Commentary Magazine


Topic: Benghazi

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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Is Obama an Obstacle to Clinton’s ’16 Plans?

Politico provides a late entry into the understatement-of-the-year competition for straight news, reporting that Hillary Clinton “is not actively trying to suppress” the speculation that she will run for president in 2016. It’s true enough, but it might be more accurate to note that she is throwing brushback pitches even at non-candidates who have insisted they’re not considering running but have supporters who want them to run, like Elizabeth Warren.

In other words, she is pretty much already running. As Jonathan Martin and Amy Chozick reported over the weekend, the Clintons are working to repair ties with black voters after the 2008 primary competition against Barack Obama. (Though the press would have you think otherwise, it was the Clinton duo, not John McCain, who tried to use Obama’s race against him that year.) In their story, Martin and Chozick–who keep finding genuinely interesting angles to the looming 2016 race–write that the Clintons see black voters as their hedge against any other challenger (though they seem to have Warren in mind) since they won’t be running against Obama again:

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Politico provides a late entry into the understatement-of-the-year competition for straight news, reporting that Hillary Clinton “is not actively trying to suppress” the speculation that she will run for president in 2016. It’s true enough, but it might be more accurate to note that she is throwing brushback pitches even at non-candidates who have insisted they’re not considering running but have supporters who want them to run, like Elizabeth Warren.

In other words, she is pretty much already running. As Jonathan Martin and Amy Chozick reported over the weekend, the Clintons are working to repair ties with black voters after the 2008 primary competition against Barack Obama. (Though the press would have you think otherwise, it was the Clinton duo, not John McCain, who tried to use Obama’s race against him that year.) In their story, Martin and Chozick–who keep finding genuinely interesting angles to the looming 2016 race–write that the Clintons see black voters as their hedge against any other challenger (though they seem to have Warren in mind) since they won’t be running against Obama again:

This task has taken on new urgency given the Democratic Party’s push to the left, away from the centrist politics with which the Clintons are identified. Strong support from black voters could serve as a bulwark for Mrs. Clinton against a liberal primary challenge should she decide to run for president in 2016. It would be difficult for a progressive candidate, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, to rise if the former first lady takes back the black voters she lost to Mr. Obama and retains the blue-collar white voters who flocked to her.

Because she is already off to the races, she has a challenge: she was a poor secretary of state, and though her term recently ended the only thing many people can remember about it is that aside from her disastrous handling of Benghazi there was nothing worth remembering. And Clinton seems to be well aware of this. In anther Chozick dispatch headlined “Clinton Seeks State Dept. Legacy Beyond That of Globe-Trotter,” Clinton’s supporters fret that the public will correctly remember that all she really did was fly around the world on the taxpayer’s dime:

The struggle to define Mrs. Clinton’s accomplishments at the State Department has intensified in recent days as Mr. Kerry and his latest assertive diplomatic effort — a successful push for an agreement with Iran that would temporarily curb the country’s nuclear program — have drawn tough comparisons with Mrs. Clinton.

Freed of any presidential ambitions, Mr. Kerry appears willing to wade into political minefields. He has taken whirlwind trips to the Middle East, revived peace talks with Israel and Palestine and struck a deal with Russia to remove chemical weapons from Syria. All the activity seemed to provide fresh evidence for those who viewed Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as overly cautious.

In contrast, even when members of Mrs. Clinton’s own party describe her achievements, they tend to point to a lot of miles traveled (956,733 to be exact).

The best part of that story is when Chozick paraphrases Clintonites as follows: “What about her 13 trips to Libya in 2011 to build the coalition that led to the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, they ask.” If Hillary Clinton really wants to talk about her legacy in Libya, I’m guessing her opponents will be more than happy to oblige.

But all this–contrasting her record with the sitting secretary of state, taking credit for current administration “successes” while deflecting blame for the many failures, trying to rebuild ties with Obama’s voter base–brings up another rather obvious obstacle: we’re less than a year into Obama’s second term. Some toes, then, are being stepped on, as Politico reports today:

Obama needs his party’s attention devoted to helping him salvage the final three years of his administration. But Democratic donors and activists say the growing anticipation around a possible Clinton administration three years out could accelerate the president’s arrival at lame duck status. The more Obama is viewed as a has-been, they say, the harder it could be for him to rally the party to fight for his agenda.

This is quite a reasonable concern from Obama’s side of the issue. He is currently at something of a low point in his presidency, with his signature achievement cratering amid revelations that he’s been purposefully misleading the public on his intention to kick them off their health insurance plans, among other false promises and disastrous effects of ObamaCare. Obama may or may not be able to regain enough political capital to right the ship, but if the Democrats start treating someone with political star power as the new leader of the party, it won’t give the president the space and credibility he needs to rally his administration.

And even worse for Obama, Clinton has some incentive to portray him as a failure. ObamaCare has his name on it, and she was already out of the Senate by the time it was voted on. And distracting the political world from the Obama White House means neutralizing the one advantage Vice President Joe Biden would have over Clinton: incumbency. In truth, she will also lose out if ObamaCare continues to be a total disaster, because it will further erode the public’s trust in the Democratic Party’s big-government world view. But a lame-duck presidency gives her a head start. A resuscitated presidency takes the air out of her tires for a few more years.

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New Benghazi Information, Same Story of Clinton’s Incompetence

Conservatives are basically of two minds regarding the report on the attack on the American mission in Benghazi aired by CBS’s 60 Minutes last night. On the one hand, it always was a legitimate story and it’s encouraging for any mainstream network to emerge even temporarily from the president’s tank and acknowledge reality. Indeed, CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson put up with plenty of nonsense for her willingness to do great reporting on the attack.

On the other hand, it is impossible not to notice the timing. The media became collectively unmoored from the pretense of balanced journalism during the 2012 presidential election when Mitt Romney dared criticize President Obama’s incompetent handling of the event and the administration’s dishonesty thereafter. Who can forget CNN’s Candy Crowley diving into a debate she was “moderating” to shield Obama from criticism despite having her facts wrong? (Then again, who can blame members of the Obama administration’s farm team from playing for the name on the front of their jerseys?)

But while it may seem too late for the media to try and earn some of its credibility back on Benghazi, it’s worth pointing out that the straight reporting offered by CBS is still somewhat gutsy. After all, the tick-tock of the tragedy paints then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as staggeringly incompetent and irresponsible with power. And Clintonworld has already been working overtime to chill coverage of her ahead of her expected 2016 presidential candidacy.

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Conservatives are basically of two minds regarding the report on the attack on the American mission in Benghazi aired by CBS’s 60 Minutes last night. On the one hand, it always was a legitimate story and it’s encouraging for any mainstream network to emerge even temporarily from the president’s tank and acknowledge reality. Indeed, CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson put up with plenty of nonsense for her willingness to do great reporting on the attack.

On the other hand, it is impossible not to notice the timing. The media became collectively unmoored from the pretense of balanced journalism during the 2012 presidential election when Mitt Romney dared criticize President Obama’s incompetent handling of the event and the administration’s dishonesty thereafter. Who can forget CNN’s Candy Crowley diving into a debate she was “moderating” to shield Obama from criticism despite having her facts wrong? (Then again, who can blame members of the Obama administration’s farm team from playing for the name on the front of their jerseys?)

But while it may seem too late for the media to try and earn some of its credibility back on Benghazi, it’s worth pointing out that the straight reporting offered by CBS is still somewhat gutsy. After all, the tick-tock of the tragedy paints then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as staggeringly incompetent and irresponsible with power. And Clintonworld has already been working overtime to chill coverage of her ahead of her expected 2016 presidential candidacy.

The Benghazi reporting has followed a pattern conservatives recognize a mile away. The press first does its best to ignore or downplay a story damaging to vulnerable Democrats. When the conservative media are able to drive the story into the open, the conservatives themselves become the story. (How dare conservative politicians politicize politics! Etc.) If a member of the mainstream media breaks ranks and eventually files a story on it after the initial storm has passed, the response from the left is that there’s really nothing new here anyway, so it’s not a game changer.

Now it’s true, of course, that last night’s report isn’t a game changer. But that should not be confused with something that is unimportant. CBS correspondent Lara Logan spoke with a security official in Benghazi now using the pseudonym Morgan Jones (he appeared on camera, as you can see at the initial link). Jones arrived in Benghazi several months before the attack and immediately noticed that “black flags of al-Qaeda” were flying over buildings in the city. He then arrived at the American compound to see a woefully inadequate band of security guards. His warnings went ignored, and then proved prophetic.

