It’s been an interesting week on Benghazi. You can read summaries over at Hot Air. I haven’t blogged much on it because actual fact — as opposed to innuendo or excuse-making — has been hard to come by. But a few things do seem clear:
The Benghazi consulate was unprepared for what happened, despite indications that the situation was inflammable. This territory was pawed over extensively by the Accountability Review Board and resulted in some firings. But I don’t think the territory has been pawed over nearly enough or that accountability has gone high enough.
There has also been some more talk about what wasn’t done on the night of the attack. Specifically, that F-16’s were not on standby and that a team of special ops people were not dispatched from Tripoli. Of course, it’s not clear what the F-16’s would have done — people keep forgetting that there was a many hours lull between the attack on the consulate that kiled Stephens and the pre-dawn attack on the safe house that killed the two formers SEALs. Nor is it clear that we had the ability to get them there in the six hours between the attack and the evacuation. And a rapid response team was dispatched from Tripoli and evacuated the survivors on the morning of 9/12. I take a lot of this military monday morning quarterbacking with a grain of salt. Much of what we’ve heard over the last seven months — such as the claim that Obama had real-time imaging of the area, that the rapid response team in Benghazi was told to stand down, that Stephens was raped and dragged through the streets — has turned out to be false. Other speculation on what might have been done has turned out to be impossible.
The other revelation this week, from Gregory Hicks, is that the Obama Administration was determined to get control of the message very quickly. The talking points given to Susan Rice were politically vetted and State Department employees were told to stay on message about what happened that night. Hicks has claimed — under oath, not through wild claims by partisan lawyers — that he was retaliated against for speaking to a Congressional delegation and contradicting the early pravda from the White House. Further testimony indicates that contradicting the Libyan president on the nature of the attack created some diplomatic friction.
(Later edit: Just to clarify something, Hicks testimony is that they knew this was a terrorist attack from the moment it happened.)
So that’s where we are: incompetent planning and a bumbling political aftermath. To be frank, I find myself agreeing with James Joyner and Doug Mataconis that is looking less like the thing Obama will be impeached for and more like the routine incompetence we’ve come to expect from this Administration. The partisan line from the Democrats — that is is a “nothingburger” — seems a little ridiculous in light of the deaths of four Americans and the bizarre focus on message control the following week. But at the same time, the cries of “scandal!” seem overblown too. Marc Ambinder:
One of the reasons why Americans aren’t outraged about Benghazi is that the event is a series of tragedies in search of a unifying explanation, and one that “Obama is evil” doesn’t cover. Because really, to suggest that the Pentagon or the White House would deliberately — and yes, this is EXACTLY what Republicans are suggesting — prevent special operations forces from rescuing American diplomats BECAUSE they worried about the potential political blowback because they KNEW exactly who was behind it (al Qaeda) is —well, it is to suggest that Barack Obama is simply and utterly evil.
Furthermore, the Republicans were briefed early on Benghazi and told quite specifically that it was a terrorist attack. Obama’s “cover-up”, such as it was, lasted about four days and consisted mostly of Susan Rice on talk shows. My five year old did a better job of covering up the Great Spilled Milk in the Bathroom Incident.
It seems to me that there are two real scandals here. The first and most important is the lack of preparation before the attack. It’s not like our embassies and consulates have never been targeted before. During the Bush Administration, they were hit over 50 times with over a dozen personel killed. Did it not occur to someone that a thinly-protected consulate in a volatile country might be worthy of a little more attention? Apparently not.
The second scandal is the retaliation against whisteblowers in the State Department. One of the under-appreciated aspects of Obama’s presidency is his war on whistleblowers, his insistence that everyone be on message. This is the latest iteration of something that has been going on since he took office.
Ultimately, however, I think the political upshot of this for the President will be minimal. People keep comparing this to Watergate, demonstrating quite effectively that they have no idea what Watergate was about. I realize that Republicans are clinging to the belief that Benghazi should have cost Obama the election. I know everyone’s been looking for the scandal that will bring down Obama. But this ain’t it.
What it is about — or at least should be about — is negligence, ass-covering and retaliation inside the State Department. This is something the former Secretary of State and presumptive 2016 presidential nominee has to answer for. And, ultimately, I think she will.
If something really damning comes out of this, I want to hear it. I’m very much in favor of more transparency. But the focus on Benghazi seems to have drifted from that and gone more toward getting Obama. It’s even gotten the point of making a martyr out a duplicitous felon. I don’t think that’s useful. What we already know happened was bad enough.