Commentary Magazine


Topic: Benghazi

Bridgegate, the Media, and Lessons for 2016

The apparent exoneration by federal investigators of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the scandal over the lane closures on a bridge last year may be good news for Christie, but other prospective 2016 GOP candidates should take notice. The media’s unhinged obsession with hyping and trumping up the story in an effort to take down a presidential candidate was just a warm-up act. Far from chastened, the media is almost certainly just getting started.

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The apparent exoneration by federal investigators of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the scandal over the lane closures on a bridge last year may be good news for Christie, but other prospective 2016 GOP candidates should take notice. The media’s unhinged obsession with hyping and trumping up the story in an effort to take down a presidential candidate was just a warm-up act. Far from chastened, the media is almost certainly just getting started.

That means that if Christie really is exonerated–which he has been insisting he would be for months–conservatives should expect the leftist press to choose a new target. Although the coverage of this scandal leaves the mainstream press looking utterly humiliated, they won’t be humbled. A good precedent is when the New York Times concocted false accusations against John McCain in 2008 intended to destroy not just his campaign but his family; after the story was called out for the unethical hit job it was, especially on the right, then-Times editor Bill Keller responded: “My first tendency when they do that is to find the toughest McCain story we’ve got and put it on the front page.”

Getting called out for bias only makes the media more likely to give in to its vindictive instincts. This is the press version of an in-kind contribution, and those contributions don’t go to Republican campaigns.

In January conservative media watchers were passing around the statistics that showed the lopsided coverage the media was giving “Bridgegate” vs. the IRS scandal. One of the charts, which showed dedicated coverage over a fixed period of time, bothered reporters. In one of the unconvincing “defenses” of his fellow journalists, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza objected:

The comparison made in this chart in terms of coverage is not an apples to apples one.  The IRS story broke on May 10. That’s a full 52 days before the Media Research Center began counting the minutes of news coverage devoted to it. The Christie story, on the other hand, broke in the Bergen Record on Jan. 8, the same day that MRC began tracking its mentions in the media.

What Cillizza actually demonstrated, unintentionally, was a far worse aspect of the coverage that was tougher to quantify but jumps off the screen from Cillizza’s post. And that is the general lack of interest on the part of reporters in digging into the government’s shocking misconduct–you know, practicing journalism. The lack of curiosity has been astounding.

As our Pete Wehner wrote the other day, forget basic reporting: the press ignored a genuine piece of Benghazi-related news when it fell in their laps. That’s how the IRS developments happened too. The initial story was announced in the IRS’s attempt to get out in front of a report that had discovered the abuse of power and was going to detail its findings. The IRS decided to try to spin the news in advance to take control of the story.

And the recent revelations of the IRS’s ongoing strategy of destroying evidence during the investigation were brought to the public’s attention by the group Judicial Watch, which has been filing Freedom of Information Act requests for documents. The latest piece of news, that Attorney General Eric Holder’s office tried to coordinate a strategy with House Democrats to blunt the impact of future revelations about the IRS’s illegal targeting scheme, came to light because Holder’s office accidentally called Darrell Issa’s office instead of Democrat Elijah Cummings.

The difference in media coverage was only part of the story, then. The more serious part was that the media is just not doing their jobs when the target of the investigation is the Obama administration. That doesn’t mean all reporters, of course, or that they’re ignoring all stories. But the pattern is pretty clear: when we learn something about Obama administration misbehavior, it’s generally not from reporters, many of whom eventually get hired by the Obama administration.

The other aspect of the coverage gap is the type of story. Surely Cillizza thinks a staffer closing lanes on a bridge, however indefensible, is a different caliber of story than the IRS, at the encouragement of high-ranking Democrats, undertaking a targeting scheme to silence Obama’s critics in the lead-up to his reelection. Cillizza was right, in other words: conservatives weren’t comparing apples to apples. But he was wrong in thinking that stacked the deck in favor of conservatives’ conclusion; the opposite was the case.

We’ve already seen this with other prospective GOP 2016 candidates. When Wisconsin prosecutors initiated a wide-ranging “John Doe” investigation intended to silence conservative groups and voters in Wisconsin and level false allegations against Scott Walker, the media ran with the story. It turned out that the investigation was so unethical that those prosecutors now stand accused broad civil-rights violations. But the point of the coverage is to echo the false allegations against Walker, not to get the story right. So the media moved on.

And they moved on to Rick Perry, who was the target of an indictment so demented that only the most extreme liberals defended it. The point of the case, though, was to get headlines announcing Perry’s indictment. This one may have backfired because it was so insane that, aside from former Obama advisor Jim Messina, Rachel Maddow, and a couple writers for liberal magazines, the left tried to distance themselves from it. But the fact remains: Rick Perry is under indictment.

The criminalization of politics is part of the left’s broader lawfare strategy. This is the sort of thing repellent to democratic values and certainly should draw critical attention from the press. Instead, they’ve chosen to enable it.

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Media Bias and the Benghazi Scandal

Former CBS News investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, writing in the Daily Signal, tells the story of former State Department official Raymond Maxwell, a well-respected 21-year diplomat who personally contributed to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Mr. Maxwell has told lawmakers that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s closest aides–including her chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, and her deputy chief of staff, Jake Sullivan–privately removed politically damaging documents before turning over files to the Accountability Review Board, the independent board investigating the Benghazi terror attack.

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Former CBS News investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, writing in the Daily Signal, tells the story of former State Department official Raymond Maxwell, a well-respected 21-year diplomat who personally contributed to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Mr. Maxwell has told lawmakers that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s closest aides–including her chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, and her deputy chief of staff, Jake Sullivan–privately removed politically damaging documents before turning over files to the Accountability Review Board, the independent board investigating the Benghazi terror attack.

Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz confirmed to Fox News that last year, in a private interview, Maxwell told him and other lawmakers that Hillary Clinton’s aides oversaw the operation, which allegedly took place on a weekend in a basement office of the State Department.

“What they were looking for is anything that made them look bad. That’s the way it was described to us,” Chaffetz said. (State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach has denied the allegations.)

Ms. Attkisson sets the scene this way:

According to former Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell, the after-hours session took place over a weekend in a basement operations-type center at State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. This is the first time Maxwell has publicly come forward with the story. …

When he arrived, Maxwell says he observed boxes and stacks of documents. He says a State Department office director, whom Maxwell described as close to Clinton’s top advisers, was there. Though the office director technically worked for him, Maxwell says he wasn’t consulted about her weekend assignment.

“She told me, ‘Ray, we are to go through these stacks and pull out anything that might put anybody in the [Near Eastern Affairs] front office or the seventh floor in a bad light,’” says Maxwell. He says “seventh floor” was State Department shorthand for then-Secretary of State Clinton and her principal advisors.

“I asked her, ‘But isn’t that unethical?’ She responded, ‘Ray, those are our orders.’”

This charge needs to be fully examined and Mr. Maxwell’s account needs to be corroborated or refuted. (The House investigation into this matter begins tomorrow and will hopefully shed more light on it.) But if Mr. Maxwell’s report is true–and on the surface he appears to be a credible witness–it would amount to a very serious coverup and evidence of widespread corruption that would almost surely have to involve Mrs. Clinton.

The elite media’s indifference to this story continues to be quite telling. The vast number of journalists decided a long time ago that they were utterly indifferent to the Benghazi story, regardless of the facts, and for reasons that undoubtedly have to do with their political bias. Among many reporters the bias is so pronounced and endemic they aren’t even aware of their blinding double standards. But the rest of us are.

I can promise you that if the details of the Benghazi story were identical but it had happened in the Bush, Reagan, or Nixon administration, there would be a fierce, relentless, around-the-clock investigation led by the major media outlets. There would be a gleam in the eye of every political reporter who lives in the Acela Corridor. Journalists would be eager to afflict the comfortable, speak truth to power, hold politicians accountable, and seek to wipe misconduct from the face of the political earth. Every managing editor would want to emulate Ben Bradlee; every reporter would want to be Woodward and Bernstein.

It would be a feeding frenzy in the name of Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

But not in this case. Not with the Obama administration. Not with Hillary Clinton. Because many in the elite media have a narrative–the truth about what happened about Benghazi doesn’t really matter–and they’re sticking to it. Some reporters may go through the motions now and again, but that’s all. There’s no driving ambition to get to the bottom of this story. They would really rather not know. And the fact that they would really rather not know tells you a very great deal of what’s wrong with American journalism today. Elite journalists are as infected by ideology and motivated reasoning–in this case, by motivated reporting–as members of the DNC or the Obama White House. But at least those being paid by the DNC and the White House don’t pretend to be objective.

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A Welcome Win for Obama and the U.S.

I have been quite critical recently of the Obama administration foreign policy that has been associated with one disaster after another in, among other places, Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq. As Bret Stephens writes, “Like geese, Americans are being forced to swallow foreign-policy fiascoes at a rate faster than we can possibly chew, much less digest.”

So it is only fit and proper to give credit where it’s due—in this case for the apprehension by Special Operations Forces of Ahmed Abu Khattala, the reported ringleader of the terrorist cell which attacked the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012 and killed the US ambassador to Libya. This has been a while coming but it is fitting justice nevertheless.

Republicans who seek to criticize this coup are, I believe, off-base. There are two grounds for criticism: First that the president reportedly sat on this intelligence for fear that a raid would destabilize the government of Libya and second that Khattala is being remanded for trial in a federal district court, not sent to Guantanamo for trial by a special terrorist tribunal. Neither criticism stands up to much scrutiny.

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I have been quite critical recently of the Obama administration foreign policy that has been associated with one disaster after another in, among other places, Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq. As Bret Stephens writes, “Like geese, Americans are being forced to swallow foreign-policy fiascoes at a rate faster than we can possibly chew, much less digest.”

So it is only fit and proper to give credit where it’s due—in this case for the apprehension by Special Operations Forces of Ahmed Abu Khattala, the reported ringleader of the terrorist cell which attacked the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012 and killed the US ambassador to Libya. This has been a while coming but it is fitting justice nevertheless.

Republicans who seek to criticize this coup are, I believe, off-base. There are two grounds for criticism: First that the president reportedly sat on this intelligence for fear that a raid would destabilize the government of Libya and second that Khattala is being remanded for trial in a federal district court, not sent to Guantanamo for trial by a special terrorist tribunal. Neither criticism stands up to much scrutiny.

In the first place, it is perfectly legitimate to balance the benefits of a Special Operations raid against the political costs of action. Presumably Obama finally determined that Libya is so chaotic and the government so powerless that this raid would do nothing further to destabilize the situation. That is itself a sad indictment of U.S. policy (or lack thereof) in Libya but it is that policy that should be subject to criticism, not the raid itself.

As for trying Khattala in a civilian court: This should not be a matter of dogmatism. Many top terrorists have been tried and convicted in civilian courts in the past. The point of Gitmo and the special terrorist tribunals is that they offer a separate venue for handling terrorists who are judged dangerous by the intelligence community but whom prosecutors are unable to convict in a civilian court. In the case of Khattala, the Justice Department is apparently confident of winning a conviction in district court, so there is no reason not to go ahead with a prosecution. Khattala is actually more likely to remain locked up if he is sent to a super-max prison than if he goes to Gitmo where far too many dangerous detainees have been released.

It goes without saying that the capture of Khattala, however welcome, hardly reverses by itself the tide of disasters that has swept over U.S. foreign policy in recent months. But for an administration that has not had a lot (or any) victories lately, it is a welcome win—and one that Republicans should welcome for signaling a willingness to use force against America’s enemies.

