by Max Brantley
The attack happened, Americans are dead, shifting statements about events in a chaotic land have been made.
Nonethless, in light of last night's debate and all, did anybody see this in the New York Times?
War, Libyan-style, remains very foggy, very complicated. Guess what? Maybe that movie DID have something to do with it.
Did the attack grow out of anger against an American-made video mocking the Prophet Muhammad, or was it waged by an affiliate of Al Qaeda out to mark the 11th anniversary of its attack on United States soil?
To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck the United States Mission without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as members of a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.
...United States intelligence agencies have reserved final judgment pending a full investigation, leaving open the possibility that anger at the video might have provided an opportunity for militants who already harbored anti-American feelings. But so far the intelligence assessments appear to square largely with local accounts. Whether the attackers are labeled “Al Qaeda cells” or “aligned with Al Qaeda,” as Republicans have suggested, depends on whether that label can be used as a generic term for a broad spectrum of Islamist militants, encompassing groups like Ansar al-Shariah whose goals were primarily local, as well as those who aspire to join a broader jihad against the West.
But in the heated election-year American political debate such distinctions have been lost, scholars said, as the administration has framed the attack around the need for American outreach to the Arab world, while Republicans have focused on the perils of American weakness there.
Back to the experts who've never set foot on Libyan soil to tell us what really happened. Only those with a narrative critical of President Obama are to be construed as reliable. (Why, really, do the Republicans hate America?)
Thanks, as ever, to Daily Howler, still ruminating on the highs and lows of presidential debate coverage.
FOR THE FACT-BASED WORLD: This Q&A might also be useful.