Even more damning, in its absence, was the report’s failure to step back and question whether the Obama administration, at its highest levels (starting with the president), created the conditions for Benghazi by overstating the decimation of al-Qaida and playing down the significance of the extremist elements, possibly al-Qaida-linked, that have reemerged in the aftermath of the Arab Spring in Libya and elsewhere. Unless this reckoning is made, it is easy to imagine a similar disaster happening in post-Assad Syria, or elsewhere in the region. This has been a chief Republican talking point against Obama since the Benghazi attacks occurred on Sept. 11.
A disturbing subtext of the report is the broader failure of the U.S. intelligence community to catch up ideologically with extremist threats, even as the CIA and FBI have burrowed deeply into Islamist networks at home and abroad. As demonstrated by the October arrest of a would-be terrorist plotting to blow up the New York Federal Reserve, the FBI is now deeply embedded in the domestic Muslim community, and the CIA has gotten fairly adept at penetrating jihadist networks abroad, especially online (a striking contrast to the U.S. law-enforcement community’s inability to root out the nation’s Adam Lanzas before they kill).
But, in a worrisome replay of the intelligence community’s cluelessness before 9/11, the report supplies further evidence that U.S. intelligence has largely failed to anticipate how new al-Qaida-style cells have been incubating in the extremist groups enfranchised by the Arab Spring abroad. Nor has the Obama administration reckoned with the ideological backlash caused by the indiscriminate use of drone strikes.