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Lessons From Hillary’s Bad Week

Hillary Clinton’s decision to try to clear the Democratic presidential field this far out from Election Day was widely viewed as her best chance to win the nomination. The drawback, however, was that she would put herself immediately under the glare of the media she so overtly detests.

But maybe that’s also a benefit. Hillary’s sense of entitlement and combative, defensive, accusatory nature was always going to result in a series of gaffes and missteps. If this week was any indication, Clinton will try to get them all out of the way long before the “official” campaign begins. Perhaps by the time the real campaign rolls around, they will be long forgotten. Clinton can take solace in the fact that the 24-hour news cycle means the two and a half years until the election constitute a lifetime in politics.

But the real question is whether Clinton will learn from these early mistakes or repeat them. On Monday, Clinton was under fire for claiming–absurdly–that she was broke leaving the White House. Her former spokeswoman defended her by explaining that, well, broke is kind of a relative term, especially for a family like the Clintons. Clinton’s mistake here was thinking that Democrats are being honest when they demonize wealth, when in reality they celebrate making money if you’re getting paid to demonize the wealth of others. Lesson learned?

On Tuesday, Clinton dealt with the fallout from her absolutely horrendous answer on her culpability for the tragedy in Benghazi: “I take responsibility, but I was not making security decisions.” The Washington Post’s media writer took note of the disastrous portion of the interview:

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Hillary Clinton’s decision to try to clear the Democratic presidential field this far out from Election Day was widely viewed as her best chance to win the nomination. The drawback, however, was that she would put herself immediately under the glare of the media she so overtly detests.

But maybe that’s also a benefit. Hillary’s sense of entitlement and combative, defensive, accusatory nature was always going to result in a series of gaffes and missteps. If this week was any indication, Clinton will try to get them all out of the way long before the “official” campaign begins. Perhaps by the time the real campaign rolls around, they will be long forgotten. Clinton can take solace in the fact that the 24-hour news cycle means the two and a half years until the election constitute a lifetime in politics.

But the real question is whether Clinton will learn from these early mistakes or repeat them. On Monday, Clinton was under fire for claiming–absurdly–that she was broke leaving the White House. Her former spokeswoman defended her by explaining that, well, broke is kind of a relative term, especially for a family like the Clintons. Clinton’s mistake here was thinking that Democrats are being honest when they demonize wealth, when in reality they celebrate making money if you’re getting paid to demonize the wealth of others. Lesson learned?

On Tuesday, Clinton dealt with the fallout from her absolutely horrendous answer on her culpability for the tragedy in Benghazi: “I take responsibility, but I was not making security decisions.” The Washington Post’s media writer took note of the disastrous portion of the interview:

Another telling moment came when Sawyer placed before Clinton all the warnings that bad things were afoot in Benghazi. “Did you miss it? Did you miss the moment to prevent this from happening?” Sawyer asked. Clinton’s response started with these two words: “No, but …”

The lesson here seems to be that Clinton bought into the left’s idea that Benghazi is a silly controversy and there’s nothing left to answer for. That’s not remotely true, as Diane Sawyer showed when she pressed Clinton to offer more than a canned one-line dismissal and actually answer detailed questions about what went wrong.

Yesterday, Clinton had yet another difficult interview, this one about her flip-flop on gay marriage. When gay marriage was unpopular, Clinton was opposed. Once it was advantageous in a Democratic primary to support it, that’s where she found herself. It’s a reminder that Clinton is a walking focus group. (Her “memoir has the cautious, polished, poll-tested feel of a campaign speech,” complains the Economist.)

Here’s Politico on Clinton’s interview with NPR:

NPR’s Terry Gross was interviewing Clinton about her newly released memoir, “Hard Choices.” She repeatedly asked the former secretary of state whether her opinion on gay marriage had changed, or whether the political dynamics had shifted enough that she could express her opinion.
“I have to say, I think you are being very persistent, but you are playing with my words and playing with what is such an important issue,” Clinton said.

“I’m just trying to clarify so I can understand …” Gross said.

“No, I don’t think you are trying to clarify,” Clinton snapped back. “I think you’re trying to say I used to be opposed and now I’m in favor and I did it for political reasons, and that’s just flat wrong. So let me just state what I feel like you are implying and repudiate it. I have a strong record, I have a great commitment to this issue, and I am proud of what I’ve done and the progress we’re making.”

There’s more, but that’s probably the worst of it. The lesson here would be that it’s OK with Democrats to have flip-flopped on this. They’ll say you “evolved,” as long as you offer some kind of plausible explanation. Clinton doesn’t have to shy away from her hypocrisy, but she has to avoid getting so defensive that she gives the impression she has something to hide.

Will she learn the lessons of her disastrous week, and get the hang of campaigning? The silver lining for Clinton is that regardless of the answer to that question, this week’s missteps are sure to be ancient history in 2016.

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Susan Rice: A One-Woman Credibility Gap

Back in September 2012, there were a lot of people, including many conservative critics of the Obama administration who thought the Obama White House hung Susan Rice out to dry after the Benghazi terror attacks. Rice had nothing to do with the decisions that put Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in harm’s way only to be slain by al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists. Nor had she, as America’s ambassador to the United Nations, any responsibility for the manner with which the State Department had bungled the Libyan venture and anti-terror policy. But she was the one delegated by the administration to be the voice of its spin of this disaster. It was Rice who was handed the infamous talking points that sought—on all five major Sunday programs—to persuade the American people that the Benghazi attack was the result of film criticism run amok rather than terrorism. It was quickly apparent that this was a brazen lie concocted by the White House for political purposes. Alone of top administration officials, Rice paid the highest penalty for Benghazi since her fateful morning in the spotlight almost certainly cost her the chance to be secretary of state in President Obama’s second term. But in spite of all this, Rice has refused to back down and apologize for her statements.

So it was surprising that Rice, now the president’s national security advisor, would win up in roughly the same position this week during the fallout from the Bowe Bergdahl-Taliban prisoner swap. Last Sunday, when the administration was seeking to portray the exchange as a triumph for the president, Rice went again to the Sunday shows to proclaim that the deal was worthy of celebration and then added that Bergdahl had served “with honor and distinction.” Since then, Rice has taken a beating in the media as the truth about Bergdahl’s alleged desertion and America-bashing was revealed, as any sensible person must have always known it would be. Yet when offered a chance to back down from her egregious comments today on CNN, Rice again refused to do the sensible thing, instead again doubling down on her fibs, arguing that Bergdahl’s presence in a war zone in uniform entitled him to be described in this manner. Rather than acknowledging that her rhetoric made her seem like the administration’s chief fabulist, Rice turned her ire on those who questioned her latest foray into fiction.

But the second instance in which she has been outed as a purveyor of the most transparent “pants-on-fire” type of spin means that Rice can no longer be portrayed as a victim. Whatever you may think about Bergdahl or the decision to trade five top Taliban terrorists for him, there can be no debate about the fact that Rice has severely damaged her own reputation in this business. After all, her definition of what entitles a soldier to be termed as having served with “honor and distinction” would equally apply to Benedict Arnold as it does to Americans who actually have behaved heroically.

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Back in September 2012, there were a lot of people, including many conservative critics of the Obama administration who thought the Obama White House hung Susan Rice out to dry after the Benghazi terror attacks. Rice had nothing to do with the decisions that put Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in harm’s way only to be slain by al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists. Nor had she, as America’s ambassador to the United Nations, any responsibility for the manner with which the State Department had bungled the Libyan venture and anti-terror policy. But she was the one delegated by the administration to be the voice of its spin of this disaster. It was Rice who was handed the infamous talking points that sought—on all five major Sunday programs—to persuade the American people that the Benghazi attack was the result of film criticism run amok rather than terrorism. It was quickly apparent that this was a brazen lie concocted by the White House for political purposes. Alone of top administration officials, Rice paid the highest penalty for Benghazi since her fateful morning in the spotlight almost certainly cost her the chance to be secretary of state in President Obama’s second term. But in spite of all this, Rice has refused to back down and apologize for her statements.

So it was surprising that Rice, now the president’s national security advisor, would win up in roughly the same position this week during the fallout from the Bowe Bergdahl-Taliban prisoner swap. Last Sunday, when the administration was seeking to portray the exchange as a triumph for the president, Rice went again to the Sunday shows to proclaim that the deal was worthy of celebration and then added that Bergdahl had served “with honor and distinction.” Since then, Rice has taken a beating in the media as the truth about Bergdahl’s alleged desertion and America-bashing was revealed, as any sensible person must have always known it would be. Yet when offered a chance to back down from her egregious comments today on CNN, Rice again refused to do the sensible thing, instead again doubling down on her fibs, arguing that Bergdahl’s presence in a war zone in uniform entitled him to be described in this manner. Rather than acknowledging that her rhetoric made her seem like the administration’s chief fabulist, Rice turned her ire on those who questioned her latest foray into fiction.

But the second instance in which she has been outed as a purveyor of the most transparent “pants-on-fire” type of spin means that Rice can no longer be portrayed as a victim. Whatever you may think about Bergdahl or the decision to trade five top Taliban terrorists for him, there can be no debate about the fact that Rice has severely damaged her own reputation in this business. After all, her definition of what entitles a soldier to be termed as having served with “honor and distinction” would equally apply to Benedict Arnold as it does to Americans who actually have behaved heroically.

An official who not only spreads lies but also won’t disavow them even when caught red-handed has lost the right to be treated as a plausible spokesperson for anything, let alone an American government. Susan Rice must now face up to the fact that she is a one-woman credibility gap who is an embarrassment to the United States government.

Is Rice’s predilection for telling outrageous fibs while fronting for the administration more a commentary on the president who sends her out to do such things than on herself? It’s hard to say.

It is true that Rice does not bear total responsibility for these lies. As we now know, it took a committee of administration spinners to craft the Benghazi talking points. The decision to treat Bergdahl as a returning hero and to treat his parents to the full White House PR treatment surely came from the very top of the West Wing food chain. But Rice’s talent for overstatement and her inability to take responsibility for her mistakes, even when they have exposed her to the worst sort of public ridicule, cannot be attributed to the president or any of the clueless advisors that persuaded him to treat the prisoner swap as an opportunity to make political hay.

As we have seen with his treatment of other officials who failed him, the president is slow to hold his top staff accountable and seems to regard admitting bad personnel judgment as a form of capitulation to his Republican foes. In particular, Rice is a personal Obama favorite and he made no secret of his anger about the fact that her Benghazi lies killed her chances to be secretary of state. But a smarter president with a better grasp of political reality would understand that his national security advisor has fatally compromised her ability to speak for him on important issues. Surely if anyone would have known the truth about Bergdahl’s behavior last week it would have been Rice. Though the chances of Obama ever owning up to the fact that she is a liability are minimal, having a national security advisor who will be best remembered for her Benghazi and Bergdahl lies is not something any president should settle for.

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Absentee President Is Bad for Veterans’ Health … And the Country’s

What’s the difference between the growing scandal about the mistreatment of patients at Veterans Administration hospitals and previous Obama administration problems at the IRS, the Justice Department (“Fast and Furious” and spying on the press), and the State Department (Benghazi)? The answer is that rather than members of Congress and the press dividing along partisan lines in their discussions of the outrages at the VA, there is a bipartisan consensus that the business-as-usual atmosphere at the agency that has allowed abuses to go on for years despite public warnings of trouble must end. Democrats and Republicans competed with each other to express anger at Secretary Eric Shinseki at his failure to either detect or halt the abuse of veterans needing medical care. That’s a positive development since the focus of our public officials on the affairs of government should always be on correcting misbehavior whether or not someone’s political ox is being gored.

But there is one thing about the VA scandal that is similar to past administration problems. Despite Shinseki’s poor performance in his office—he’s been head of the VA since the president took office, meaning that he’s presided over years of patient problems—up until the scandal completely blew up there was no sign of any displeasure about him from the White House. And even once it became clear that he had utterly failed to deal with these problems and had seemed to have little idea of how to even spin this disaster—as yesterday’s Senate hearings made clear—his job appeared to be safe.

As with everything else that is bad that goes on in Washington in the age of Obama, the VA scandal appears to be something that the president just reads about in the newspapers. Like the illegal discrimination against conservative groups at the IRS and the Justice Department’s spying practices and, most memorably, the mismanagement and incompetence at the Department of Health and Human Services during the ObamaCare rollout, the president’s management style is absentee and often downright uninterested in performance. Rather than react to criticism of his administration by cleaning house when necessary, his instinct—even on issues like the VA where partisanship is not a factor—is to hunker down and stonewall. While the focus on Obama’s efforts to expand the reach of government power and to downgrade our alliances with friends rightly gets most of the attention from critics, the VA scandal and the slow and incoherent response from the White House demonstrates that the president’s inability to govern effectively is potentially as dangerous as his misconceptions about the purpose of government or American power.

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What’s the difference between the growing scandal about the mistreatment of patients at Veterans Administration hospitals and previous Obama administration problems at the IRS, the Justice Department (“Fast and Furious” and spying on the press), and the State Department (Benghazi)? The answer is that rather than members of Congress and the press dividing along partisan lines in their discussions of the outrages at the VA, there is a bipartisan consensus that the business-as-usual atmosphere at the agency that has allowed abuses to go on for years despite public warnings of trouble must end. Democrats and Republicans competed with each other to express anger at Secretary Eric Shinseki at his failure to either detect or halt the abuse of veterans needing medical care. That’s a positive development since the focus of our public officials on the affairs of government should always be on correcting misbehavior whether or not someone’s political ox is being gored.

But there is one thing about the VA scandal that is similar to past administration problems. Despite Shinseki’s poor performance in his office—he’s been head of the VA since the president took office, meaning that he’s presided over years of patient problems—up until the scandal completely blew up there was no sign of any displeasure about him from the White House. And even once it became clear that he had utterly failed to deal with these problems and had seemed to have little idea of how to even spin this disaster—as yesterday’s Senate hearings made clear—his job appeared to be safe.

As with everything else that is bad that goes on in Washington in the age of Obama, the VA scandal appears to be something that the president just reads about in the newspapers. Like the illegal discrimination against conservative groups at the IRS and the Justice Department’s spying practices and, most memorably, the mismanagement and incompetence at the Department of Health and Human Services during the ObamaCare rollout, the president’s management style is absentee and often downright uninterested in performance. Rather than react to criticism of his administration by cleaning house when necessary, his instinct—even on issues like the VA where partisanship is not a factor—is to hunker down and stonewall. While the focus on Obama’s efforts to expand the reach of government power and to downgrade our alliances with friends rightly gets most of the attention from critics, the VA scandal and the slow and incoherent response from the White House demonstrates that the president’s inability to govern effectively is potentially as dangerous as his misconceptions about the purpose of government or American power.

Judging by the statements of both Shinseki and White House chief of staff Dennis McDonough yesterday, this administration seems still to be in a state of denial about the potential implications of the problems of the VA. Splitting hairs on the question of whether the veterans who were kept waiting endlessly for medical services died as a result of the delays or some other reason isn’t the best way to demonstrate concern or a sense of urgency about the problem. Shinseki came across at his Senate hearing as a middle manager with a flatline personality unable to muster much emotion even when he was claiming to be “mad as hell” about the scandal. Both he and McDonough—who was strongly pressed on the issue by CNN’s Jake Tapper—were in denial about the fact that they had ignored complaints and warnings on these abuses for years until it blew up in their faces.

But the point here isn’t so much about the outrageous behavior at the VA which—like the IRS scandal—can’t be blamed on a rogue regional office but is part of a culture of corruption that appears to be systemic. Just as the administration’s reflex action on the IRS, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, and any other contentious issue you can think of, the administration’s instinct here is to obfuscate and cover up. The standard practice is to hide the truth no matter what the cause of concern. And even when the public is informed of the problem, the administration goes into its normal damage-control routine that centers on minimizing the damage to them rather than to the public.

Moreover, President Obama’s instinct even on non-partisan problems is to resist making changes in his administration. It is almost as if he thinks it is beneath his dignity to respond to public outrage and that damaged Cabinet officials must keep their jobs in spite of justified calls for their removal rather than because of them.

We can expect that Shinseki will eventually be carefully removed once the furor over the VA dies down much in the same manner of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. But by then the damage will have been done, both to ill veterans and to the public’s confidence in their government. Having an absentee president more interested in demonstrating his contempt for critics and establishing that he can’t be pressured is bad for the health of our former soldiers as well as for the republic they bled to defend.

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Can Hillary Play the Victim on Benghazi?

If there was one reason why House Democrats have finally decided that they had no choice but to take part in the House Select Committee that will investigate the Benghazi terrorist attack it can be summed up in two words: Hillary Clinton. As Committee Chair Trey Gowdy indicated, Republicans have some questions for the former secretary of state about the event that weren’t asked during her sole appearance before a congressional committee, let alone in a State Department report that, as Byron York aptly commented in the Washington Examiner, was principally concerned with building “a fire wall” around the likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. Democrats know that without their presence on the committee, Clinton will be left alone to face questioners that won’t let her get away with dismissing criticisms by merely asking “What difference does it make?”

But Democrats are not content to merely stand by and wait for Clinton to be called to account for this, the most spectacular of the failures that she presided over at the State Department. They’re already laying the groundwork for not only a defense of Clinton’s record of non-achievement but for discrediting any attempt to question her closely. As former top Obama strategist David Axelrod said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today, liberals view the prospect of her being grilled by Gowdy and other Republicans as an act of “bullying.” Regardless of the facts of the case—and it is by no means certain that Clinton will emerge from even the most rigorous of inquires as anything worse than an out-of-touch globetrotting secretary who never gave security in Benghazi a passing thought—Democrats are seeking to insulate her from any scrutiny by claiming that tough questions should be seen as part of the faux Republican “war on women” they have touted as one of their main political talking points.

The question is, will she, and they, get away with it?

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If there was one reason why House Democrats have finally decided that they had no choice but to take part in the House Select Committee that will investigate the Benghazi terrorist attack it can be summed up in two words: Hillary Clinton. As Committee Chair Trey Gowdy indicated, Republicans have some questions for the former secretary of state about the event that weren’t asked during her sole appearance before a congressional committee, let alone in a State Department report that, as Byron York aptly commented in the Washington Examiner, was principally concerned with building “a fire wall” around the likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. Democrats know that without their presence on the committee, Clinton will be left alone to face questioners that won’t let her get away with dismissing criticisms by merely asking “What difference does it make?”

But Democrats are not content to merely stand by and wait for Clinton to be called to account for this, the most spectacular of the failures that she presided over at the State Department. They’re already laying the groundwork for not only a defense of Clinton’s record of non-achievement but for discrediting any attempt to question her closely. As former top Obama strategist David Axelrod said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today, liberals view the prospect of her being grilled by Gowdy and other Republicans as an act of “bullying.” Regardless of the facts of the case—and it is by no means certain that Clinton will emerge from even the most rigorous of inquires as anything worse than an out-of-touch globetrotting secretary who never gave security in Benghazi a passing thought—Democrats are seeking to insulate her from any scrutiny by claiming that tough questions should be seen as part of the faux Republican “war on women” they have touted as one of their main political talking points.

The question is, will she, and they, get away with it?

Hillary Clinton is a fascinating political figure in large measure because her success has been built on creating an image as a tough political customer as well as a person who has cashed in on her victimhood. Though she did nothing as secretary of state to bolster the notion that she is the tough-as-nails centrist that her admirers claim her to be, the assumption among many pundits is that her approach to foreign policy is an asset for Democrats who have shucked their party’s former stance as weak on defense. Yet it should also be remembered that Clinton’s election to the Senate was in no small measure the result of her ability to play the victim in the Monica Lewinsky scandal set off by her husband’s affair.

Not only did she played the wronged woman who nevertheless stood by her man beautifully, the most memorable moment in her Senate campaign—indeed, the one that sealed her comfortable victory—was when GOP opponent Rick Lazio stepped over to her podium to address her during a debate. Rightly or wrongly, getting in Hillary’s space was seen as the moral equivalent of an actual assault and doomed whatever slim hopes Lazio might have had of pulling off an upset. And what Democrats are praying for in the Benghazi hearings is another such incident that can be played and relayed endlessly showing Republicans to be bullies who tried and failed to beat down a brave woman.

While such a narrative will be as much balderdash as Clinton’s previous forays into victimhood, it could nevertheless be useful to Democrats both in 2014 as they try to gin up their turnout rates to avoid another midterm blowout as well as for Hillary’s 2016 efforts.

But the assumption that Republicans will play into her hands may be faulty. Gowdy is a wily former prosecutor and while that has led some on the left to question his ability to, as he pledges, conduct an impartial investigation, he is well aware of the trap that is being set for him. Gowdy will be sure to try to avoid hectoring or personal attacks on Clinton. More to the point, he will be intent on crafting a process that will enable him and his colleagues to press her for answers that have so far not been forthcoming. If faced with gentlemanly yet pointed questions and Hillary starts to grandstand in a “what difference does it make?” manner, she will be the loser, not Gowdy. Witnesses who play the victim in that manner must understand that they are as likely to mess up as their accusers.

Rather than looking forward to what they think will be the next chapter in their “war on women” novella, Democrats may find that Clinton will wind up looking as lame as she often did in her 2008 debates with Barack Obama. As was the case then, whining about being liked or bullied will not be enough to derail tough questions or the voters drawing some unflattering conclusions about her ineffective leadership.

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Both Parties Face Traps on Benghazi, IRS

A year ago, as the news of the IRS scandal was breaking and the fallout from Benghazi was also becoming better known, Democrats were on the defensive about possible misconduct by the administration. A year later, their panic has subsided. By steadfastly denigrating the very idea that these scandals are, in fact, scandals, the administration, its political allies, and its cheerleaders in the media have begun to see issues like Benghazi as a battle cry for their base as much as it is for the Republicans. Far from worrying about the impact of investigations into the effort to target conservative groups by the IRS or what happened in Benghazi and its aftermath, liberals are cheered by the decision by the House GOP caucus to embrace these issues.

The conceit of the Democrats’ approach is one that is shared by many fearful conservatives. They think that what is being depicted as an obsessive pursuit of either minor wrongdoing or non-scandals will turn the Republican Party into a laughingstock in much the same manner that the government shutdown did. Since they take it as a given that there is no substance to the accusations of a cover up about government actions either before or after Benghazi or that the IRS controversy involved anything but overzealous bureaucrats, they believe the deeper the GOP dives into these investigations the more Democrats will benefit.

There is some substance to these concerns, since many in the GOP caucus have shown themselves to be incapable of conducting sober investigations or being able to avoid succumbing to grandstanding when they’d be better off at least trying to pretend to be on a bipartisan search for the truth. But, as we noted here last week, the reason these issues are still alive is that there are some serious questions still left answered about administration conduct and the lies that were told after Benghazi. The same goes for the IRS investigation. Though the creation of a select committee on Benghazi is a trip for Republicans, Democrats need to be wary of both underestimating its chair Rep. Trey Gowdy, a veteran prosecutor, and also of getting stuck in the position of defending what may turn out to be the indefensible.

