Conspiracy. See if this sounds familiar: Four Americans serving on the ground in Africa are killed. The circumstances aren’t entirely clear. Officials offer conflicting accounts. The president makes statements that infuriate his political opponents.
This chain of events describes the recent tragedy in Niger, where one of the victims was Sgt. La David Johnson, whose widow later had a contentious call with President Trump. But you may recognize that this description also applies to the 2012 Benghazi attack, which became a yearslong obsession of President Barack Obama’s critics.
I’d urge President Trump’s many critics — and I’m obviously one of them — to hold two competing ideas about Niger at the same time. First, some big questions about the Niger tragedy need answering. Second, people should not let their animus toward him — and his animus toward the truth — trick them into trafficking in conspiracy theories.
Doing so would drag “liberals down the same path that conservatives traveled with Benghazi,” Laura Seay, a Colby College assistant professor, cautions in Slate, “one of irrational, fearmongering claims that only serve to prolong the suffering of the families of the fallen while doing nothing to explain the root causes of the event.”
In The Daily Beast, Spencer Ackerman suggests four substantive questions that should be the focus of debate:
1. How was Sgt. Johnson separated from the rest of his unit?
2. How was the unit successfully ambushed?
3. What was the unit’s mission?
4. What does the surprise attack say about the U.S. military’s role in Niger?
If people stay focused on these questions, they won’t let the White House intimidate them into silence on Niger.
Military issues need to remain part of a democracy’s political process, as Rosa Brooks, a former Pentagon official, argued on a recent episode of the “Deep State Radio” podcast. “What could be more political — not partisan, but political — than the decisions we make about war and peace and whose lives we’re going to risk?” she asked.