And so the reckoning begins. Only hours after a special task force concluded on Wednesday that “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” may have contributed to the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, the State Department’s security chief and two other officials resigned.
What was lacking in the report, however, was any sense of who was responsible farther up the chain. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Accountability Review Board—chaired by retired Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering and vice chaired by another national-security heavyweight, former Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen—detailed a broad failure of U.S. intelligence officials and policymakers to fully understand the growing Islamist threat in Libya, but without naming the names of those who were responsible for that failure. As the report put it, using the passive tense, “There was little understanding of militias in Benghazi and the threat they posed to U.S. interests.”
Even more damning, in its absence, was the report’s failure to step back and question whether the Obama administration, at its highest levels (starting with the president), created the conditions for Benghazi by overstating the decimation of al-Qaida and playing down the significance of the extremist elements, possibly al-Qaida-linked, that have reemerged in the aftermath of the Arab Spring in Libya and elsewhere. Unless this reckoning is made, it is easy to imagine a similar disaster happening in post-Assad Syria, or elsewhere in the region. This has been a chief Republican talking point against Obama since the Benghazi attacks occurred on Sept. 11.