Yesterday it was a spontaneous act, today it’s al Qaeda
"Little wheels spin and spin, big wheels turn around and around
Little wheels spin and spin, big wheels turn around and around
Merry Christmas, Jingle Bells, Christ is born and the devil’s in Hell
Hearts they shrink, pockets swell
Everybody know and nobody tell"
~ Buffy St. Marie
Washington can’t seem to get their story straight: first we were told the attack on our Benghazi consulate and the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens was the result of a spontaneous demonstration that got out of hand – and today we’re told it was all a plot initiated by a heretofore little-known "al Qaeda affiliate."
Before we get to the obvious question – which is it? – let’s linger awhile and wonder: why the sudden change in spin? This is important because in Washington, and the world of American politics, there is no reality: there’s just spin. People have opinions carefully tailored to the political demands of the moment – and during a presidential election year these change by the minute.
It was Senator Joe Lieberman who made news when he asked National Counterrorism Center chief Matt Olsen whether the Benghazi incident was a terrorist attack: "I would say yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy,” Olsen replied. This was immediately pounced on by Fox News and our good friends over at Reason magazine, among others, as proof that it was, as Sen. Susan Collins put it during Senate hearings the other day, "a premeditated, planned attack that was associated with the date of 9/11, the anniversary of 9/11."
The video, these spin-meisters aver, had nothing to do with it: it’s just because those Muslim freaks hate not just America but the modern world, of which we are the preeminent example. Fox & Co. have been pushing this line from the beginning, and they were delighted to re-broadcast Olsen’s remarks as supposedly confirming their view.
Yet if you investigate further – beyond reading the first line of Olsen’s remarks – this alleged confirmation evaporates:
"We are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al Qaeda or al Qaeda’s affiliates; in particular, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
"It appears that individuals who were certainly well-armed seized on the opportunity presented as the events unfolded that evening and into the morning hours of September 12th. We do know that a number of militants in the area, as I mentioned, are well-armed and maintain those arms. What we don’t have at this point is specific intelligence that there was a significant advanced planning or coordination for this attack."
Translation: it was a terrorist attack if you say so, Senator Lieberman.
In the world outside Washington, D.C., the laws of logic operate as follows: first we find the evidence, then we draw conclusions from it. In the Imperial City, however, these laws are inverted: first the conclusion, then the evidence – which can always be manufactured or spun to suit.
Lieberman and the War Party want to elide the "Innocence" video out of the equation entirely. We’re supposed to forget about it, and focus our attention on the Eternal Enemy, the Emmanuel Goldstein of the post-9/11 world – "al Qaeda," a brand name copyrighted by no one and claimed by many. This will buttress our flagging interest in pursuing the new Hundred Year War and stoke up our bloodlust for a bout with Iran – or so the War Party hopes.
But why the change in line by the administration? Well, it’s not exactly a change: Olsen admits there is no evidence for the al Qaeda plot scenario, but his answer indicates the administration is willing to entertain the notion – especially since their Libyan clients have understandably taken the position that it was indeed al Qaeda. Otherwise the new government would have to admit their country is overrun by out-of-control militias who have turned Libya into Somalia-on-the-Mediterranean – thanks to the Obama administration.
Politically, the idea of a pre-planned terrorist operation initiated by al Qaeda-like entities works for the administration, because it in large part relieves them of any responsibility or blame. In spite of the death of Osama bin Laden, and the decimation of the top leadership ranks, the image of al Qaeda as this formidable force, with almost mystic powers at its disposal, still has its uses.
The Republicans and their neoconservative avatars find this useful in a different way: it gives them the chance to score points off the Obama administration for alleged "weakness" in the face of Islamist terror. Matt Welch, editor-in-chief of Reason magazine, gave voice to this talking point when he wished for "a more American response" to the riots from US diplomats and the White House. From Mitt Romney’s perspective, this new turn in the Benghazi "investigation" absolves him from weighing in too early, and retrospectively gives his initial critique a modicum of credibility.
Both sides, then, are in the process of making a deal that the terrorist plot scenario is the best explanation, each for their own reasons. However, if there’s no real evidence for this theory, then how can they hope to pull it off? The spin machine is up against the fact that al Qaeda hasn’t claimed responsibility for the death of an American ambassador – surely odd behavior on their part.
No problem. Just invent a story out of whole cloth, and ascribe it to "intelligence sources."
Now we are told the culprit is a guy named Sufyan Ben Qumu, a longtime jihadist, said to have been bin Laden’s personal driver (he denies it), who was held in Guantanamo for six years until his release to the Libyan government in 2007. Ghadafi freed him in a general amnesty and he became one of the leaders of the NATO-supported Libyan "revolution." They’re saying he’s the leader of something called the "Ansar al-Sharia" brigade, one of many such armed groups that have taken over parts of Libya, but the actual leader of this group is one Mohammad Ali al-Zahawi.
Far from being any kind of secret terrorist organization, Ansar’s name is on a sign on the door of their Benghazi headquarters, and their fleet of vehicles are marked with the group’s emblem. If this is an underground Al Qaeda cell, it’s pretty out in the open. In interviews with the BBC and NPR, Zahawi denies killing the Ambassador and three others, and reiterates that the reason for the demonstration – which most assuredly did occur – was the video.
On the alleged Sufyan Ben Qumu connection all roads lead to Fox News, and anonymous "intelligence" officials – but they don’t say which country’s intelligence agency is the source. I wouldn’t assume it’s one of our guys.
The "Innocence" video had been on YouTube since mid-summer, and yet no one took any notice of it. This was a source of much agony by its makers and promoters, and one of them – Morris Sadek – got on the phone and talked to one of his Egyptian contacts, a journalist, who was at first reluctant to write about it but then did author a short item. The item was picked up by a Salafist television station – and the rest is history. But there’s just one detail that is almost never mentioned: a few days before the 9/11 anniversary, someone – no one knows who – translated it into Arabic. This is the version that inflamed the Muslim world.
Finding out who did the translating is key to understanding what happened in Benghazi, and is continuing to happen around the world. Because whoever did it intended to elicit the reaction it caused.
Everything about the making and promotion of the "Innocence" video screams provocation, and as for the alleged central figure in all this, one Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, he is the classic cutout. The real authors of "Innocence" are cackling with glee somewhere, now that they’ve achieved their goal. With attention diverted away from the video and it’s makers, they can relax, enjoy their victory – and think about where to strike next.
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