Logan also spoke with others who had previously testified on Benghazi, like Gregory Hicks. That all the increased reporting and testimony confirms, rather than upends, what we know about Benghazi should not be helpful to Clinton. The picture that emerged last year and has been confirmed time and again was that there were patterns that suggested the mission was in danger and then warnings that made the threat more explicit. Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists threatened various targets, including the American mission, and then followed through, and all the while Washington ignored the warnings they received on the ground and the intelligence that predicted the attack.

It is not uncommon for both left and right to look at the same set of facts and come to radically different conclusions as to their implications. But if CBS’s reporting, along with a slightly less defensive posture from the media, is any indication, Obama may be mostly in the clear–but Clinton cannot expect to join him there quite yet.

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Will Biden Strike Back at Hillary on Terror?

Most of the early focus on the 2016 presidential election has been on the Republicans as a gaggle of potential first-tier contenders maneuver for position. But those who thought the cheap shots would be confined to the infighting between Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and a long list of other likely candidates were wrong. In what may have been the first shot fired in the Democratic nomination contest, former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stuck a knife in the back of a former colleague who is a possible rival. As Politico reports:

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday took some indirect swipes at Vice President Joe Biden at an off-the-record gathering, a state representative in attendance told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I know she’s running for president now, because toward the end, she was asked about the Osama bin Laden raid. She took 25 minutes to answer,” George State Rep. Tom Taylor told the newspaper. “Without turning the knife too deeply, she put it to [Vice President Joe] Biden.”

Clinton, a top potential 2016 contender, addressed the National Association of Convenience Stores in Atlanta on Tuesday, where “social media, photography, recording, writing about and/or videotaping” was prohibited, according to guidance released a day earlier.

But Taylor told the newspaper that while answering the question about bin Laden, Clinton depicted herself and former CIA Director Leon Panetta as champions of the raid, while also noting Biden’s opposition to the action. Biden is also a potential 2016 hopeful.

“She took the rest of the time and went over, answering that question,” Taylor, a Republican, said. “She was ready to speak on that.”

Clinton struck a similar theme at another recent speech before the Long Island Association, according to an attendee.

The remarks show that, contrary to the expectations of many pundits who think Biden will stay out if she runs, Clinton clearly believes that Biden is in the race no matter what she does. Rather than play nice and hope that the vice president will choose not to challenge his old allies, Clinton seems to think a no holds barred approach to the most serious potential adversary is in order. As such, and very much in line with the old Clinton “war room” philosophy, she is determined to destroy him even they confront each other in the primaries. But by highlighting her alleged toughness on terrorism, Clinton may be giving an opening to Biden (not to mention Republicans) to ask some hard questions about her role in the Benghazi fiasco, including some behind-the-scenes information that could be problematic for her presidential hopes.

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Most of the early focus on the 2016 presidential election has been on the Republicans as a gaggle of potential first-tier contenders maneuver for position. But those who thought the cheap shots would be confined to the infighting between Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and a long list of other likely candidates were wrong. In what may have been the first shot fired in the Democratic nomination contest, former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stuck a knife in the back of a former colleague who is a possible rival. As Politico reports:

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday took some indirect swipes at Vice President Joe Biden at an off-the-record gathering, a state representative in attendance told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I know she’s running for president now, because toward the end, she was asked about the Osama bin Laden raid. She took 25 minutes to answer,” George State Rep. Tom Taylor told the newspaper. “Without turning the knife too deeply, she put it to [Vice President Joe] Biden.”

Clinton, a top potential 2016 contender, addressed the National Association of Convenience Stores in Atlanta on Tuesday, where “social media, photography, recording, writing about and/or videotaping” was prohibited, according to guidance released a day earlier.

But Taylor told the newspaper that while answering the question about bin Laden, Clinton depicted herself and former CIA Director Leon Panetta as champions of the raid, while also noting Biden’s opposition to the action. Biden is also a potential 2016 hopeful.

“She took the rest of the time and went over, answering that question,” Taylor, a Republican, said. “She was ready to speak on that.”

Clinton struck a similar theme at another recent speech before the Long Island Association, according to an attendee.

The remarks show that, contrary to the expectations of many pundits who think Biden will stay out if she runs, Clinton clearly believes that Biden is in the race no matter what she does. Rather than play nice and hope that the vice president will choose not to challenge his old allies, Clinton seems to think a no holds barred approach to the most serious potential adversary is in order. As such, and very much in line with the old Clinton “war room” philosophy, she is determined to destroy him even they confront each other in the primaries. But by highlighting her alleged toughness on terrorism, Clinton may be giving an opening to Biden (not to mention Republicans) to ask some hard questions about her role in the Benghazi fiasco, including some behind-the-scenes information that could be problematic for her presidential hopes.