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A year ago, as the news of the IRS scandal was breaking and the fallout from Benghazi was also becoming better known, Democrats were on the defensive about possible misconduct by the administration. A year later, their panic has subsided. By steadfastly denigrating the very idea that these scandals are, in fact, scandals, the administration, its political allies, and its cheerleaders in the media have begun to see issues like Benghazi as a battle cry for their base as much as it is for the Republicans. Far from worrying about the impact of investigations into the effort to target conservative groups by the IRS or what happened in Benghazi and its aftermath, liberals are cheered by the decision by the House GOP caucus to embrace these issues.

The conceit of the Democrats’ approach is one that is shared by many fearful conservatives. They think that what is being depicted as an obsessive pursuit of either minor wrongdoing or non-scandals will turn the Republican Party into a laughingstock in much the same manner that the government shutdown did. Since they take it as a given that there is no substance to the accusations of a cover up about government actions either before or after Benghazi or that the IRS controversy involved anything but overzealous bureaucrats, they believe the deeper the GOP dives into these investigations the more Democrats will benefit.

There is some substance to these concerns, since many in the GOP caucus have shown themselves to be incapable of conducting sober investigations or being able to avoid succumbing to grandstanding when they’d be better off at least trying to pretend to be on a bipartisan search for the truth. But, as we noted here last week, the reason these issues are still alive is that there are some serious questions still left answered about administration conduct and the lies that were told after Benghazi. The same goes for the IRS investigation. Though the creation of a select committee on Benghazi is a trip for Republicans, Democrats need to be wary of both underestimating its chair Rep. Trey Gowdy, a veteran prosecutor, and also of getting stuck in the position of defending what may turn out to be the indefensible.

If all this exasperates Democrats, it’s understandable since they thought that they had already finished weathering the storm of Obama’s scandal-plagued 2013.

After ducking for cover in the wake of the revelations about the IRS’s targeting of conservative and Tea Party groups, the confusing inconclusive narrative that House investigators were able elicit from witnesses diluted public outrage. And when Lois Lerner, the key figure in the scandal, invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination—but only after making a statement declaring her innocence and seemingly waving those rights—that led to a partisan squabble in the House Oversight Committee chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa that allowed Democrats to portray the whole thing as a witch hunt led by an intemperate partisan. That most Democrats voted not to charge Lerner with contempt for refusing to testify shows that they believe not only that there is no scandal but that Republicans will pay a price for pursuing it.

As for Benghazi, the sheer volume of congressional investigations about Benghazi that performed little in the way of actual probing similarly fed the impression that the country was ready to move on rather than searching for more answers.

But the discovery of a smoking gun email from Deputy National Security Director Ben Rhodes that seemed to speak of doctoring the talking points about Benghazi in order to downplay talk of terrorism and reinforce the false narrative about the attack being a case of film criticism run amok has reignited the controversy. House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to finally seat a select committee to investigate the matter may have come a year too late since the chaotic and largely incompetent hearings on the issue have done much to give former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other administration underlings cover. Democrats are divided as to what to do about the Benghazi committee because they are unsure whether taking part in the hearings will lend credence to the GOP probe or if staying away will make it easier for Gowdy to lead the probe toward dangerous territory for the administration.

But rather than solely focus on how much rope to give Republicans to hang themselves, Democrats shouldn’t blithely assume that Gowdy will not uncover more embarrassing revelations about the various aspects of the tragedy, including the failure to heed warnings about terrorism as well as the misleading talking points. Just as Republicans need to worry about playing their roles as dogged pursuers of the truth rather than a political attack squad, so, too, Democrats need to be careful not to overplay their hand.

Democrats acted this week as if they think they have nothing to lose in defending Lerner against contempt charges or stopping the GOP from forcing her to divulge whether anyone higher up in the government food chain had a role in the targeting of conservatives. By the same token, they seem to think that obstructing or mocking the Benghazi investigation will only help them in the midterms as well as protect Clinton’s 2016 presidential prospects.

Yet if Republicans conduct a serious investigation of Benghazi—as Gowdy intends to do—Democrats would be wise to join the South Carolinian in pursuit of the truth. If the probe comes up with nothing embarrassing for the administration and Clinton, they will have lost nothing. But if the select committee—which will have subpoena power and legal counsels conducting a thorough legal process—does learn that the Rhodes email was just the tip of the iceberg, then they, and not the Republicans, will be the big losers if they continue to kibitz on the sidelines. 

The ability of the administration and the media to table these stories is finished, and the sooner Democrats realize that the better off they will be.

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Pace Max Boot

Here are five words I’m reluctant to write: I disagree with Max Boot.

In this case, however, I do. My views are much more in line with what Jonathan wrote here

To be sure, I don’t disagree with Max on everything. I don’t disagree with his list of Obama foreign-policy blunders. I agree with him that (a) Republicans may not profit politically from investigating the events surrounding the deadly attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and (b) the public has been mostly indifferent to the story so far. I’m also confident that this story won’t help a GOP nominee defeat Hillary Clinton (assuming she’s the Democratic nominee). But the politics of this isn’t really the point, is it? The point is that a public trust has been violated; and laws may have been, too. On the latter, we need to wait and see. But what we know right now goes well beyond what Max calls “the same old Washington spinning that every administration engages in.”

What has occurred is not spinning; it is at minimum lying about the central role the White House played in misleading the American people in a terrorist attack that killed four Americans. And it now looks like there was an effort to cover up the White House’s role by intentionally hiding incriminating evidence from Congress by ignoring a subpoena.

Is that really just “the same old Washington spinning”?

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Here are five words I’m reluctant to write: I disagree with Max Boot.

In this case, however, I do. My views are much more in line with what Jonathan wrote here

To be sure, I don’t disagree with Max on everything. I don’t disagree with his list of Obama foreign-policy blunders. I agree with him that (a) Republicans may not profit politically from investigating the events surrounding the deadly attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and (b) the public has been mostly indifferent to the story so far. I’m also confident that this story won’t help a GOP nominee defeat Hillary Clinton (assuming she’s the Democratic nominee). But the politics of this isn’t really the point, is it? The point is that a public trust has been violated; and laws may have been, too. On the latter, we need to wait and see. But what we know right now goes well beyond what Max calls “the same old Washington spinning that every administration engages in.”

What has occurred is not spinning; it is at minimum lying about the central role the White House played in misleading the American people in a terrorist attack that killed four Americans. And it now looks like there was an effort to cover up the White House’s role by intentionally hiding incriminating evidence from Congress by ignoring a subpoena.

Is that really just “the same old Washington spinning”?

An offense doesn’t have to be impeachable to be serious. And it’s impossible to say just how serious this matter is at this point without further investigation. Which is what Republicans are calling for.  

If those in the White House, including the president, repeatedly lied about what they knew weeks and months after they knew it, and if the administration covered up what they knew by ignoring a congressional subpoena, those actions actually do qualify as “real issues.” 

Republicans shouldn’t obsess about attacks that occurred in Benghazi or prejudge things. But at this point, based on the revelations of this week, it strikes me as odd to argue how insignificant and what a distraction this story is. There are a lot of scandals, including even a two-bit burglary, that seemed inconsequential before they were fully investigated.

Max is right. We’re not talking about Watergate. But we’re not talking about nothing, either.  

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Dude! Benghazi Won’t Go Away Until We Get the Truth

Democrats will probably greet the news that the House of Representatives is assembling a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attack by cheering what they think is a Republican charge down a rabbit hole that will do them little political good. That is a viewed shared by some more objective observers like our Max Boot who think the controversy over the infamous talking points is not that big a deal and fear that the entire discussion about Benghazi is a distraction from the administration’s more important foreign-policy failures. He’s right that the administration’s fiascos on issues like Ukraine, Syria, and the Middle East peace process are a bigger deal in the grand scheme of things. And he’s also right that the question of why our diplomats were not better protected, why help was not sent in time to save them, and, even more importantly, why none of the terrorists have been caught are actually far more egregious administration shortcomings than the false story about the attack being caused by an Internet video.

But even when those concerns are taken into account, House Speaker John Boehner is right to convene a select committee. Indeed, the decision is long overdue since the various competing committees that have already held hearings on the issue have generally botched the issue because of the uncoordinated questions from members more interested in grandstanding for the television cameras than in ascertaining the truth. A select committee with staff that will depose witnesses cannot be so easily dismissed.

As to the talking points themselves, however, I think those counseling conservatives to move on are wrong. What we have seen this week is not just the usual spin on events that you get from any White House. This administration has been acting as if no one, not Congress, the press, or the people, has the right to answers about its actions during and after the Benghazi attack. In a telling moment last night on Fox News, former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, one of the people responsible for the famous talking points that claimed the attack was a case of film criticism run amok, had this exchange with Bret Baer:

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Democrats will probably greet the news that the House of Representatives is assembling a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attack by cheering what they think is a Republican charge down a rabbit hole that will do them little political good. That is a viewed shared by some more objective observers like our Max Boot who think the controversy over the infamous talking points is not that big a deal and fear that the entire discussion about Benghazi is a distraction from the administration’s more important foreign-policy failures. He’s right that the administration’s fiascos on issues like Ukraine, Syria, and the Middle East peace process are a bigger deal in the grand scheme of things. And he’s also right that the question of why our diplomats were not better protected, why help was not sent in time to save them, and, even more importantly, why none of the terrorists have been caught are actually far more egregious administration shortcomings than the false story about the attack being caused by an Internet video.

But even when those concerns are taken into account, House Speaker John Boehner is right to convene a select committee. Indeed, the decision is long overdue since the various competing committees that have already held hearings on the issue have generally botched the issue because of the uncoordinated questions from members more interested in grandstanding for the television cameras than in ascertaining the truth. A select committee with staff that will depose witnesses cannot be so easily dismissed.

As to the talking points themselves, however, I think those counseling conservatives to move on are wrong. What we have seen this week is not just the usual spin on events that you get from any White House. This administration has been acting as if no one, not Congress, the press, or the people, has the right to answers about its actions during and after the Benghazi attack. In a telling moment last night on Fox News, former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, one of the people responsible for the famous talking points that claimed the attack was a case of film criticism run amok, had this exchange with Bret Baer:

BRET BAIER: According to the e-mails and the time line, the CIA circulates new talking points after they’ve removed the mention of al Qaeda and then at 6:21 the White House, you, add a line about the administration warning on September 10th of social media reports calling for demonstrations. True?

TOMMY VIETOR: I believe so.

BAIER: Did you also change attacks to demonstrations in the talking points? VIETOR: Maybe. I don’t really remember.

VIETOR: Dude, this was like two years ago. We’re still talking about the most mundane thing.

BAIER: Dude, it’s what everybody is talking about.

While Vietor is being rightly mocked for his cavalier and sophomoric attitude about a famous lie, it’s actually quite telling. Democrats are befuddled as to why the Benghazi story is still being discussed since they think there’s nothing to it and that we should have all moved on a year ago. But it won’t go away until they start telling the truth.

This exchange came on the heels of the delayed release of the shocking email from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes and the repeated arrogant lies told about this communication by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. This is more than mere fodder for conspiracy theorists and partisans who watch Fox News. They speak to an arrogant contempt for the public and the press that is rooted in a belief that this administration is above scrutiny and that anyone who wants to know the truth about the misleading talking points or anything else about this event should just shut up.

Though their performance on this issue may argue to the contrary, Republicans can walk and chew gum at the same time. They are perfectly capable of persisting in efforts to get to the bottom of Benghazi while holding the president accountable for what is happening in Ukraine, Syria, and the Middle East.

