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December 28, 2013 2:35 PM Please Proceed, Republicans

By Martin Longman

Well, lookee here:

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

Let’s go back to that infamous appearance that Susan Rice made on Meet the Press the Sunday following the Benghazi attacks:

DAVID GREGORY: The images as you well know are jarring to Americans watching all of this play out this week, and we’ll share the map of all of this turmoil with our viewers to show the scale of it across not just the Arab world, but the entire Islamic world and flashpoints as well. In Egypt, of course, the protests outside the U.S. embassy there that Egyptian officials were slow to put down. This weekend in Pakistan, protests as well there. More anti-American rage. Also protests against the drone strikes. In Yemen, you also had arrests and some deaths outside of our U.S. embassy there. How much longer can Americans expect to see these troubling images and these protests go forward?
MS. RICE: Well, David, we can’t predict with any certainty. But let’s remember what has transpired over the last several days. This is a response to a hateful and offensive video that was widely disseminated throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Obviously, our view is that there is absolutely no excuse for violence and that— what has happened is condemnable, but this is a— a spontaneous reaction to a video, and it’s not dissimilar but, perhaps, on a slightly larger scale than what we have seen in the past with The Satanic Verses with the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Now, the United States has made very clear and the president has been very plain that our top priority is the protection of American personnel in our facilities and bringing to justice those who…
GREGORY: All right.
MS. RICE: …attacked our facility in Benghazi.

I seem to recall that Ms. Rice received some criticism for those remarks. Yet, the New York Times reports:

Benghazi was not infiltrated by Al Qaeda, but nonetheless contained grave local threats to American interests. The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs…
…There is no doubt that anger over the video motivated many attackers. A Libyan journalist working for The New York Times was blocked from entering by the sentries outside, and he learned of the film from the fighters who stopped him. Other Libyan witnesses, too, said they received lectures from the attackers about the evil of the film and the virtue of defending the prophet.

So, to recap, the attacks in Benghazi were not carried out by al-Qaeda, were not meticulously planned, and the motivation to participate in them was largely “a spontaneous reaction to a video.”

It appears that Ms. Rice’s comments weren’t all that far off the mark.

The lack of an al-Qaeda role is particularly damaging to the Republicans because their main conspiracy theory all along has been that the administration blamed the whole thing on the Innocence of Muslims movie to deflect from the fact that they had not eradicated the terrorist organization by eliminating their leader, Usama bin-Laden. Supposedly, the real problem in Benghazi wasn’t insufficient security but the actual identity of the attackers.

But it wasn’t the administration that politicized the tragedy. It was Mitt Romney and the Republican Party, behind in the polls and smelling blood, that tried everything they could think of to gain an advantage.

I wonder if they have the capacity for shame.

Martin Longman is the Web Editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune. He has worked as a community organizer for ACORN/Project Vote and as a political consultant for Democracy for America.

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