The substance of this line of attack also shows that Clinton thinks that if running on the death of bin Laden was good for President Obama, it can be just as good for her. Portraying the verbose Biden as a wimp when it comes to giving the order to kill the arch-criminal gives the lie to the vice president’s blood-curdling rhetoric about the same subject in which he has frequently thumped his chest and talked about pursuing the bad guys to the gates of hell.

But in striking the first blow in such a snarky manner, Clinton is more or less daring Biden to either dispute the charge and/or to start dishing about the chaos in the State Department on 9/11/12. The assumption on the part of the mainstream media has always been that Clinton was bulletproof on Benghazi because the only people complaining about the decisions that led to the deaths of four Americans and the lies told about the event afterwards were conservatives. But if Biden starts probing or, even worse, relaying whatever inside gossip about the event that has made its way to the West Wing, it could open the floodgates for liberals to begin asking the questions that have heretofore been solely the province of Republicans. Even if Clinton did nothing wrong other than minimize the importance of the lies (“What difference does it make?”) that will still hamper her efforts and give Biden a boost.

Biden may be a blowhard but he has never been known to shy away from a fight. If Clinton thinks her shots fired in his direction will deter him from running, she’s wrong. If anything, it could have the opposite reaction. While President Obama may want the two 2016 contenders to shut up, this is not likely to be the last blow struck between two Democratic powerhouses. Though Hillary drew first blood, it also could be the beginning of a bumpy ride for a Clinton candidacy that many of us thought would be acclaimed with near unanimity.

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More Than Memorials Needed on 9/11

The 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was commemorated with solemn ceremonies throughout the nation with special focus on those in New York and Washington. Names of the victims were read aloud. Tears were shed. Speeches were made. Eventually all the permanent memorials, including the long-delayed one at Ground Zero in New York, will be finished which will enable us to go on with these ceremonies that will continue to pull at the heart strings of those who attend them. But as appropriate as all this may be, it must be acknowledged that not only is not enough, but that it is also at times too much of the wrong thing.

To say this is not to downplay the importance of such memorials which pay proper homage to the victims of the attacks and to those who bravely and tirelessly sought to aid the victims, recover the bodies, and heal the damage done by al-Qaeda’s assault on America. But after 12 years it is clear that too much of our focus is on the emotions the memory of that terrible day evokes and not enough on the hard conclusions that still need to be drawn from what was but one chapter, albeit the most painful, in the war being waged on the United States by Islamist terrorists. The willingness of all too many Americans, including many of those in law enforcement and government, to increasingly adopt a September 10th mentality about vigilance about terrorism makes a mockery of these memorials. So, too, does the fact the al-Qaeda-connected terrorists who killed four Americans in Benghazi on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 are still walking around free.

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The 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was commemorated with solemn ceremonies throughout the nation with special focus on those in New York and Washington. Names of the victims were read aloud. Tears were shed. Speeches were made. Eventually all the permanent memorials, including the long-delayed one at Ground Zero in New York, will be finished which will enable us to go on with these ceremonies that will continue to pull at the heart strings of those who attend them. But as appropriate as all this may be, it must be acknowledged that not only is not enough, but that it is also at times too much of the wrong thing.

To say this is not to downplay the importance of such memorials which pay proper homage to the victims of the attacks and to those who bravely and tirelessly sought to aid the victims, recover the bodies, and heal the damage done by al-Qaeda’s assault on America. But after 12 years it is clear that too much of our focus is on the emotions the memory of that terrible day evokes and not enough on the hard conclusions that still need to be drawn from what was but one chapter, albeit the most painful, in the war being waged on the United States by Islamist terrorists. The willingness of all too many Americans, including many of those in law enforcement and government, to increasingly adopt a September 10th mentality about vigilance about terrorism makes a mockery of these memorials. So, too, does the fact the al-Qaeda-connected terrorists who killed four Americans in Benghazi on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 are still walking around free.

The nature of the debate earlier this year over the activities of the National Security Agency in monitoring and intercepting messages going to and from foreign addresses and emails potentially related to sources of terror demonstrated just how far we’ve come in 12 years. While concern over possible invasions of privacy is not unreasonable, the level of cynicism about government was only made possible by a sense on the part of many on both the left and the right that the war with al-Qaeda is as much in our past as the one on Nazism or Japanese imperialism. This mentality is the result not only of America’s successes in preventing a repeat of 9/11 but a desire to forget about the threat that Islamist ideology poses to the West and to our collective security. The same problem applies to the attempts by many in the press and other liberal critics of pro-active counter-terrorism policy to hamstring the efforts of the New York Police Department from conducting surveillance of Islamists and their gathering places.

