Written by Andrew C. McCarthy
The mishandling of Benghazi undermined a prominent Muslim moderate.
A significant point made in riveting testimony by Gregory Hicks, the State Department’s former deputy chief of mission in Libya, has largely been missed in the coverage of Wenesday’s Benghazi hearing. It is worth highlighting, not least because doing so illuminates the depth of the Obama administration’s depravity.
In its assiduous effort to defraud the American people, for 2012-campaign purposes, into believing that the Benghazi massacre was provoked by an anti-Islamic Internet video — rather than having been a coordinated jihadist attack that undermined President Obama’s claim to have decimated al-Qaeda — the administration betrayed its self-proclaimed commitment to establishing democracy in Islamic countries.
It has been widely reported that, during the hearing, Mr. Hicks was asked to respond to the infamously cynical, transparently rehearsed rant — “What difference, at this point, does it make?” — by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her long-delayed congressional testimony about Benghazi back in January. Hicks first observed that the real question was, “What difference did it make?” (his emphasis), then proceeded to explain that the difference was enormous . . . and enormously damaging. The reason has to do with Mohammed Magariaf, the president of Libya’s new, post-Qaddafi General National Congress.
In a pleasant surprise during the dark days after the Benghazi massacre, President Magariaf forcefully condemned the attack as the work of Islamic terrorists. For career State Department officials such as him, Hicks elaborated, this was a major coup. Now, to say Hicks was a compelling witness is an understatement. On this point, though, he did not flesh out what he meant. That is why it has not gotten the attention it deserves.
As readers who follow our discussions here know, I am not a fan of Islamic-democracy promotion — at least, not the way our government has done it for the last 20 years, which is more a matter of forcing “democracy” to accommodate anti-democratic sharia law than of instilling the principles of Western liberty. For present purposes, however, the point is not to rehash this debate.
Like most of our best foreign-service officers, Gregory Hicks is a true believer in helping Islamic countries achieve what he called their “dream of democracy.” This was a goal the Bush and Clinton administration set themselves to. It is, moreover, what the Obama administration claims is its top imperative in the Middle East — the reason why Obama has insisted, for example, on starting an unprovoked war to topple Qaddafi, on giving billions in aid and sophisticated weaponry to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government, and on supporting the “rebels” in Syria despite their ties to the Brotherhood and al-Qaeda.
What officials like Hicks realize but have difficulty explaining — for to explain it is to admit the gargantuan uncertainty of the task — is that democratization calls for authentic Muslim moderates to separate themselves from violent jihadists (and, I would add, from sharia chauvinists posing as moderates). If they are unwilling or unable to do so, there can be no real democracy. There can be only the law of the jihadist jungle or, at best, a milder sharia totalitarianism that, though we may refer to it as “democracy,” is not democracy in any real sense.
As we have seen time and again, however, this is a very hard thing for moderates to do. Again, my point here is not to repeat what I’ve said a million times about how foolish we are not to study Islamic-supremacist ideology. But the unyielding fact is that this ideology is prevalent throughout the Middle East — it is not just the stuff of fringe terrorists. And it teaches that those who sow discord in the ummah — by, for example, condemning fellow Muslims or endorsing Western standards over sharia subjugation — should be ostracized or even killed.
It takes a great deal of bravery for a Muslim to make a stand against this. He is sure to be vilified as an apostate for doing so. Sharia’s penalty for apostasy is death, and the so-called Muslim Street is well known to take such matters into its own hands. This is why President Magariaf’s acknowledgment that the atrocity in Benghazi was a terrorist attack, and his forceful condemnation of the jihadists who carried it out, was such a coup in the eyes of Hicks.
Libya is a plenary Islamic country. Magariaf is a Sunni Muslim from Benghazi — albeit one who lived for decades in the U.S. He was among Qaddafi’s most prominent enemies, and is reputed to be a liberal in the classic sense, supporting free elections and free speech, as well as equality among citizens and between the sexes. Not surprisingly, he has been the target of multiple assassination attempts, the most recent one in January. He is, in sum, exactly the kind of ally the democracy project desperately needs if it is to have any chance of success.
Magariaf’s condemnation of the Benghazi terrorist attack was an announcement to the world that there are prominent Muslims willing to run the risk of taking on the jihadists — the very thing we justifiably complain that we don’t hear nearly enough of from self-professed moderates. It was also an announcement that there are Muslims prepared to stand publicly and strongly with the United States, even if that means influential sharia jurists will condemn them for breaking ranks.
None of this was lost on the White House. Yet President Obama dispatched Susan Rice to the Sunday talk shows anyway — her talking points oozing with deceit, as Steve Hayes’s devastating report in The Weekly Standard has demonstrated. Rice directly contradicted Magariaf, maintaining that the attack on our compound resulted from a spontaneous “protest” provoked by a hateful video defaming Islam’s prophet. This disgusting performance — mounting evidence proves she knew what she said was false — badly undermined Magariaf’s credibility. Worse, it implied that the jihadists who murdered our officials were justified in their rage, if not in their savage actions — i.e., that sharia blasphemy principles trump the free speech that any real democracy must have as its foundation.
That, Hicks said, is why his jaw dropped when he heard Rice’s assertions, which, he further recalled, left him personally “stunned” and “embarrassed” for our country. He was embarrassed because the cause for which he has spent much of his career struggling — the cause for which American blood and treasure has been copiously sacrificed for a dozen years — had been cravenly sold out.
For what it’s worth, I’ve long thought the democratization cause is neither plausible nor a vital American interest. Unlike Hicks, I do not believe that the State Department should have been in Benghazi at all — we should never have diplomatic posts in places where we cannot responsibly safeguard them. But my pessimism about the prospects of the mission are a matter separate from the great respect I have — that we all should have — for the courage and dedication of Americans officials, such as Hicks, who have labored to give Muslims overseas a chance for freedom in the sincere belief that doing so promotes our national security.
That is what Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the rest of the cabal betrayed. And for no better reason than that telling the truth about Benghazi would have wounded Obama’s campaign less than two months before Election Day. Bluntly, a jihadist attack in the heart of the “rebel” resistance to Qaddafi made it embarrassingly clear that Obama had not crushed al-Qaeda. It showed that the president’s Libya misadventure had empowered America’s enemies. This the reelection effort could not afford, so the administration used the video — and familiar demagoguery about dread “Islamophobia” — to cover it up.
For many years, the Islamic-democracy project has been a passion of both Bush Republicans and Clinton Democrats. If I were one of them, I’d be pretty damn angry right now.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the executive director of the Philadelphia Freedom Center. He is the author, most recently, of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy.