Republicans are seizing on the anniversary of the Benghazi attack to drive the message that President Obama and potential 2016 Democratic presidential contender Hillary Rodham Clinton are weak on national security and foreign policy.
Last week’s focus on Syria overshadowed the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. Now Republicans are looking to keep criticizing Obama’s handling of the crisis in Syria as they shift the focus back to renewed scrutiny of the administration’s response to the Benghazi attack and what it says about the party in power.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Republicans released a new report Monday condemning the State Department Accountability Review Board’s investigation of Benghazi, deeming it biased and incomplete. The committee aims to put those charged with holding the administration accountable on the hot seat at a hearing Thursday with the leaders of the review board, Ambassador Thomas Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullen. Also on Thursday, the House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee plans to hold a hearing with Defense Department officials on the lessons learned from Benghazi.
In the meantime, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is pursuing a hearing Wednesday featuring Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy to examine why four employees placed on administrative leave because of Benghazi were reassigned within the State Department.
Any additional information that comes from the administration could help paint a clearer picture of the events that unfolded and how they could be prevented. But the focus is clearly designed to lay the groundwork for the line of attacks against Democrats in the 2016 presidential election—particularly in case Clinton runs.
“The benefit of continuing to talk about Benghazi is to try to drive ... answers from the administration and to remind voters that Hillary Clinton was the head of State Department and likely a key part of some of the mistakes that happened around the attacks. As we get closer to 2016, there is a slow drumbeat on Benghazi that continues,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean.
“The Syrian issue has exposed serious flaws in President Obama’s foreign policy and the State Department’s lack of strategy around the Middle East; continuing to talk about Benghazi does feed into that narrative.”
The Oversight and Government Reform report concluded that the State Department Accountability Review Board investigation was too narrow in scope, did not include sufficient interviews, was tainted by actual or perceived conflicts of interest, and failed to thoroughly examine the State Department’s decision to run the Benghazi mission on a temporary basis. The report also found that decisions at more-senior State Department levels influenced diplomatic actions in Benghazi, and that Clinton wanted to extend the mission there.
Democrats, unsurprisingly, are criticizing Republicans for trying to score political points instead of working with them to implement recommended reforms meant to prevent future attacks.
“This Republican report is not an official committee report, but rather a completely partisan staff report that the chairman apparently didn’t want committee members to see before he leaked it to the press,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee. “Rather than focusing on the reforms recommended by the [Accountability Review Board], Republicans have politicized the investigation by engaging in a systematic effort to launch unsubstantiated accusations against the Pentagon, the State Department, the president, and now the ARB itself.”
This article appears in the September 17, 2013, edition of NJ Daily as Republicans Steer Foreign Policy Back to Benghazi.