Guest Opinion: Little new in Benghazi report
The attack on a U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983, the attack on the Khobar Towers military housing complex in Saudi Arabia in 1996, and the devastating attacks of Sept.11, 2001 all had something in common. They were investigated by sober-minded nonpartisan or bipartisan panels that uncovered facts, found fault and made useful recommendations.
The attacks on two U.S. diplomatic compounds in Benghazi, Libya, on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, were another matter altogether. With Hillary Clinton serving as secretary of state at the time, House Republicans saw the tragic event as a chance to raise questions about her record.
To that end they created a select committee to investigate Benghazi, even after seven less politicized congressional panels and one State Department commission had already done so. The result is an 800-page report (longer than the 9/11 commission’s findings) released Tuesday.
Thickness should not be confused with revelation. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a bigger waste of government resources or a greater indication of Congress’ oversight role devolving into rank partisanship.
The inquiry found virtually nothing about Clinton’s actions that had not been previously reported. So it focused on general criticisms of the actions taken by the departments of State and Defense as well as the White House and the CIA.
Among its findings: The CIA underestimated the risks that Libyan militants posed to the compounds; the State Department did a poor job in providing security for the compounds; and the Obama administration has been unresponsive to the committee’s requests for information.
Did the investigation find reasons to be critical of the government’s actions before, during and after the attacks that left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead? Sure. It’s impossible to spend two years and $7 million probing government and not find fault. But this inquest was never meant as fact-finding and constructive criticism. It was fashioned as way of tarnishing Clinton's presidential prospects.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., revealed this last fall when he boasted of how the inquiry was hurting her in the polls. “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” he told Fox News. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today?”
In a bid to justify their effort, the majority members begin their report with a list of new details that they uncovered. Among them: The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had missed a meeting on Benghazi because he was entertaining foreign dignitaries; President Obama had missed a Benghazi briefing; State Department officials were taken aback by then-U.N. ambassador (and now national security adviser) Susan Rice’s initial television appearances after the attack; a White House political adviser had helped Rice prepare for those appearances; and Clinton had been planning a trip to Libya.
Not exactly press-stopping stuff.
In recent years, Clinton has supplied ample reasons to question her judgment, most notably in her decisions to give high-dollar speeches to Wall Street banks and to use a private email server when she was at State (an arrangement the Benghazi inquiries helped uncover).
But the investigations haven't demonstrated that Benghazi belongs on that list. At this point U.S. government officials should be focused on bringing to justice all of the militants responsible for the deaths in Benghazi, trying to stabilize Libya, and ensuring the security of American diplomatic posts in dangerous parts of the world — not on turning tragedy into political point-scoring.