When President Obama announced that U.S. Navy SEALs had raided an Al Qaeda compound in Pakistan and killed Osama bin Laden, the political valence was too intimidating even for conspiracy theorists. Some of Obama's far-gone detractors did ask if the whole thing was faked—there was no body to establish proof of death, after all—but no less a far-right figure than Michele Bachmann came forward, along with many other members of Congress, to vouchsafe Obama's version of events.
On the Hill, Republican leaders had to content themselves with congratulating Obama—and the Bush administration, too!—on the success of the operation. And as time went on, other conservatives became comfortable couch commandos, spinning away an achievement that had eluded their preferred political leaders for years as a nothing burger—an obvious call that Obama had successfully sold as an act of daring leadership.
No such restraints are encumbering conservatives today, as they process the news that U.S. Special Forces working with the FBI in Libya captured Ahmed Abu Khattala, a ringleader of the September 11, 2012, attacks on an American consulate in Benghazi. The reaction underscores the extent to which the institutional right has always seen and treated Benghazi as an exclusively political weapon.
No sooner had the news hit the wires than Republican operatives and Fox News talking heads began spitballing and rolling out conjecture to shrink the development until it could be easily shoehorned into the diffuse firmament of Benghazi conspiracy theories.
While it's great to see they caught the Benghazi suspect, it's important to remember, he wasn't really hiding: http://t.co/78n3IP2aOA— Rory Cooper (@rorycooper) June 17, 2014
The Fox hosts who had the good fortune of being on air when the news broke quickly cited similar, earlier reports that the fragile political environment in Libya had effectively shielded Khattala from law enforcement to suggest that the Obama administration had timed the capture to extract maximum political benefit—particularly to bolster Hillary Clinton's proto-presidential candidacy while she's on book tour.
It seemingly did not occur to any of them that the combination of claims amounts at best to a diminishment of the operation itself and at worst to an insinuation that the military and FBI were party to the conspiracy. But with Occam's razor buried deeply beneath an avalanche of nonsense, the theory spread.
Glad we nabbed a #Benghazi suspect, but the timing is questionable. Did they let him wander, waiting for the perfect political opportunity?— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) June 17, 2014
To the hosts of "Outnumbered," all of this further underscored the need for the House Select Committee on Benghazi to compel Clinton's testimony. Why? It's hard to say. Presumably to expose her role in delaying Khattala's apprehension.
After an hour of watching this all unfold, I was ultimately struck by the banality of the conjecture. After all, Barack Obama will be president for the entirety of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Who's to say the two of them aren't allowing all of the Benghazi ringleaders to walk free on purpose, so they can tee up a series of faux-heroic operations to capture all of them, each timed to bolster her candidacy at pivotal moments?
I'm not a lawyer, man, but I don't see how we foil a plot like that without impeachment.
Brian Beutler is a senior editor at The New Republic.