An Alternate History of the Benghazi Consulate Attack

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As might be expected, the Right wing is in a frenzy of self-righteous indignation over the latest details to come out of the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. For weeks the Obama administration has been under increased pressure to explain exactly what was known prior to, during, and immediately after the assault that left the U.S. ambassador and three other American agents dead. Initial reports were that protests over a film defaming the Muslim prophet Mohammed had gotten out of hand, and the consulate was overrun.

Though superficially plausible, this narrative quickly crumbled when it became clear that even if there were protestors that night, another group had planned an attack on the consulate. Questions were raised and it soon became apparent that many of the important details were being left out, and that perhaps a cover-up was underway. Within a month, details emerged — and U.S. officials began to acknowledge them — that indicated the attack had nothing to do with the poorly-produced video, and that a pre-meditated assault had taken place.

During the second presidential debate, which took place on October 16th, there was a heated exchange between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, in which the former lambasted the latter over his refusal to declare the incident a terrorist attack. The moderator, CNN's Candy Crowley, came to the defense of the president, fact-checking Mitt Romney’s statement. She did however acknowledge later that there were some inconsistencies in the official story. Despite such tensions, and the fact that more questions were being raised on the subject, it was ignored entirely during the final debate. The fact that this last debate focused on foreign policy made this all the more curious.

This past week, a series of e-mails was released, which shed more light on the attack. The Obama administration, say Republicans, made a series of terrible mistakes, leaving the Ambassador and his staff vulnerable in such a dangerous situation. Ambassador Stevens had requested additional security in the weeks prior, perhaps sensing that increasing tensions in the region could put him and his team at greater risk. The administration denied Stevens' request.

Once the attack was underway, CIA operatives who were staying in a nearby safe house requested permission to assist the Ambassador, knowing how exposed he and his staff were; they were told to stay put. It is also reported that two reconnaissance drones were circling overhead, broadcasting a live feed of the events back to Washington, and that an AC-130 Spectre gunship was nearby to provide close air support, if needed.

For Republicans, these decisions not to increase security border on negligent, but, as they're saying, it's the cover-up that's worse than the crime. Had the Obama administration been upfront about what they knew and the choices they made, this would be tragic, but perhaps not so egregious for many on the Right, or so they say.

Let's not forget however, that we aren't dealing with two unbiased factions here. These are two groups engaged in a perpetual PR battle to stay in the favor of American voters, and there's a big election in less than two weeks, to boot. Regardless of how president Obama and the bureaucrats in Washington handled this, the GOP was going to be extremely critical. They almost always are.

There is perhaps one case in which the Right wouldn't be so outraged. It's possible to imagine events unfolding in a manner far different, though no less tragic, and the American Right being fully supportive, if not right congratulatory of the president.

Indeed, when it was announced that Osama bin Laden had been found and killed inside of Pakistan, hardly anyone seemed to mind one bit that the U.S. had violated the territory of another sovereign nation, and murdered a woman in the process. The thought of how we might respond if the reverse happened was never considered by a significant majority of the public. Instead, people took to the streets and chanted USA! USA! USA! When Ron Paul addressed the issue, suggesting there may have been other ways to handle the situation, he was ridiculed.

So let's consider a similar scenario, one in which Ambassador Stevens and his staff come under attack and the president reacts with unrestrained military force.

It's the evening of September 11, 2012 and a band of well-armed fighters begins an assault against the U.S. consulate in Libya. The ambassador evacuates his office, makes his way to the safe house a short distance away, and holes up. The group is followed by the militia and fighting continues into the night. The CIA agents request permission to intervene and are given the green light.

The Special Operations Task Force that has been moved into southern Italy for just this contingency is scrambled and boards aircraft from Naval Air Station Sigonella. The AC-130 Spectre gunship is launched and begins orbiting above the city. As the operators from the CIA approach the scene of the attack they begin coordinating fire with the Air Force, painting targets with an infrared laser. The crew of the gunship zeros in on the fighters below and immediately begins pouring death from their 105mm howitzer and 40mm cannon.

High explosives rain down on the city, tearing apart those laying siege to the consulate and innocent bystanders without regard. Militant fighters are gunned down along with women, children, the elderly and anyone else not quick enough to make their way out of the fire zone. The drones circling above record and broadcast the carnage back to Washington, as the president and his national security team eagerly watch with grave concern over the lives of half a dozen Americans.

As the dust and smoke clears from the demolished buildings nearby, the dying and wounded attempt to crawl to safety. And, just as with the attacks in Pakistan, each time survivors attempt to make a rescue, the drones catch their movement, prompting another volley of cannon fire. Again, high explosives tear through the neighborhood, taking more life, disfiguring more innocent human beings. Families are decimated, livelihoods are crushed, and the loss to private property is staggering.

Confident that the attack has subsided, the gunship's weapons systems are silenced, but the aircraft remains in its methodic orbit. Living up to its name, the Spectre haunts the city's residents, who are paralyzed with fear. Afraid to leave their homes for fear of being mistaken for an enemy fighter, and knowing their simple dwellings afford them virtually no protection from state-of-the-art weaponry, they huddle in groups, praying to God they'll survive the night.

Just before dawn breaks, the Special Operations Task Force arrives in Benghazi. Heavily armed men swarm what's left of the compound and surrounding blocks, extracting the Ambassador and rendering first aid to the wounded American embassy staff. One of the CIA operators was killed while directing fire and his body is recovered. A small child is found nearby, though critically wounded she somehow survived the onslaught and is taken up by the Special Forces unit to receive top-notch medical care in a U.S. hospital.

The president shaves, puts on a fresh suit, and walks out to brief the news media and the American people. He describes the thwarted embassy attack and the heroic rescue mission, albeit he gives a sterilized version, so as not to reveal too much about U.S. tactics, or the extensive loss of life. The agent of the CIA is lionized as the one American to heroically give his life in defense of his fellow Americans, their mission, and his nation. The president concludes by explaining that despite the wounds — both physical and symbolic — good triumphed over evil, and that U.S. resolve is unbroken.

In the immediate aftermath, the news media rush to be the first to interview top officials in the administration. Major networks and cable channels quickly produce documentaries and detailed computer animations of the ordeal. Regular programming is pushed back to accommodate hours and hours of news specials and exclusive stories. There’s the usual talk of a film based on the events and the public eagerly awaits the many books that will be written on the subject. Hollywood film studios and publishing houses salivate in anticipation.

Conservative politicians and pundits once again praise the president's decisive action, each trying to outdo one another in their approval of the way in which the situation was handled. Though a few in the media raise questions about the number of Libyans killed, and what exactly motivated the assault in the first place, they're either shouted down as traitors to the American cause by the neoconservatives, or drowned out by the sycophantic press corps. The wounded girl we soon learn has become an orphan and is thrust into the spotlight, becoming a celebrity in her own right. Western news media follow her recovery in detail, and provide the public with frequent updates.

None of this is difficult to imagine. The American people are treated to such narratives all the time. The U.S. government intervenes in some remote country (often on behalf of large corporations, veiled as strategic interests) and innocent lives are lost. Many of the locals understandably resent this, and some respond violently. The U.S. government reacts with overwhelming military force, many more innocents are killed, and the U.S. corporate state emerges victorious. The Left and Right pretend to unite — if not temporarily — and the American media reports everything from the perspective of the Pentagon and the White House.

Meanwhile there is more resentment, more outrage over the deaths. Not only were so many lost, but their deaths go completely unreported, or brushed off as collateral damage. Hatred builds, and years, maybe decades later, there is finally retribution. The cycle repeats, over and over and over.

As for what exactly happened in Libya, we don't really know, yet. There has been speculation over the role of Ambassador Stevens and whether he may have been trafficking weapons to rebels in the region. The question has also been raised as to whether Stevens was acting as an intelligence agent, which wouldn't be much of a surprise either. Both are plausible, and indeed likely. It may be many years before the truth comes out, but eventually it will. And when it does, it's crucial that the American people understand cause and effect, and demand an end to this disastrous and reprehensible foreign policy.

Joel Poindexter [send him mail] is a student of economics and part-time writer; he is a columnist for the Tenth Amendment Center and a contributing author to Voices Of Revolution: Americans Speak Out For Ron Paul. See his blog.

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