Everyone’s Lying to You About Benghazi

Choice between two evils: GOP conspiracy theories or White House spin?

US President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press on April 2, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois, on the shooting at the Fort Hood military base in Texas. One person was killed and 14 others wounded April 2, 2014 in a shooting incident at Fort Hood, a US official said.
National Journal
Ron Fournier
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Ron Fournier
May 8, 2014, 5:26 a.m.

Here’s your com­pre­hens­ive guide to the polit­ics of “Benghazi,” the Septem­ber 2012 ter­ror­ist at­tack in Libya that claimed four Amer­ic­an lives.

White House secrecy, de­cep­tion, and a polit­ics-first ob­ses­sion shiel­ded Pres­id­ent Obama from fal­lout dur­ing the 2012 reelec­tion cam­paign. The tac­tics even­tu­ally back­fired to keep the scan­dal alive.

A State De­part­ment email, be­latedly made pub­lic last week un­der court or­der, proves bey­ond reas­on­able doubt that the White House com­mu­nic­a­tions team was more in­ter­ested in cov­er­ing Obama’s butt than shar­ing ac­cur­ate in­form­a­tion with the pub­lic. Deputy Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Ad­viser Ben Rhodes wrote that one “goal” for U.S. Am­bas­sad­or Susan Rice’s tele­vi­sion in­ter­views shortly after the at­tack was to “un­der­score that these protests are rooted in an In­ter­net video, and not a broad­er fail­ure or policy.” An­oth­er stated “goal” was to “re­in­force the Pres­id­ent and Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s strength.” The protests were not rooted in an In­ter­net video, a fact the White House ac­know­ledged only be­latedly, re­luct­antly, and un­der fire.

The White House’s ex­plan­a­tion for with­hold­ing the email from Con­gress was laugh­able. Press sec­ret­ary Jay Car­ney claimed that an email re­leased un­der court or­der for Benghazi-re­lated doc­u­ments was not about Benghazi. You don’t need to be a right-wing con­spir­acy nut to re­cog­nize that White House ob­fus­ca­tion gave the scan­dal its legs. “It is also im­pol­ite — but ne­ces­sary — to point out that Car­ney and his col­leagues’ opa­city made their Benghazi prob­lem worse,” wrote Wash­ing­ton Post colum­nist Dana Mil­bank.

Polit­ics aside, an in­de­pend­ent pan­el de­term­ined in 2012 that sys­tem­at­ic man­age­ment and lead­er­ship fail­ures at the State De­part­ment led to “grossly” in­ad­equate se­cur­ity at the mis­sion in Benghazi. Des­pite those fail­ures, the Ac­count­ab­il­ity Re­view Board con­cluded that no in­di­vidu­al of­fi­cial ig­nored or vi­ol­ated their du­ties and re­com­men­ded no dis­cip­lin­ary ac­tion.

Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers con­cocted bogus con­spir­acy the­or­ies that in­flamed anti-Obama bi­ases of con­ser­vat­ive voters. Dis­grace­fully, the GOP used the memory of four dead Amer­ic­ans to raise money.

There are too many phony con­spir­acy the­or­ies to re­fute here, but the most in­fam­ous came from the chief GOP in­vest­ig­at­or, Rep. Dar­rell Issa of Cali­for­nia. “I have my sus­pi­cion, which is Sec­ret­ary [Hil­lary] Clin­ton told Le­on [Pan­etta] to stand down,” said the mod­ern-day Mc­Carthy. That lie has taken root in GOP circles des­pite re­ports like this from the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee: “There was no ‘stand down’ or­der is­sued to U.S. mil­it­ary per­son­nel in Tripoli who sought to join the fight in Benghazi.” Issa also claimed that Clin­ton signed a State De­part­ment memo deny­ing se­cur­ity to Benghazi, a blatant false­hood. 

Issa is a joke. His con­duct has un­der­mined the cred­ib­il­ity of the Re­pub­lic­an Party, just as the White House com­mu­nic­a­tions team has un­der­cut trust in the pres­id­ency. After a spate of par­tis­an in­vest­ig­a­tions in Con­gress, it’s hard to fathom how the new “se­lect com­mit­tee” could 1) un­earth evid­ence of wrong­do­ing bey­ond the Ac­count­ab­il­ity Re­view Board’s harsh find­ings, and 2) claim evid­ence of wrong­do­ing that a fair-minded voter would be­lieve.

The shame is that there are les­sons to learn from the lead­er­ship fail­ures in the Clin­ton State De­part­ment and the Obama White House. Benghazi is a re­mind­er, too, of the dangers of in­vad­ing a na­tion like Libya with a light foot­print and walk­ing away. But the two ma­jor parties don’t care about such things. Benghazi is just the latest proof that our lead­ers are ob­sessed with win­ning news cycles and elec­tions — and if vic­tory re­quires fudging a few facts or in­vok­ing the memor­ies of dead Amer­ic­ans to raise blood money, then, well, so be it.

Ter­ror­ists alone are to blame for the Benghazi at­tack. But you might ask, which party handled the af­ter­math worse? Who lied more? Sorry, but that’s a choice between two evils I won’t make.

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