As I’ve written previously, Benghazi won’t be a decisive factor in the 2014 midterms or the 2016 presidential election. But this story isn’t going away no matter how much Obama and his putative successor Hillary Clinton want it to. That’s not because GOP fanatics are deranged haters but because the White House seems to think telling the truth is an option rather than an obligation. That’s a belief that was reinforced for a long time in much of the mainstream media that seemed to take its marching orders from the White House. But the belated release and attempts to cover up and then lie about the smoking gun email on the talking points has aroused even some sectors of the press that might once have been counted on not to try to expose the administration to ridicule.

It’s not too late for a select committee to explore why Ambassador Chris Stevens and four other Americans were left to die in Benghazi without adequate protection or U.S. forces being able to rush to their aid. It should press the administration about its failure to catch the terrorists even though they continue to operate in plain view in the region. And it should also force officials to finally fess up about their political motivations for trying to pretend that a video rather than a revived al-Qaeda coalition was responsible as well as to how and why this was covered up.

These are not trivial concerns and if the House does its job, finding the answers to these questions will not be either a distraction from other foreign-policy failures or a political bonanza for Democrats. We can’t move on until we know the truth and that is something that has not happened yet. Much to the frustration of the White House, Benghazi will be over when we find out the truth and not a day sooner.

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The Benghazi Distraction

The Obama administration has committed more foreign-policy blunders than you can count on one hand. Off the top of my head, and in no particular order, I would list the failure to keep U.S. troops in Iraq post-2011; the failure to give surge troops in Afghanistan more time to succeed; the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; the failure to do more to protect Ukraine; the failure to better manage the transition in Egypt; the failure to do anything about the Syrian civil war; the failure to help stabilize Libya after the downfall of Gaddafi; the failure to stop the Iranian nuclear program; the failure to prevent al-Qaeda from expanding its operations; the failure to maintain American military strength; and the general failure to maintain American credibility as a result of letting “red lines” be crossed with impunity. 

That’s eleven failures–and I would not put the Benghazi “scandal” on the list except as a subset of the broader failure to stabilize Libya. Yet Republicans seem intent on focusing a disproportionate amount of their criticism of the administration on the events in Bengahzi–and not even the failure to better protect the U.S. consulate or to more swiftly respond with military force when it was attacked or to exact swift retribution on the terrorists who killed our ambassador and three other Americans. No, Republicans seem intent on focusing on the micro-issue of why administration spokesmen, led by Susan Rice, insisted at first on ascribing the attack to a spontaneous demonstration rather than to a planned act by terrorists who may have been affiliated with al-Qaeda. 

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The Obama administration has committed more foreign-policy blunders than you can count on one hand. Off the top of my head, and in no particular order, I would list the failure to keep U.S. troops in Iraq post-2011; the failure to give surge troops in Afghanistan more time to succeed; the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; the failure to do more to protect Ukraine; the failure to better manage the transition in Egypt; the failure to do anything about the Syrian civil war; the failure to help stabilize Libya after the downfall of Gaddafi; the failure to stop the Iranian nuclear program; the failure to prevent al-Qaeda from expanding its operations; the failure to maintain American military strength; and the general failure to maintain American credibility as a result of letting “red lines” be crossed with impunity. 

That’s eleven failures–and I would not put the Benghazi “scandal” on the list except as a subset of the broader failure to stabilize Libya. Yet Republicans seem intent on focusing a disproportionate amount of their criticism of the administration on the events in Bengahzi–and not even the failure to better protect the U.S. consulate or to more swiftly respond with military force when it was attacked or to exact swift retribution on the terrorists who killed our ambassador and three other Americans. No, Republicans seem intent on focusing on the micro-issue of why administration spokesmen, led by Susan Rice, insisted at first on ascribing the attack to a spontaneous demonstration rather than to a planned act by terrorists who may have been affiliated with al-Qaeda. 

Granted, those early talking points were off base. I will even grant that they may have been off-base for political rather than policy reasons: With an election two months away, and Obama doing his utmost to take credit for killing Osama bin Laden and finishing off al-Qaeda, the White House did not want to be blamed for a major terrorist attack. But this is not Watergate. It’s not even Iran-Contra. Unless something radically new emerges, it looks to me like the same old Washington spinning that every administration engages in–a bit reminiscent of Bush administration denials in the summer of 2003 that Iraq faced a growing insurgency. 

If you listened to Bush spokesmen, you would have been told that Iraq only faced a few random attacks from “dead-enders” and they were of little broader concern. This was not just a question of PR–it was also a policy misjudgment with serious consequences because the Bush administration failed to adequately respond to a growing insurgency. But it wasn’t an impeachable offense and neither are the far less consequential Benghazi talking points. 

Republicans should focus on the shameful failures of Obama’s defense and foreign policy but Benghazi, in my view, is a distraction from the real issues–and it’s not even likely to help Republicans politically. It certainly did little good for Mitt Romney and I suspect Republicans are now dreaming if they think it will help a GOP nominee defeat Hillary Clinton. I just don’t see much evidence that most Americans–as opposed to Fox News Channel viewers–are focused on, or care about, this issue. Republicans would be better advised to focus on the bigger issues and rebuild their tattered foreign policy credibility, which is being damaged by the isolationist pronouncements of Rand Paul and his ilk.

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Jay Carney’s Tower of Lies

Guy Benson, one of the nation’s outstanding young conservative commentators, lays out the case (here and here) of the White House’s mendacity on the matter of the lethal attacks against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. 

It’s now beyond dispute that contrary to its previous claims, the White House (a) had not released all the relevant Benghazi-related material to Congress and (b) did far more than make a single, cosmetic adjustment to the talking points used by then-U.N. ambassador Susan Rice when she went on five Sunday talk shows. In fact it was the White House–in the person of Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications–who urged Rice to “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” 

One problem: It was widely known within the administration that this was not the case. In addition, the key (fallacious) claim made by Ms. Rice wasn’t the product of what the CIA produced; it’s the result of what the White House invented.

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Guy Benson, one of the nation’s outstanding young conservative commentators, lays out the case (here and here) of the White House’s mendacity on the matter of the lethal attacks against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. 

It’s now beyond dispute that contrary to its previous claims, the White House (a) had not released all the relevant Benghazi-related material to Congress and (b) did far more than make a single, cosmetic adjustment to the talking points used by then-U.N. ambassador Susan Rice when she went on five Sunday talk shows. In fact it was the White House–in the person of Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications–who urged Rice to “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” 

One problem: It was widely known within the administration that this was not the case. In addition, the key (fallacious) claim made by Ms. Rice wasn’t the product of what the CIA produced; it’s the result of what the White House invented.

When Mr. Carney was pressed yesterday to defend his previous claim that the White House didn’t play a role in shaping the misleading talking points in light of the September 14, 2012 email from Ben Rhodes, he claimed the email was not about Benghazi. 

This is not just a lie; it’s a transparent and stupid lie. And if you watch Mr. Carney’s exchanges with reporters (like this one with ABC’s Jonathan Karl), you’ll find Mr. Obama’s official spokesman to be a particular kind of liar–the smug, patronizing kind. The type who becomes peevish when his lies are challenged. And who takes special pride in placing one lie atop the other, like a child using wooden blocks to build a tower.  

It’s been quite a journey for Mr. Carney, from a journalist who once pursued the truth to a White House official now disfiguring it. I wonder if, when he looks back at his corrosive and corrupting tenure, he will feel the slightest shame.

Probably not.

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Why the Benghazi Email Still Matters

The release of a new batch of White House emails relating to the September 11, 2012 Benghazi terror attack is a problem for the Obama administration. The emails, specifically one from Deputy National Security Director Ben Rhodes, indicates that the White House was attempting to orchestrate responses to the attack in such a way as to promulgate the message that “these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” Coming as it does a day after the murder of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, the communication appears to be clear proof that the false story that the attack was a case of film criticism run amok can be traced directly to high-ranking officials with clear political motivations.

This email was, according to the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake, provided to the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform only two weeks ago, although Congress requested them back in August 2013. Judicial Watch published it Tuesday after it forced the government to release them via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. This raises serious questions about what Lake aptly termed a White House “slow walk” of the release of information as well as the original concerns as to why the administration was putting out a false story about the attack that senior officials already knew was incorrect. Rhodes’s email seems to confirm the suspicions of many Republicans and other administration critics that the White House was behind the false story that then National Security Council director Susan Rice spouted repeatedly the following weekend on the Sunday news shows.

But as damning as Rhodes’s email seems to be, Democrats don’t seem too worried. The story is being largely ignored or downplayed by most of the same mainstream media that helped foster the narrative that Republicans were nuts to claim the White House was covering something up. Indeed, many on the left and perhaps even some on the right think that the email controversy is a trap for the GOP because it will motivate them to waste more time hammering the administration on an issue that the public doesn’t care about. But while this may not be an issue that will be decisive in the midterm elections, Congress should not let the administration bury this episode. The American people still have a right to know why the White House lied about the origin of the attack and why it covered that lie up for more than a year.

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The release of a new batch of White House emails relating to the September 11, 2012 Benghazi terror attack is a problem for the Obama administration. The emails, specifically one from Deputy National Security Director Ben Rhodes, indicates that the White House was attempting to orchestrate responses to the attack in such a way as to promulgate the message that “these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” Coming as it does a day after the murder of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, the communication appears to be clear proof that the false story that the attack was a case of film criticism run amok can be traced directly to high-ranking officials with clear political motivations.

This email was, according to the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake, provided to the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform only two weeks ago, although Congress requested them back in August 2013. Judicial Watch published it Tuesday after it forced the government to release them via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. This raises serious questions about what Lake aptly termed a White House “slow walk” of the release of information as well as the original concerns as to why the administration was putting out a false story about the attack that senior officials already knew was incorrect. Rhodes’s email seems to confirm the suspicions of many Republicans and other administration critics that the White House was behind the false story that then National Security Council director Susan Rice spouted repeatedly the following weekend on the Sunday news shows.

But as damning as Rhodes’s email seems to be, Democrats don’t seem too worried. The story is being largely ignored or downplayed by most of the same mainstream media that helped foster the narrative that Republicans were nuts to claim the White House was covering something up. Indeed, many on the left and perhaps even some on the right think that the email controversy is a trap for the GOP because it will motivate them to waste more time hammering the administration on an issue that the public doesn’t care about. But while this may not be an issue that will be decisive in the midterm elections, Congress should not let the administration bury this episode. The American people still have a right to know why the White House lied about the origin of the attack and why it covered that lie up for more than a year.

In response, administration defenders claim that this is still much ado about nothing. Does it, as Hillary Clinton asked last year, matter who said what about Benghazi that weekend when the real issue is the fact that terrorists killed four Americans?

There is some truth to this line of reasoning. A much bigger scandal than the lies told about the attack is the fact that to this day not a single one of the murderers has been captured, let alone tried and punished.

But the reason the lie still sticks in the collective craw of the American people is that the falsehoods helped reelect President Obama. As Rhodes’s communication makes clear, the White House’s No. 1 concern at that moment seemed to be more about the American people thinking that al-Qaeda was reviving than the fact that the terror group and its affiliates had done it. The attempt to convince Americans that a video was at fault (for which the administration wrongly issued a profuse apology to the Muslim world) was no innocent mistake. With the assistance of the mainstream media (remember CNN Candy Crowley intervening on behalf of the president when he was pressed on the issue by Mitt Romney?), Obama was able to maintain his stance that al-Qaeda was as dead as Osama bin Laden.

The point is Rhodes’s email reveals that Rice’s false story was not an innocent mistake. It was a cynical attempt to divert public attention from the revival of Islamist terrorism at a moment during a competitive reelection when the president was basing his reelection in no small part on the notion that he was a strong leader who had vanquished that movement.

