Suspicious Minds

09.11.13

Conspiracy Theories Haunt Benghazi Anniversary

On the anniversary of the Benghazi attacks, GOP congressmen call for a new investigation. Jamelle Bouie on why this controversy will not die any time soon.

For most Americans, today is the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. For a much smaller group—which includes a significant chunk of the Republican Party, as well as most of the conservative movement—today is also a chance to relitigate last year’s events in Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans were killed in attacks on a U.S. compound. Because of its timing—weeks before a presidential election—and a messaging foul-up from the administration, Benghazi quickly became the subject of conservative conspiracy-mongering, where it remains.

It’s why, just a few feet from the official congressional commemoration of 9/11, Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, along with former Rep. Allen West of Florida and Frank Gaffney of the right-wing Center for Security Policy, held a press conference where they demanded a new congressional probe into the incident.

“It wouldn’t cost much money to do a proper investigation with a select committee,” said Gohmert, treating this as a reasonable request and not part of a yearlong witch hunt against the administration. Indeed, he then continued with a declaration that Obama must be hiding something; otherwise, he’d cooperate. “I want to know what evidence the administration has,” he said, “since it refuses to produce any unless it shows what they want it to say. We’re almost getting to the point that we’re just going to have it take it as fact that the evidence on Benghazi harms the administration.”

This, it should be said, came after he wondered if there was a connection between the sarin-gas attack in Syria and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

Of course, unless you believe that there is a vast cover-up—directed by the White House—there’s no particular reason to take any of this “on fact.” Yes, as my colleague Eli Lake has detailed, there are still loose ends: the killers are still at large, and the extent of the CIA’s involvement is still murky. But there’s no evidence of misconduct. That’s not to say there weren’t failures and mistakes—the State Department confessed as much in a report last year—but the conspiratorial musings of the right have no basis in fact.

Not that this has stopped anyone from adding to the accusations and spinning a larger, more comprehensive narrative that includes even worse wrongdoing from President Obama. Allen West, for instance, wondered if Benghazi wasn’t part of an operation gone wrong, an attempt to “run guns” from Libya into Syria. “If this has something to do with gunrunning,” he mused, “it would make Iran-contra look like the Romper Room.” (A reference he had to explain to a young reporter who had never seen the old kids’ TV show.) He went on, “The real reason they have not done [the investigation] is that there’s something out there they don’t want us to know.”

For as long as Barack Obama is in office—and Hillary Clinton in politics—Benghazi will be an “issue.”

It should be said that this “they” must include Republican leaders like Speaker John Boehner, who isn’t in a rush to investigate Benghazi, and Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, who conducted a classified investigation of the CIA’s role in Benghazi. But that’s not a problem. By definition, conspiracies include a wide range of disparate interests. That GOP leaders aren’t as sure as West and Gohmert is just evidence that the scheme goes beyond the administration.

This afternoon Tea Party activists are holding a Benghazi commemoration where they will join right-wing Republicans in demanding an investigation. Which, to me at least, is a sign that this conspiracy is here for the duration. For as long as Barack Obama is in office—and Hillary Clinton in politics—Benghazi will be an “issue.” Which means that, this time next year, I expect to be on the same patch of grass at the Capitol, listening to the same people make the same demands for an investigation.