget, for a moment, Kirkpatrick's conclusion and look at the facts he marshaled. They reveal a toxic combination of arrogance and ignorance, which has poisoned Obama's foreign policy in many areas, not just in Libya.
The deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were preventable. They were the result of an obsession with al Qaeda that ignored threats posed by "local" extremist groups such as Ansar al-Shariah and individuals such as Ahmed Abu Kattala, the "eccentric, malcontent militia leader" described by the Times as a central figure in the attack.
The obsession was so strong that administration officials didn't even consider the possibility these "locals" -- who share al Qaeda's Islamic jihadist ideology -- would be just as motivated to hurt Americans. They were naively seen as people who could be won over to America's side.
As for the video, the Times' conclusion is contradicted by its own reporting that the attack was taking shape even before word of the video spread in Benghazi. The attack, according to the Times, began with just a few dozen fighters who shot out the lights around the compound gate and met little resistance entering the embassy grounds. Compatriots subsequently ushered in the mob, which by then was inflamed by the video — sometimes after "lectures from the attackers," according to the Times.
Finally there's the bigger tragedy: Libya itself. After years of bashing George W. Bush over Iraq, Obama, Clinton and their "smart diplomacy" team made the same mistake: unseating a long-entrenched Arab dictatorship without a plan for what comes next.
At least Bush consulted Congress before invading Iraq. Obama spent more than $1 billion in taxpayer dollars to rip the lid off Libya's Pandora's box with an impressive display of U.S. firepower that unleashed massive stocks of modern weapons and thousands of trained Islamist fighters. Thanks to Obama, Libya is on its way to becoming what Africa needs least of all -- another black hole of anarchy and extremism like Somalia has been for the past 20 years. This has been neither diplomatic nor smart.