The lie may not have changed the outcome of an election that Obama was probably fated to win anyway. Nor is it as outrageous as the subsequent failure of the United States to find the terrorists responsible for the murders. But as with so many other scandals, the coverup is in some ways worse than the original lie. As much as liberals have tired of the discussion, it should not be buried along with the four Benghazi victims.

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Rice’s “No Regrets” and Obama’s Arrogance

It’s hard to understand exactly why Susan Rice is still refusing to admit fault about her lies about the Benghazi attack. When asked this morning on Meet the Press by David Gregory whether she had any regrets about appearing on four network news shows the Sunday after the 9/11/12 attacks that took the lives of four Americans and telling the nation that what happened was the result of a demonstration against a video, Rice said she had none:

David, no. Because what I said to you that morning, and what I did every day since, was to share the best information that we had at the time. The information I provided, which I explained to you, was what we had at the moment. It could change. I commented that this was based on what we knew on that morning, was provided to me and my colleagues, and indeed, to Congress, by the intelligence community. And that’s been well validated in many different ways since. And that information turned out, in some respects, not to be 100% correct. But the notion that somehow I or anybody else in the administration misled the American people is patently false. And I think that that’s been amply demonstrated.

What point is served by this rearguard defense of the indefensible? We long since learned that senior intelligence officials, including the CIA station chief, had contradicted the demonstration myth before Rice made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to convince Americans that what had happened was not an al-Qaeda terror attack. We know that the talking points were the result of a stormy battle involving the White House, the State Department, and the CIA that led to Rice being handed material that was more the product of the administration’s political needs than the truth. But rather than simply say she’s sorry and move on—a stance that could be easily forgiven since Rice was completely uninvolved in the series of bad decisions made by the State Department under the leadership of Hillary Clinton that led to the disaster—she continues to play the loyal soldier and to parse words in order to deny that she deceived the American people. But there is something more significant here than her state of denial that is as embarrassing as it is ludicrous.

Democrats and liberals who want to “move on” from Benghazi are right to the extent that this is a controversy rooted in a specific time and place rather than a possible ongoing threat to constitutional rule such as that demonstrated in the IRS scandal or the various instances of government spying on the press and the public. But the reason why the anger about Benghazi has never dissipated is due to statements such as that of Rice that feed the cynicism of an American people that only wanted the truth in the first place and would now settle for a full accounting that the administration still seems incapable of providing. Like Clinton’s infamous “what difference does it make?” retort when asked about these deceptions, Rice’s lack of regret demonstrates the arrogance of an administration that is unwilling to own up to its faults even if doing so would serve its interests.

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It’s hard to understand exactly why Susan Rice is still refusing to admit fault about her lies about the Benghazi attack. When asked this morning on Meet the Press by David Gregory whether she had any regrets about appearing on four network news shows the Sunday after the 9/11/12 attacks that took the lives of four Americans and telling the nation that what happened was the result of a demonstration against a video, Rice said she had none:

David, no. Because what I said to you that morning, and what I did every day since, was to share the best information that we had at the time. The information I provided, which I explained to you, was what we had at the moment. It could change. I commented that this was based on what we knew on that morning, was provided to me and my colleagues, and indeed, to Congress, by the intelligence community. And that’s been well validated in many different ways since. And that information turned out, in some respects, not to be 100% correct. But the notion that somehow I or anybody else in the administration misled the American people is patently false. And I think that that’s been amply demonstrated.

What point is served by this rearguard defense of the indefensible? We long since learned that senior intelligence officials, including the CIA station chief, had contradicted the demonstration myth before Rice made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to convince Americans that what had happened was not an al-Qaeda terror attack. We know that the talking points were the result of a stormy battle involving the White House, the State Department, and the CIA that led to Rice being handed material that was more the product of the administration’s political needs than the truth. But rather than simply say she’s sorry and move on—a stance that could be easily forgiven since Rice was completely uninvolved in the series of bad decisions made by the State Department under the leadership of Hillary Clinton that led to the disaster—she continues to play the loyal soldier and to parse words in order to deny that she deceived the American people. But there is something more significant here than her state of denial that is as embarrassing as it is ludicrous.

Democrats and liberals who want to “move on” from Benghazi are right to the extent that this is a controversy rooted in a specific time and place rather than a possible ongoing threat to constitutional rule such as that demonstrated in the IRS scandal or the various instances of government spying on the press and the public. But the reason why the anger about Benghazi has never dissipated is due to statements such as that of Rice that feed the cynicism of an American people that only wanted the truth in the first place and would now settle for a full accounting that the administration still seems incapable of providing. Like Clinton’s infamous “what difference does it make?” retort when asked about these deceptions, Rice’s lack of regret demonstrates the arrogance of an administration that is unwilling to own up to its faults even if doing so would serve its interests.

Rice should have regrets about being shoved into the public square with a false cover story. As Gregory noted in a follow-up question, the lies almost certainly made it impossible for President Obama to nominate her to be secretary of state. And considering the follies committed by John Kerry—the man who got the job that was denied Rice—on Iran, the Middle East peace process, Syria, and the disastrous and humiliating “resets” with Russia—the nation should have some too. We’ll never know whether Rice would have been smart enough to avoid some of the traps set by Vladimir Putin, Iran, and the Palestinians, that Kerry has fallen into, but it’s not likely she could have done any worse.

But her thwarted ambition is a mere footnote to history. What is relevant is what this arrogant denial tells us about the animating spirit inside the bubble of the White House inner circle that surrounds President Obama. Just like their boss, officials like Rice seem to think what they believe to be their good intentions gives them a permanent hall pass to deceive and to fudge the truth. In their world, the president never makes a misstep, the economy is always on the rebound and threats to national security are always receding in the face of Obama’s magical personality. In that world, you never have to account to the American people for falsehoods or say you’re sorry.

That’s the same mentality that leads the president to deny that the IRS contretemps was a scandal, that he lied when he told the American people they could keep their insurance coverage and their doctors, or that ObamaCare is causing at least as much pain as it is doing good. The president’s second term is stuck in neutral because there is so much that should be regretted and redressed but he and his minions continue to tell us to not believe our lying eyes and ears. Susan Rice’s lack of regrets not only tells us about her out-of-kilter moral compass but why her boss has arrogantly doomed himself to lame-duck status so early in his second term.

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The Media Competes for Hillary’s Love

This week’s publication of a new Hillary Clinton biography by the respected political reporters Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes brings into stark relief just how much Clinton’s theoretical, but expected presidential campaign affects political press coverage two and a half years out from Election Day. When I wrote last month about how Clinton finally seemed to bestow on us a legitimately perpetual campaign, I had noted only in passing the media dimension, such as Maggie Haberman’s profile in which she wrote that Clinton’s “legacy as the most powerful woman in the history of American politics is already secure”–a claim seemingly dashed off casually but which is not true.

That claim encapsulates the two major flaws of Hillary’s media coverage: reporters are tossing out declarations of world-historical status almost in habit, which is itself a problem, and the claims are also quite often not true–a more obvious, but still prevalent, problem. What it amounts to is worshipful coverage, all the more so because Clinton hasn’t actually declared her candidacy yet. Reporters are jostling for and rewarding access, but since there are no real campaign stories to run yet we’re stuck with the scene-setting pieces. Jonathan Karl’s review, in today’s Wall Street Journal, of the latest book on Hillary leaves the impression it’s a book-length version of the problematic stories:

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This week’s publication of a new Hillary Clinton biography by the respected political reporters Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes brings into stark relief just how much Clinton’s theoretical, but expected presidential campaign affects political press coverage two and a half years out from Election Day. When I wrote last month about how Clinton finally seemed to bestow on us a legitimately perpetual campaign, I had noted only in passing the media dimension, such as Maggie Haberman’s profile in which she wrote that Clinton’s “legacy as the most powerful woman in the history of American politics is already secure”–a claim seemingly dashed off casually but which is not true.

That claim encapsulates the two major flaws of Hillary’s media coverage: reporters are tossing out declarations of world-historical status almost in habit, which is itself a problem, and the claims are also quite often not true–a more obvious, but still prevalent, problem. What it amounts to is worshipful coverage, all the more so because Clinton hasn’t actually declared her candidacy yet. Reporters are jostling for and rewarding access, but since there are no real campaign stories to run yet we’re stuck with the scene-setting pieces. Jonathan Karl’s review, in today’s Wall Street Journal, of the latest book on Hillary leaves the impression it’s a book-length version of the problematic stories:

There is some new reporting, but it’s buried in mixed metaphors and cliché-ridden praise of Mrs. Clinton’s brilliance.

Mr. Allen and Ms. Parnes appear to have fallen in love with their subject. “Hillary knows one gear: overdrive,” they write, adding that she is “like a veteran hitter who remains even-keeled under pressure, her steadiness is born of her experience.” She is “a woman who got up every time the world knocked her down” and is “unwavering in her support of the 21st century statecraft concept.” This is the kind of stuff that would make Mrs. Clinton’s image mavens blush.

Even those around her are described in almost heroic terms. One Hillary confidant is called “tough as a trident missile.” Long-time aide Huma Abedin, referred to throughout the book merely as “Huma,” is described as a “South Asian beauty with political smarts and an uncommonly subtle grace.”

The authors seem to question nothing they are told by the guardians of Mrs. Clinton’s image.

Later in the review, Karl touches on a subject that shows why these hagiographic scene-setting articles–and this case, a book–are so necessary to Clinton’s non-campaign campaign. He writes about how the authors mostly work to absolve Clinton of the blame for the Benghazi attacks. “She was responsible, but not to blame,” Karl quotes the book explaining. It’s a weak exoneration, to be sure, but also a terrible argument for giving someone with her record far more power: either she is neglectful in her executive oversight, or in charge but incompetent.

Nonetheless, Karl notes the authors’ recounting of Hillary’s successes:

They run through some of her more meaningful accomplishments: helping negotiate an end to military rule in Burma, building a coalition to support military intervention in Libya. But they seem almost as impressed with the iconic photograph of Mrs. Clinton wearing sunglasses and sitting in the middle of a C-17 reading her BlackBerry. The photo ended up on a Tumblr page called “Texts From Hillary” that—with its amusingly imagined messages from Hillary imposed over the iconic photo—the authors call “one of the most memorable, and politically valuable, episodes of Hillary’s four years at State.” Not the kind of thing that wins you a Nobel Peace Prize.

No, it isn’t. Burma was helpful, but it’s got a long way to go and there may in fact be ethnic cleansing taking place in parts of the country. But the point of the preceding paragraph is that for someone without any real accomplishments–and without question, Hillary Clinton is such a candidate–there is nothing left to run on but image.

Americans have seen this play before. In 2008, Barack Obama had no accomplishments, so he ran one of the most vapid and intellectually shallow campaigns in memory. Rather than serious arguments, voters were given a poster and told to repeat the word “hope” in cultish devotion. Clinton appears ready to run her version of the Obama poster: the image that forms the basis of a Tumblr page called “Texts from Hillary.” And the recent media coverage of Clinton shows that the Democratic candidate won’t be the only one repeating the campaign of 2008.

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Hillary and the “Preventable Tragedy”

In today’s New York Times, the paper’s editorial column addresses the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the Benghazi terror attack and draws some strong conclusions about what happened and why. The piece soberly digests the findings and rightly concludes that even when one takes into account the difficult circumstances in Libya on September 11, 2012, there is no escaping the fact that the State Department was at fault:

In the last analysis, however, it is the State Department that must bear most of the blame for failing to provide adequate security and not preventing the preventable. This leaves the department on the same hook that an investigation by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put it on last year when it faulted the department’s “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies.”

For once, the Times editorial page is right on target with its analysis. Though the department’s leadership has consistently attempted to divert public attention from its blunders, as the paper accurately concludes, subsequent reforms in its procedures have come “tragically very late in the game.” But there is one element missing from this analysis. Indeed, one could say there are two vital and inescapable words that are nowhere to be found in it: Hillary and Clinton.

