Here’s the real Benghazi scandal: Republicans have turned the deaths of four brave Americans into a campaign tool to galvanize their base.
Eight congressional investigations, along with an independent review board, have laid out the facts about the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate. There have been 13 public hearings, the release of 25,000 pages of documents, and 50 briefings on the security failures that led to the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. None offered a shred of evidence that White House political considerations led to their deaths.
Yet last week, as we head into campaign season, House Republicans voted to waste more taxpayer money on a new special Select Committee on Benghazi. It aims to revisit issues already resolved by the previous probes. Republicans vied with one another to get named to the team.
The GOP has made no secret of its hope to somehow blame the killings on President Obama or Hillary Clinton – a pitch designed to turn out primary voters. To get the flavor, you needed only to visit the website of the Republican National Campaign Committee last week, which urged donors to become “Benghazi watchdogs right now.” It bragged that “House Republicans will make sure that no one will get away from (South Carolina Rep. Trey) Gowdy and the Select Committee. This is going to be a national effort for a national investigation. Help fight liberals by donating today.”
Yet none of the previous hearings, some chaired by Republicans, has produced a crumb of proof that White House political considerations led to the deaths in Benghazi. Nor do Republicans have such new evidence in hand.
The supposed impetus for the new committee was a freshly discovered White House email that sets out a strategy for Susan Rice’s TV talk-show appearances soon after the killings. The email asks Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to stress that “these protests” were linked to an anti-Muslim Internet video. This, Republicans claim, proves the administration was trying to hide an al-Qaida role in the killings, which would have undermined Obama’s claim to be winning the war on terror.
To the contrary, these claims are factually bogus, as came out in previous hearings. Some U.S. intelligence suggested at the time that the video might have played a role in the Benghazi demonstrations, as it did in Cairo protests; moreover, it was unclear at the time whether al-Qaida-linked militants played a role.
More to the point, the new email, and the whole debate over Rice’s TV performance, are totally irrelevant. The only questions about Benghazi that matter are why was security so poor, and could more have been done to save the victims. Those questions have already been laid to rest.
In their independent review, retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs, blamed serious management deficiencies among top security officials at the State Department for the failure. Three were forced out, and perhaps the sweep should have included Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. Part of the problem was lack of communication between the CIA, whose personnel made up the bulk of the presence in Benghazi and had better protection, and State, which had only a temporary consular facility staffed on a rotating basis.
And a critical key to the tragedy lay with unfortunate decisions made by the admirable Ambassador Stevens. As a Senate Intelligence Committee report revealed, this top diplomat and Arabic-speaker twice turned down the U.S. military’s offers of more security personnel for his mission. He recommended training local Libyan guards to conduct security in Benghazi, and they proved sadly unreliable. And he chose to visit Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, with insufficient security – for an unimportant cultural function – believing he was capable of managing in a city he knew well. His overconfidence proved fatal.
None of these facts play into the conspiracy theories that fuel the new investigation. Nor do the well-established facts about why a U.S. rescue team failed to arrive.
The answer is not, as U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has brazenly claimed, that then-Secretary of State Clinton told Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to “stand down.” This is a total fabrication for which no one has provided any evidence – certainly not the grandstanding Issa, who led previous Benghazi hearings.
Panetta says Obama told him and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey to deploy forces to Benghazi as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the Pentagon had no forces readily available that could reach there in time. In 2012, the U.S. Africa Command had no rapid strike force to respond to emergencies (it now has such a force based in Spain).
Issa’s insistence that the Pentagon could have sent planes was roughly rebuffed by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who served under both Republicans and Democrats. He said Issa had “a cartoonish impression of military capabilities.”
Indeed, the unending search for a Benghazi conspiracy might be laughable if it were not so shameful. Legislators who truly care about Stevens and the three other victims should stop this charade.