October 4th, 2012
08:23 AM ET

After Benghazi, is al-Qaeda back?

By Fareed Zakaria

When trying to understand a strange action by the U.S. government, I have found it's usually best explained by incompetence rather than conspiracy. Republicans have claimed that the Obama Administration deliberately deceived the American public about the terrorist attack in Benghazi by describing it as a spontaneous mob uprising rather than a planned operation. But if the Administration knew from the start that it was a terrorist attack, did it really think that it could conceal this from the world? That the Libyan government would make no investigation? That there would be no eyewitnesses in a public place where hundreds had gathered? A far more plausible explanation is that in the chaotic aftermath of the attack, the Administration–too hastily and without proper analysis–put out the reports it was receiving. That's clumsy, but it's not treason.

The larger issue that the attack raises, however, which is fair game for a campaign conversation, is what the events in Benghazi tell us about terrorist organizations, in particular al-Qaeda. After years of being in retreat, is al-Qaeda back?

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