While all pay lip service to the 9/11 tragedy, a belief that any focus on those who inspire and commit such atrocities, whether from abroad or homegrown, is an offense to Islam has replaced the zeal to protect the nation that was universally shared in the months and years after the attack. Partly inspired by the myth of an anti-Muslim backlash after 9/11 that remains entrenched in the minds of much of the media, what we have now is a powerful anti-anti-terror mentality that interprets any attention to radical Islam as an act of prejudice.

It should also be admitted that war-weariness after the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq has also led to a new birth of isolationism in our political culture. This dangerous mindset now acts as a drag on any effort to assert American power or influence abroad. Though rooted in an understandable and traditional suspicion of federal power (especially now that this power is in the hands of a president with little respect for constitutional rights), it has the potential to do great damage to America’s ability to defend its interests and its security abroad.

Those who understand the legacy of 9/11 and drew the proper conclusions from the mistakes that led to it do not advocate permanent war or the end of individual liberty in the name of security. But what they do know is that the war that 9/11 was but one battle of isn’t over. While Osama bin Laden is dead (as President Obama never tires of reminding us), al-Qaeda is alive. That was proved again in Benghazi as it was in the growth and newfound strength of Islamist movements throughout the Middle East in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring.

While 9/11 memorials are fine, what we really need is a government that understands the threats from both terror groups and states (such as Iran) that remain a threat to the peace of the world. Like winning the equally frustrating and long Cold War, beating them requires more patience and endurance than democracies are likely to have. But beat them we must, and that means Americans must reject the siren song of isolationism while also not being fooled into thinking a 9/11 memorial is an excuse for an anti-terror strategy.

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The Me, Myself, and I President

With Barack Obama, it’s always all about him.

Asked at his early August press conference why there has been so little progress in getting the perpetrators of the Benghazi massacre after eleven months, Obama replied, that these things can take time and added by way of example that “I didn’t get Bin Laden in eleven months.” Obama, of course, was in the White House that day, playing cards.  It was Navy Seals who put their lives on the line as they stormed the house in Abbottabad and “got” Bin Laden.  (Can you imagine the mockery the media would have rained down on George W. Bush had he ever used such a construction? Bush, of course, a modest man, would never have said any such thing.)

Now Obama is planning a response to the gas attack by the Syrian government against its own people. Again, it’s all about him. Had Obama last year not indulged his bad habit of speaking when  he should be quiet and announced with little apparent thought that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line that must not be crossed, no one thinks we would now be about to attack Syria.

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With Barack Obama, it’s always all about him.

Asked at his early August press conference why there has been so little progress in getting the perpetrators of the Benghazi massacre after eleven months, Obama replied, that these things can take time and added by way of example that “I didn’t get Bin Laden in eleven months.” Obama, of course, was in the White House that day, playing cards.  It was Navy Seals who put their lives on the line as they stormed the house in Abbottabad and “got” Bin Laden.  (Can you imagine the mockery the media would have rained down on George W. Bush had he ever used such a construction? Bush, of course, a modest man, would never have said any such thing.)

Now Obama is planning a response to the gas attack by the Syrian government against its own people. Again, it’s all about him. Had Obama last year not indulged his bad habit of speaking when  he should be quiet and announced with little apparent thought that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line that must not be crossed, no one thinks we would now be about to attack Syria.

But, having casually made the red line remark, he is stuck with it and his credibility (or what little is left of it in international affairs) is clearly on the line. If he let’s Bashar al-Assad get away with his chemical attack unscathed, no one will believe a word Obama says in the future.

But his base fears and loathes American power,  so, as Jonathan noted on Wednesday, the Obama administration has been leaking like a sieve to reassure supporters that any attack will be minimal. The fact that he is, inescapably, also reassuring the Assad regime (and even instructing it how to further minimize damage)  is, evidently, neither here nor there. His relations with his base are what’s important. 

Today, The Hill is reporting the latest leak, one that completely gives away the game, quoting a “U.S. official” that “the White House is seeking a strike on Syria ‘just muscular enough not to get mocked.’”  Whether the strike does any good (or does ill, for that matter) doesn’t matter. The risk that Obama might be mocked is all that counts.

