Benghazi report revives troubling questions

Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on the September attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites in Benghazi, Libya, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington January 23, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • The Interim Progress Report sets out copious evidence of the rash security threats in Libya in 2012.

    Tweet This

  • There were more than 200 "security incidents" between June 2011 and July 2012 in Libya.

    Tweet This

  • "Benghazi threatened to undermine a central element of Obama's appeal" writes @MichaelBarone

    Tweet This

"What difference, at this point, does it make?"

That was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's angry response to a question about the State Department's account of the attack on the Benghazi consulate where Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were murdered on Sept. 11, 2012.

Her response was cheered by leftist commentators on MSNBC. Righteous indignation is so attractive.

But of course it makes a difference. Hillary Clinton is leading in polls for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination and general election. It's always legitimate to examine the performance of a front-runner for the presidency. And of the president himself.

You can find such an examination in the Interim Progress Report that five House Republican committee chairmen released last Wednesday.

Democrats complain that this is a partisan effort. Sure, but Democrats are free to present their own view of the facts. My sense is that they would rather squelch critical examination of Benghazi and the Obama administration's response, as they did with the help of most of the press during the 2012 presidential campaign.

The interim report sets out copious evidence of the rash of security threats in Libya during 2012. There were more than 200 "security incidents" between June 2011 and July 2012 in Libya, 50 of them in Benghazi, it reports.

Britain and international agencies withdrew personnel from Benghazi. The United States reduced security forces despite a plea for increases from then-Ambassador Gene Cretz in March 2012.

"In a cable signed by Secretary Clinton in April 2012," the Interim Report reads, "the State Department settled on a plan to scale back security assets in the U.S. Mission in Libya, including Benghazi."

Later requests from Stevens after he replaced Cretz in May were also denied.

That contradicts Clinton's testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in January 2013. She said the cable traffic never made its way to her.

If so, why was her name appended to a response? Maybe there's an explanation in the internal processes of the State Department. And, it should be said, high officials often make decisions that with hindsight seem obvious mistakes. But she has given us just an exclamation, not an explanation.

And, as the Interim Report goes on to explain, the accounts given by the Obama administration at the time were misleading -- deliberately so.

It noted that State immediately reported the attack to the White House Situation Room and two hours later noted an al Qaeda affiliate's claim of responsibility. There was no mention of a spontaneous protest of an anti-Muslim video.

Yet Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Press Secretary Jay Carney spoke repeatedly for days later of a video and a protest. Clinton assured one victim's family member that the video-maker was being prosecuted.

In the meantime, a CIA draft of talking points for the House intelligence committee was edited at the behest of State Department officials. Omitted were references to previous Benghazi attacks, the al Qaeda affiliate in Benghazi and intelligence estimates of threats in Libya. Also struck, the Interim Report says, were "any and all suggestions that the State Department had been previously warned of threats in the region."

These changes were made, the chairmen conclude, not to protect classified information -- reviews of the draft were circulated on unsecure email systems -- and not to protect the investigation by the FBI.

"This process to alter the talking points," concludes the Interim Report, "can only be construed as a deliberate effort to mislead the American people."

The resulting talking points were delivered to Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice for her five Sunday talk show appearances on Sept. 16, in which she denounced the "hateful video."

Who might have ordered this "deliberate effort"? The Interim Report mentions Barack Obama only twice as recipient of letters of inquiry, but this comment seems aimed clearly at him and his first secretary of state.

We know that Obama was informed of the attack while it was occurring, that he ordered Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to respond to it (as he was already doing) and did not confer later with officials that evening. The next morning he jetted off to Las Vegas for a campaign event.

Benghazi threatened to undermine a central element of Obama's appeal, that his presidency would reduce the threat of Islamist terrorism. He managed to obfuscate that during the rest of the campaign. But maybe not forever.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Michael
Barone
  • Michael Barone, a political analyst and journalist, studies politics, American government, and campaigns and elections. The principal coauthor of the annual Almanac of American Politics (National Journal Group), he has written many books on American politics and history. Barone is also a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner.

    Follow Michael Barone on Twitter.


  • Phone: 202-862-7174
    Email: michael.barone@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Andrew Rugg
    Phone: 202-862-5917
    Email: andrew.rugg@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image The money in banking: Comparing salaries of bank and bank regulatory employees
image What Obama should say about China in Japan
image A key to college success: Involved dads
image China takes the fight to space
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.