Republicans Steer Foreign Policy Back to Benghazi Failures

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks about Syria, Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House Complex in Washington, during a the White House Forum to Combat Wildlife Trafficking. Clinton said any move by Syria to surrender its chemical weapons to international control would be an "important step." 
National Journal
Stacy Kaper
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Stacy Kaper
Sept. 16, 2013, 5 p.m.

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.”

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