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In today’s New York Times, the paper’s editorial column addresses the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the Benghazi terror attack and draws some strong conclusions about what happened and why. The piece soberly digests the findings and rightly concludes that even when one takes into account the difficult circumstances in Libya on September 11, 2012, there is no escaping the fact that the State Department was at fault:

In the last analysis, however, it is the State Department that must bear most of the blame for failing to provide adequate security and not preventing the preventable. This leaves the department on the same hook that an investigation by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put it on last year when it faulted the department’s “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies.”

For once, the Times editorial page is right on target with its analysis. Though the department’s leadership has consistently attempted to divert public attention from its blunders, as the paper accurately concludes, subsequent reforms in its procedures have come “tragically very late in the game.” But there is one element missing from this analysis. Indeed, one could say there are two vital and inescapable words that are nowhere to be found in it: Hillary and Clinton.

As Senator John McCain noted this week on the floor of the Senate when discussing the paper’s coverage of the aftermath of the Benghazi attack and the scandal attaching to subsequent attempts by the administration to mislead the public about it, the Times has been “an ever-reliable surrogate for the administration” on all things Benghazi. But never, even when publishing a badly reported piece falsely claiming that there was no al-Qaeda involvement in the attack, has the paper displayed its partisan bias in so brazen a manner as in this editorial.

Contrary to conspiracy theorists, Mrs. Clinton did not intend the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans at the American post in Benghazi, when she chose not to involve herself in the discussions about security in Libya. There is almost certainly no “smoking gun” memo to be found in which she expresses indifference to the possibility of a terror attack or another in which she orders people to lie about the event after it had occurred, even though that is exactly what happened when talking points were distributed that falsely characterized the terror attack as a case of movie criticism run amok. But if, as the Times correctly notes, the fault for not “preventing the preventable” must lie with the State Department, how is it possible to condemn the agency without even mentioning that responsibility for that failure must be laid at the feet of the person running the place?

The reason for the decision not to prioritize security in Libya is not exactly a mystery. Mrs. Clinton did not ask questions about the topic or see to it, as was her responsibility, that our missions were not being left unprotected simply because the topic was not of any great interest to her. Since the president was running for reelection in part on the strength of a belief that al-Qaeda was no longer a threat after the death of Osama bin Laden, any attention devoted to counter-terror activities or security in a country that was thought to be securely in the hands of friends of the United States was bad politics. That also explains the almost reflexive instinct on the part of Clinton and others in the diplomatic and security apparatus to deny what happened was an act of terror even after it was obvious to all those in the know.

Though these were the aspects of the job that Mrs. Clinton relished, running a vast enterprise like the U.S. Department of State is about more than making speeches and racking up frequent flyer miles on the way to photo opportunities. It also means taking responsibility for an enormous government agency and holding all those who administer its various departments accountable. And, as Benghazi proved, it was on that more prosaic but ultimately vital task, that her leadership proved inadequate.

Given that Mrs. Clinton appears on track to be asking the country to put her in charge of a far larger enterprise than merely the State Department—the entire federal government—if she is elected president in 2016, it is not unfair to ask whether her record on Benghazi ought to influence the decision of the voters. But that is one question that the New York Times dare not ask even as it takes the agency she ran to task for failures and misconduct that happened on her watch.

Though there is really no comparison to the most notorious public scandal of the last week—New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Bridgegate—it should be noted that the Times has run three editorials in the last eight days on that topic. The Times has rightly taken Christie to task not just for the egregious traffic jam that his aides manufactured but also for creating an atmosphere in which such misconduct could happen. It has also correctly noted that whether or not he knew in advance about the scheme, since it happened on his watch as governor, he bears responsibility for what happened. Yet even though four more people died in Benghazi than perished (other than metaphorically from frustration and boredom) in the traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge, the Times saw fit never to mention Clinton in the editorial about what happened on her watch at the State Department.

As the flagship of elite liberal opinion in this country, it is to be expected that the Times would support Clinton’s candidacy even long before she declares her intentions about 2016. But for it to publish a scathing editorial about the conduct of the State Department during the period of her stewardship without even alluding to the fact that she was the one who presided over the disaster illustrates the paper’s utter lack of intellectual integrity.

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Benghazi and the Vile “Least Bad Option”

What has irked congressional Republicans from the beginning of the Benghazi fallout has been the State Department’s callous opposition to accountability. It was typified most famously in Hillary Clinton’s moment of entitlement and exasperation at being questioned over her massive failure that resulted in the death of a U.S. ambassador and three others in Libya. And so it probably won’t surprise anyone that after the release of the bipartisan Senate report detailing that failure, the State Department barely managed to stifle a yawn, as the Washington Post reports:

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said the Senate report adds little new information and does not do much to expand the government’s understanding of the attacks. “We should have been better then, and we need to get better going forward,” she said.

Yet in an important way, Harf is actually correct. The Senate report is full of information, but it all conforms to common sense. We are told, for example, that the attacks were preventable, that the administration knew the dangers lurking in Benghazi, that more had to be done and wasn’t. Conservatives have said all this from the beginning, and this certainly confirms it. But of course conservatives were right about this: does anybody seriously believe that the United States intelligence services, with the CIA nearby, were unaware of the state of the country whose government the U.S. had, in cooperation with Europe, just decapitated?

Of course no one seriously believed that. But the report sheds light on just what U.S. officials knew. For example, it states:

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What has irked congressional Republicans from the beginning of the Benghazi fallout has been the State Department’s callous opposition to accountability. It was typified most famously in Hillary Clinton’s moment of entitlement and exasperation at being questioned over her massive failure that resulted in the death of a U.S. ambassador and three others in Libya. And so it probably won’t surprise anyone that after the release of the bipartisan Senate report detailing that failure, the State Department barely managed to stifle a yawn, as the Washington Post reports:

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said the Senate report adds little new information and does not do much to expand the government’s understanding of the attacks. “We should have been better then, and we need to get better going forward,” she said.

Yet in an important way, Harf is actually correct. The Senate report is full of information, but it all conforms to common sense. We are told, for example, that the attacks were preventable, that the administration knew the dangers lurking in Benghazi, that more had to be done and wasn’t. Conservatives have said all this from the beginning, and this certainly confirms it. But of course conservatives were right about this: does anybody seriously believe that the United States intelligence services, with the CIA nearby, were unaware of the state of the country whose government the U.S. had, in cooperation with Europe, just decapitated?

Of course no one seriously believed that. But the report sheds light on just what U.S. officials knew. For example, it states:

On July 6, 2012, CIA produced a report entitled, “Libya: Al-Qa’ida Establishing Sanctuary.” In the report, CIA stated: “AI-Qa’ida-affiliated groups and associates are exploiting the permissive security environment in Libya to enhance their capabilities and expand their operational reach. This year, Muhammad Jamal’s Egypt-based network, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have conducted training, built communication networks, and facilitated extremist travel across North Africa from their safe haven in parts of eastern Libya.”

And the warnings:

On July 9, 2012, Stevens sent a cable to State Department headquarters requesting a minimum of 13 “Temporary Duty” (TDY) U.S. security personnel for Libya, which he said could be made up of DS agents, DoD Site Security Team (SST) personnel, or some combination of the two. These TDY security personnel were needed to meet the requested security posture in Tripoli and Benghazi. The State Department never fulfilled this request and, according to Eric Nordstrom, State Department headquarters never responded to the request with a cable.”

And the revelations that “tripwires” were established to trigger operational and personnel adjustments on the ground, yet were ignored. But most infuriating to read are the parts about the Libyan security the mission relied on, and why:

Video footage shows-and the ARB also found-that, at 9:42p.m. Benghazi time, a local police vehicle stationed outside the Mission facility withdrew as soon as armed attackers advanced toward the U.S. compound. In addition, the TMF in Benghazi had been vandalized and attacked in the months prior to the September 11-12 attacks by some of the same guards who were there to protect it.

Local security guards, especially security guards who are not operated and overseen by the host government, are an inherently less reliable security force than security provided by U.S. forces or the military or police forces of a host government. According to the State Department, the Mission facility did not store classified information, and therefore no Marine contingent was present. Although U.S. Government security forces are always preferred, the CIA and State determined that local militias would provide the so-called “least bad option” in post-revolutionary Libya. The former Chief of Base stated: “There was no alternative. You know, there really is no functioning government there. And the militia groups that both we, and the State Department, depended on were in fact kind of the de facto government there in Benghazi.”

The “least bad option”? In what universe is that true? Well, the universe in which dwell the brilliant minds who brought us “leading from behind,” our enlightened president’s strategy to prosecute American foreign policy through magical thinking. In the months before the major assault, the mission was apparently attacked by the guards hired to protect it. And yet the “least bad option” was to rely on the same system as threats continued?

The kindest thing that could possibly be said about that strategy is that it’s fundamentally and irredeemably insane. You know what’s “less bad” than relying on thugs who vandalize what you hire them to protect in a city set upon by terrorist networks? Putting American soldiers or security officials there instead. Ah, but that would technically constitute putting boots on the ground. In other words, it would require the administration to admit its best and brightest were so very wrong. This is the Obama doctrine, such as it is. And let this Senate report be its epitaph.

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Benghazi Won’t Stop Guilty Hillary

The release of a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday on the Benghazi terrorist attack casts a shadow over the record of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The study declares that the assault on the U.S. facility in Benghazi could have been prevented had the State Department taken warnings about terrorism seriously. Security at the outpost was shortchanged in no small measure because bad decisions were made in Washington for which Clinton bears ultimate responsibility. The report also makes clear that the participants in the assault on the mission were affiliated with al-Qaeda groups, effectively debunking the assertions made in a recent controversial New York Times article. While it shed no further light on the attempt by the administration to spin the incident as a spontaneous gathering of film critics upset about a video produced in the United States rather than an act of terrorism, it still leaves open the question why that happened.

Taken together with previous investigations, the report leaves no doubt that four Americans died as a result of negligence and bad judgment at the highest levels of the State Department as well as a determination to avoid doing anything that might alter the public perception that the Obama administration had vanquished al-Qaeda. It’s a sorry record and one for which no one, especially those at the top of the food chain, have been held accountable. But conservatives who have been frustrated by the way Clinton has evaded criticism over Benghazi shouldn’t get their hopes up about this report. No one should labor under the delusion that it will hinder Clinton’s efforts to secure the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

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The release of a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday on the Benghazi terrorist attack casts a shadow over the record of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The study declares that the assault on the U.S. facility in Benghazi could have been prevented had the State Department taken warnings about terrorism seriously. Security at the outpost was shortchanged in no small measure because bad decisions were made in Washington for which Clinton bears ultimate responsibility. The report also makes clear that the participants in the assault on the mission were affiliated with al-Qaeda groups, effectively debunking the assertions made in a recent controversial New York Times article. While it shed no further light on the attempt by the administration to spin the incident as a spontaneous gathering of film critics upset about a video produced in the United States rather than an act of terrorism, it still leaves open the question why that happened.

Taken together with previous investigations, the report leaves no doubt that four Americans died as a result of negligence and bad judgment at the highest levels of the State Department as well as a determination to avoid doing anything that might alter the public perception that the Obama administration had vanquished al-Qaeda. It’s a sorry record and one for which no one, especially those at the top of the food chain, have been held accountable. But conservatives who have been frustrated by the way Clinton has evaded criticism over Benghazi shouldn’t get their hopes up about this report. No one should labor under the delusion that it will hinder Clinton’s efforts to secure the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

If Republicans haven’t already discovered that much of the mainstream media has taken their cue from the Obama administration and long ago decided that there is nothing to see here, the lack of interest in following up on this scandal even after this latest report should convince them now. Those who are rightly clamoring for more accountability from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie about the misconduct of his aides in the Bridgegate scandal have had more than a year to ask the same kind of questions of Clinton about what she knew and when she knew it about security in Benghazi and the post-attack lies told by the administration. But they haven’t and won’t start now just because of a new Senate report.

