What the Fuck Is All This Benghazi Shit: An Explainer

Your uncle has been posting on Facebook about "Benghazi" or whatever for months now, and you have no clue what the fuck he's talking about because, really, you don't have time for this shit. It's OK. We do. Here's your guide.

What the fuck is all this Benghazi shit?

On September 11 of last year (you might remember), an attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, ended in the death of four Americans: staffers Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods; and U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Initially, the deaths were blamed by the Obama administration on a "spontaneous protest" like the many taking place that day over the anti-Islam film (or film concept) Innocence of Muslims. But it was later determined that the strike was a premeditated terrorist attack.

A few hours after Stevens' death was confirmed, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney released a statement accusing the president of "sympathiz[ing] with those who waged the attacks." For this, he was widely excoriated as someone trying to cash in politically on the killing of Americans.

Right, but, like: What the fuck? Why doesn't everyone shit their pants like this every time four Americans get killed in a foreign country?

Well, part of it is that Stevens, a widely respected career diplomat, was the first U.S. ambassador to be murdered in three decades.

The other is that Republicans and conservatives have convinced themselves that Benghazi is a major, Watergate-level scandal.

A Watergate-level scandal? Why the fuck would that be the case?

Well, the conservative actors don't seem to be able to agree on why, exactly; or, they agree that every single thing that happened that day was scandal-worthy, somehow. (So far no one except the real crazies seems to have even insinuated criminality, but people died so of course it's worse than the outright crimes perpetrated by the White House in Watergate, somehow.)

In increasing order of craziness, here's what the proposed and possible scandals are:

  • The scandal is the State Department's failure to adequately protect and secure the Benghazi compound, despite requests to do so from Ambassador Stevens. This is an actual, documented failure, and basically everyone agrees that it is a scandal, and it is what the State Department's own report, released in December, found: "Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels…resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place." It's also not what anyone in Congress seems to care about.
  • The scandal is the administration's failure to undertake immediate military action as soon as it heard that attacks were taking place. This week House Republicans paraded a series of witnesses in front of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to testify that the Obama administration and the Pentagon didn't do everything they could have to save the Benghazi consulate. The idea seems to be that there is some badass special operations team that could have been instantly deployed to rescue the Benghazi personnel—but the Pentagon has flatly denied this, and the numbers don't add up anyway.
  • The scandal is that the administration attempted to cover up the fact that Benghazi was a terrorist attack, so the news wouldn't harm Obama in the election. This is the one that has mainstream conservatives salivating. They're specifically interested in the talking points used by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who (during appearances on Sunday talk shows) said that the attack grew out of spontaneous protests; today, ABC's Jonathan Karl released a series of a memos showing how the State Department successfully lobbied for the removal of some references to terrorists. This, Republicans claim, proves—uh, well it proves that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney lied about there being no "substantive" revisions to the talking points, depending on how you define "substantive." The memos don't make the State Department look noble, but they also show that before and throughout the revision process the top talking point across all memos was still about spontaneous protests—and that the motivation was more inter-agency cover-your-ass jockeying than protecting Obama.
  • The scandal is that the Benghazi consulate was a CIA front being used to sell arms to Syrian rebels. This is what, uh, Senator Rand Paul seems to believe (or at least seems to think it's convenient for him to seem to believe): "I’ve actually always suspected that, although I have no evidence, that maybe we were facilitating arms leaving Libya going through Turkey into Syria," he told CNN. In fairness to Paul, part of whatever confusing and misdirection was happening around Benghazi was the CIA lying because the CIA lies without regard to party. (One thing those ABC memos do show is the CIA trying to foist all blame off on the State Department.) But as Paul himself acknowledges, this particular conspiracy theory has almost nothing to do with the mainstream "Obama was unready and tried to cover up the terrorism" line—it's more of an InfoWars thing than a Daily Caller thing. Nevertheless, it insinuates that something bad happened, so it gets play.
  • The scandal is that the Obama administration colluded with terrorists, possibly to fake a kidnapping that would result in the release of the 1993 World Trade Center bomber Omar Abdel Rahman, as an October surprise. The Atlantic Wire's Elspeth Reeve runs this one down. I don't even know.

So all this Benghazi shit is bullshit?

Most of it, yeah.

Okay, so, what's the fucking deal?

As befits a scandal as overdetermined as this one, there are a bunch of fucking deals. There's the deal where the State Department actually did fail to protect its employees, and should be held accountable, and only barely has been.

There's the deal where Republicans are trying to kneecap Hillary Clinton in advance of an anticipated 2016 run ("at the very least, Mrs. Clinton should never hold high office again," Paul writes in the Washington Times today).

There's the deal where this is a sad, late mulligan on Romney's response, a little proto-revisionism to suggest that his doomed and incompetent campaign was defeated through the perfidy of the White House, rather than its own pointlessness and awfulness.

There's the deal where House Republicans and Fox News are trapped in a tight feedback loop, like two best friends with inexplicable inside jokes told in Oppish.

And there's the usual deal where Obama is a Muslim and he did 9/11, or whatever.