Wash. Post's Milbank Calls Out Conservative Conspiracy “Lunacy” On Benghazi

With hearings scheduled in the House for later this week to investigate the “unanswered questions” about Benghazi, conservatives have once again been revving up their attacks on the administration.

In a column for The Washington Post detailing a September 16 event at the right-wing think tank the Heritage FoundationDana Milbank highlights just how far off the rails conservative and Republican scandal-mongering over Benghazi has gotten. 

During the event, which was organized by the clownish, conspiracy-prone right-wing group Accuracy in Media and featured Republican congressman Frank Wolf and a panel of experts discussing the terror attack, AIM director Cliff Kincaid reportedly asserted that administration has “a policy of supporting al-Qaeda.” According to Milbank, this assertion was elaborated on by panelist Clare Lopez, a former CIA officer, who wondered whether the United States has “flipped our policy” in such a way that it is using its assets “to help the forces of Islam, of al-Qaeda, of the Muslim Brotherhood, of jihad and sharia.” Milbank reports that Rep. Wolf endorsed Lopez's point:

The lunacy began when Cliff Kincaid, a leader of Accuracy in Media, the group holding the gathering, suggested that the Obama administration is covering up events regarding Benghazi because the CIA operation there was secretly arming the enemy. “This administration has a policy of supporting al-Qaeda, the same people behind the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11,” he declared.

One of the panelists, former CIA officer Clare Lopez, picked up the theme. “Have we flipped our policy,” she asked, “to where we are placing the power, the influence, the might, diplomatic assets, military assets, intelligence assets, financial assets, at the service of al-Qaeda in the Middle East to bring to power forces of Islamic jihad? . . . Are we involved in the Middle East to help the forces of Islam, of al-Qaeda, of the Muslim Brotherhood, of jihad and sharia?”

Wolf's reply: “I think Clare makes a very good point.” And this is the man leading the effort to create a “select committee” to investigate Benghazi.

So the Obama administration, which dispatched Osama bin Laden and decimated al-Qaeda with drone strikes, is now in cahoots with the terrorist network? Sorry, Congressman. I've got an appointment back on Earth.

After more than a year of desperate, often-misleading attacks on the administration over Benghazi, the scandal-mongering has reached the point where conservatives (including a member of Congress) are speculating about a supposed administration “policy” of aiding al-Qaeda and Islamic extremists. (Milbank also points to Lopez speculating that “that the administration covered up the Benghazi events because Obama wants to make it illegal to criticize Islam.”)

While Milbank's piece helpfully illustrates the outlandish nature of conservatives' Benghazi witch hunt, his column unfortunately also shows that rampant right-wing myth-making about the event has infected otherwise level-headed reports. 

After highlighting the exchange between Wolf, Kincaid, and Lopez and dismissing how “scandal-seekers” are feebly trying to use Benghazi to damage Hillary Clinton, Milbank points to a participant at the Heritage event that he claims “seemed to have the right perspective.” But in doing so, Milbank parroted the debunked myth that the administration “didn't at least try to get reinforcements to the besieged Americans in Benghazi.”

At least one participant at the Heritage gathering seemed to have the right perspective. Retired Gen. Paul Vallely wasn't concerned about after-the-fact talking points or al-Qaeda conspiracies or whether Clinton signed diplomatic cables about security requests. He wanted to know why the U.S. military didn't at least try to get reinforcements to the besieged Americans in Benghazi.

“Obviously there was not even an attempt at a rescue,” he told the 40 people in the audience. “That's the bottom line of it all.” Vallely, a frequent critic of President Obama, said he doesn't believe administration claims that there wasn't enough time to send help to Benghazi.

Certainly, any such help would have been too late for Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleague Sean Smith, who were killed in the early moments of the attack. It may not have saved security personnel Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty either, he acknowledged, “but you don't know until you try.”

An investigation led by Thomas Pickering and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Mike Mullen concluded that “there simply was not enough time given the speed of the attacks for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference.” Even if that's true, nobody knew at the start of the siege how long it would last. Why didn't they at least try?

Though conservatives have asserted that the administration “sacrificed Americans” as a “political calculation” after deciding that their lives were “expendable,” the suggestion that no help was sent is false.

Notably, Glen Doherty, one of the four Americans killed in the attack, was a member of a rescue team that had arrived in Benghazi from Tripoli between the first and second phase of the attack.

Other forces in Libya were not deployed due to security concerns over potential attacks on other U.S. facilities in the country. And as journalist Samuel Katz and former diplomatic security agent Fred Burton explain in their recent Benghazi book, Under Fire, the Pentagon ordered an anti-terrorism team to deploy to Libya from Spain “as fast as you can,” but due to numerous “logistical challenges,” those forces did not arrive in Libya until the next evening [emphasis added]:

The FAST unit closer to Benghazi was FAST Company Europe, which reported to the Marine Corps Security Force Regiment, II Marine Expeditionary Force. Based at the Naval Station Rota, Spain, FAST Company Europe was no stranger to crisis and response work in the Mediterranean. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered that appropriate forces respond. A task order flowed from the Pentagon to NAVSTA Rota, Spain: “Lean forward and get there as fast as you can.” The marines mustered into their transport aircraft on the tarmac in their combat fatigues and full battle kit. However, logistical challenges such as airspace and overflight clearances are not easily sorted out, especially involving a nation like Libya. Sending armed U.S. Marines into a sovereign nation became a complex foreign policy decision with multiple moving pieces between Libyan Foreign Ministry, the Pentagon, and the State Department. The marines waited on the tarmac for their orders. The FAST platoon wouldn't make it to Libya, to augment security at the embassy in Tripoli, until the next evening.  [Under Fire, 138]