Media apathy about investigating Benghazi is infuriating. While the origin of a traffic jam has become the focal point for a genuine controversy that has seriously hobbled Christie’s presidential prospects, it is astonishing that those insisting on a fuller accounting of a far more serious incident involving the deaths of four Americans serving their country is routinely characterized as solely the province of extremists and conspiracy theorists.

The double standard here is clear. While no one is saying that Clinton deliberately sent Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others to their deaths, she was the person responsible for this disaster. Had any other presidential contender been in charge of an agency whose negligence led to four deaths, it is hard to imagine they would not be disqualified in the eyes of the general public by it, let alone be acclaimed as a likely next president of the United States as is the case with Clinton. But the idea of derailing the chances of electing our first woman president merely because of an inconvenient terrorist attack in Libya is unimaginable to most of our chattering classes. That’s why this report isn’t likely to generate any more coverage of the issue in the coming days, weeks, and months than previous discussions of the scandal.

While Republicans are right to complain about this and should pursue further inquiries, they need to lower their expectations about this controversy. Benghazi shouldn’t be filed away, but the GOP needs to avoid appearing obsessed about it in a way that would allow liberals to depict them as unhinged or conspiratorial. If she runs, the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination will be handed to Clinton on a silver platter. At that point there will be more than enough time for conservatives to revive a discussion of Benghazi and in the glare of a general-election campaign it will be harder for Hillary and her many media enablers to change the subject. This may not be the silver bullet that will prevent her from becoming president, but it will be a potent issue that can’t be ignored. Until then, Republicans frustrated about their inability to hold Clinton accountable should keep their powder dry and wait for their moment.

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Al-Qaeda and the Benghazi Question

The major New York Times story on the Benghazi attack that killed the American ambassador and three others has come under sustained criticism. The article was hyped when published but failed to live up to its billing, in part because the reporter got lost in the weeds of international terrorism and couldn’t quite find his way through the intricacies. This led some to allege that the article was part of the Times’s heavyhanded promotion of Hillary Clinton ahead of 2016, by attempting to portray Republicans as uninformed when tying the attack to al-Qaeda instead of an anti-Islam film.

The article’s glaring weaknesses also opened up an opportunity for another newspaper to get the story right, and the Washington Post appears to have done so. One issue that trips up some reporters is the interaction and fuzzy affiliation of terrorist groups. It’s something that has snared the Obama administration as well. I wrote about this in my November essay on the war on terror, with regard to the administration’s insistence that we were fighting a more limited war on al-Qaeda. But in Syria, for example, making those distinctions was a challenge:

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The major New York Times story on the Benghazi attack that killed the American ambassador and three others has come under sustained criticism. The article was hyped when published but failed to live up to its billing, in part because the reporter got lost in the weeds of international terrorism and couldn’t quite find his way through the intricacies. This led some to allege that the article was part of the Times’s heavyhanded promotion of Hillary Clinton ahead of 2016, by attempting to portray Republicans as uninformed when tying the attack to al-Qaeda instead of an anti-Islam film.

The article’s glaring weaknesses also opened up an opportunity for another newspaper to get the story right, and the Washington Post appears to have done so. One issue that trips up some reporters is the interaction and fuzzy affiliation of terrorist groups. It’s something that has snared the Obama administration as well. I wrote about this in my November essay on the war on terror, with regard to the administration’s insistence that we were fighting a more limited war on al-Qaeda. But in Syria, for example, making those distinctions was a challenge:

Some of these groups are working with al-Qaeda affiliates and some aren’t. How does that fit into the administration’s paradigm that our “enemy is al-Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates,” strictly speaking? Does the administration mean to say that jihadists coming from Afghanistan—where we are still fighting the “good war”—and joining in alliance with al-Qaeda in Syria, but not joining al-Qaeda de jure, are not our enemy?

The Post story shows why so many observers got the feeling the Times story started from a conclusion–Republicans must be wrong–and worked in reverse to reconstruct what happened based on that conclusion. The Post writes about a former Guantanamo prison inmate who was released to Libyan custody in 2007 and then released by the Libyan government the following year, named Abu Sufian bin Qumu. The Post reports on Qumu’s alleged role in the Benghazi attack and that American officials are expected to designate him and branches of his Ansar al-Sharia group as foreign terrorist organizations.

Then the Post adds the crucial context:

Qumu, 54, a Libyan from Darnah, is well known to U.S. intelligence officials. A former tank driver in the Libyan army, he served 10 years in prison in the country before fleeing to Egypt and then to Afghanistan.

According to U.S. military files disclosed by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, Qumu trained in 1993 at one of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist camps in Afghanistan and later worked for a bin Laden company in Sudan, where the al-Qaeda leader lived for three years.

Qumu fought alongside the Taliban against the United States in Afghanistan; he then fled to Pakistan and was later arrested in Peshawar. He was turned over to the United States and held at Guantanamo Bay.

He has a “long-term association with Islamic extremist jihad and members of al-Qaida and other extremist groups,” according to the military files. “Detainee’s alias is found on a list of probable al-Qaida personnel receiving monthly stipends.”

Qumu also had links to Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, known by his alias Abu Zubaida, a key al-Qaeda facilitator who is being held indefinitely at Guantanamo.

There are two aspects to this that illustrate why the Times piece was problematic, and they both revolve around Qumu’s role. The Times story was apparently written last summer and held, which could explain this sentence in the Times piece:

But neither Mr. Qumu nor anyone else in Derna appears to have played a significant role in the attack on the American Mission, officials briefed on the investigation and the intelligence said.

That’s not what American officials appear to believe now, if they ever did. But it undermines the Times’s account of the entire episode because it shows it to be either too dated to be trusted or based on unreliable sources, which when mixed with an ideological predisposition against the conservative assessment of the administration’s spin only elevates and justifies the paper’s critics.

But it’s also part of the ongoing discrediting of the administration’s confused approach to national security, trying to wish away or minimize those terrorists who are not part of “al-Qaeda Central.” The president’s desire to end wars is understandable. His habit of pretending they have ended because of his own impatience is reckless.

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The Real Benghazi Scandal

On the list of scandals that plagued the Obama administration this past year, Benghazi has been the one the White House, Democrats, and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media dismissed with the greatest of ease. Unlike the IRS scandal, which though it has faded from the news had obvious constitutional and political implications, or the various spying scandals involving news organizations and the National Security Agency, which outraged large numbers of ordinary Americans, Benghazi was put down as a manufactured story that had little traction. Part of it was due to the obsessive, though understandable, focus of Republicans on the lies about the 9/11/12 terror attack by members of the administration in the immediate aftermath of the incident. The claim that it was merely a spontaneous demonstration of movie critics that ran amok was outrageous and almost certainly motivated by the administration’s fears that the attack would hurt the president’s reelection campaign. But it didn’t speak to specific wrongdoing that led to the deaths of four Americans or how similar problems might be avoided in the future.

But 15 months after those four Americans died while waiting in vain for rescue that never came, there is a real Benghazi scandal that calls for more than lip service from the White House or quotes like former Secretary of State Clinton’s infamous “What difference does it make?” As the Washington Post reports today:

U.S. officials say efforts have stalled to capture about a dozen people secretly charged in the 2012 attack on the American compound in Benghazi that claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The individuals have been charged in sealed criminal complaints filed in federal court by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. They include one of the suspected ringleaders of the attack, Ahmed Abu Khattala, a militia leader with ties to ­al-Qaeda,­ said several U.S officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

So far, none have been brought to trial and the lack of progress in capturing Khattala has frustrated U.S. intelligence officials and lawmakers who want to see him and the others prosecuted. One official said that Khattala continues to operate in eastern Libya with impunity.

“He’s as free as a bird,” the official said.

This is, to put it mildly, outrageous. And it is all the more outrageous since the suspects are apparently living large in a country that was supposedly no longer a safe haven for terror after the Western-backed overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. If the administration hasn’t allocated sufficient forces to deal with this situation, Congress and the American people have a right to ask why.

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On the list of scandals that plagued the Obama administration this past year, Benghazi has been the one the White House, Democrats, and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media dismissed with the greatest of ease. Unlike the IRS scandal, which though it has faded from the news had obvious constitutional and political implications, or the various spying scandals involving news organizations and the National Security Agency, which outraged large numbers of ordinary Americans, Benghazi was put down as a manufactured story that had little traction. Part of it was due to the obsessive, though understandable, focus of Republicans on the lies about the 9/11/12 terror attack by members of the administration in the immediate aftermath of the incident. The claim that it was merely a spontaneous demonstration of movie critics that ran amok was outrageous and almost certainly motivated by the administration’s fears that the attack would hurt the president’s reelection campaign. But it didn’t speak to specific wrongdoing that led to the deaths of four Americans or how similar problems might be avoided in the future.

But 15 months after those four Americans died while waiting in vain for rescue that never came, there is a real Benghazi scandal that calls for more than lip service from the White House or quotes like former Secretary of State Clinton’s infamous “What difference does it make?” As the Washington Post reports today:

U.S. officials say efforts have stalled to capture about a dozen people secretly charged in the 2012 attack on the American compound in Benghazi that claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The individuals have been charged in sealed criminal complaints filed in federal court by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. They include one of the suspected ringleaders of the attack, Ahmed Abu Khattala, a militia leader with ties to ­al-Qaeda,­ said several U.S officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

So far, none have been brought to trial and the lack of progress in capturing Khattala has frustrated U.S. intelligence officials and lawmakers who want to see him and the others prosecuted. One official said that Khattala continues to operate in eastern Libya with impunity.

“He’s as free as a bird,” the official said.

This is, to put it mildly, outrageous. And it is all the more outrageous since the suspects are apparently living large in a country that was supposedly no longer a safe haven for terror after the Western-backed overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. If the administration hasn’t allocated sufficient forces to deal with this situation, Congress and the American people have a right to ask why.

The problem stems from the fact that, as with the prelude to the attack that was made possible by a lack of concern for the security of U.S. personnel on the part of the State Department, the investigation also seems to be a low priority. Moreover, rather than tasking U.S. military forces to deal with the problem of snatching or taking out these murderers, it has been treated as strictly a law-enforcement problem. The FBI may consider the Benghazi case a priority, but the bureau has found itself handicapped when operating under hostile conditions abroad as we learned when it was revealed that they were unable to adequately investigate the site of the attack for months.

That is not unrelated to the fact that, far from being proof of how administration policy has led to expanding U.S. influence and problems for terrorists, Libya is a mess. As the Post reports, attempts to capture some of the terrorists failed when the blowback from U.S. actions led to chaos including the kidnapping of the prime minister. Indeed, some have speculated that the administration has pulled back on the effort to capture the terrorists because of the fear that more U.S. actions would lead to the fall of the Libyan government.

The refusal of the State Department to adequately defend American personnel in Benghazi was a shocking failure. The lies told after the attack by administration figures were appalling. So, too, is the unwillingness of Hillary Clinton to truly take responsibility for what happened. But the administration’s seeming lack of interest in bringing those responsible to justice is a scandal of an altogether higher order. Unless the president orders sufficient personnel to Libya to get the job done, this is an issue that will continue to haunt his administration as well as the future presidential hopes of Mrs. Clinton.

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