History will not treat this man kindly.

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Benghazi Scapegoats Reinstated

In May, Senator Rand Paul criticized the Obama administration’s lack of discipline over the attack on the American mission in Benghazi. In particular, Paul claimed that “no one was fired.” Was that true? The Washington Post’s “fact-checker” Glenn Kessler was determined to evaluate the truth of Paul’s claim. Kessler found that four officials were removed from their State Department posts but were not actually “fired,” as we understand the term.

They were instead placed in a foggy category at Foggy Bottom which presumably enabled the administration to pretend it had taken action when in fact it hadn’t. But it didn’t seem fair to hope for their firings anyway, since it was then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s responsibility to answer for the fate of the mission, and she was inexcusably negligent in her work. She deserved, of course, to be the one to lose her job. But that would have been politically untenable for her boss, President Obama, who was getting some help in his reelection campaign from Hillary’s husband.

So it was fairly clear they had found scapegoats to take the fall, and wanted to protect those scapegoats from having their careers ruined to protect Clinton’s presidential aspirations. When time came for Kessler to return a verdict on Rand Paul’s obviously true statement, he punted. “Verdict pending,” he decided:

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In May, Senator Rand Paul criticized the Obama administration’s lack of discipline over the attack on the American mission in Benghazi. In particular, Paul claimed that “no one was fired.” Was that true? The Washington Post’s “fact-checker” Glenn Kessler was determined to evaluate the truth of Paul’s claim. Kessler found that four officials were removed from their State Department posts but were not actually “fired,” as we understand the term.

They were instead placed in a foggy category at Foggy Bottom which presumably enabled the administration to pretend it had taken action when in fact it hadn’t. But it didn’t seem fair to hope for their firings anyway, since it was then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s responsibility to answer for the fate of the mission, and she was inexcusably negligent in her work. She deserved, of course, to be the one to lose her job. But that would have been politically untenable for her boss, President Obama, who was getting some help in his reelection campaign from Hillary’s husband.

So it was fairly clear they had found scapegoats to take the fall, and wanted to protect those scapegoats from having their careers ruined to protect Clinton’s presidential aspirations. When time came for Kessler to return a verdict on Rand Paul’s obviously true statement, he punted. “Verdict pending,” he decided:

None of these officials have the jobs they had when the attacks in Benghazi took place. All of them appear to be in some Kafkaesque bureaucratic limbo that allows no closure in the matter. Presumably, their government careers are largely over.

Yet they have not been separated from government service, which some (such as Paul) might define as “fired.” As we have shown, achieving this is not as easy as it might appear if the sin is leadership failure as opposed to malfeasance. But under some definitions, they are as good as fired. In Maxwell’s case, it appears he would actually prefer to be “fired” since that would give him more options to challenge his situation.

Given this limbo, we can’t rule Paul’s statement as correct or not. We will monitor what happens to these officials in the future before making a final ruling.

Kessler will be happy to know both that he can make a ruling on the statement and that he was wrong about their government careers being “largely over.” Josh Rogin reports that Secretary of State John Kerry “has determined that the four State Department officials placed on administrative leave by Hillary Clinton after the terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi do not deserve any formal disciplinary action and has asked them to come back to work at the State Department starting Tuesday.”

That the four officials have been restored from their “Kafkaesque bureaucratic limbo”–though they will be “reassigned”–is based on the finding that they cannot be plausibly blamed for what happened, otherwise they would surely “deserve … formal disciplinary action.” And that is believable, in fact. It seemed at the time unjust not that these officials were spared heavyhanded punishment but that they were punished at all, thanks to the likelihood that they were merely pawns in a manic damage-control scheme.

That, really, was the point of Paul’s tirade anyway. When Clinton eventually was called to testify on Benghazi, Paul said he would have fired her for her incompetence. As for the officials back at work after being put through this bit of theater, no harm no foul, right? Not so fast, according to Raymond Maxwell, a scapegoat from the bureau of Near Eastern Affairs:

“No explanation, no briefing, just come back to work. So I will go in tomorrow,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell previously told The Daily Beast that the reasons for his administrative leave designation had never been explained to him. He contended that he had little role in Libya policy and no involvement whatsoever in the events leading up to the Benghazi attack.

“The overall goal is to restore my honor,” Maxwell had said.

While not a formal discplinary (sic) action, Maxwell regarded his treatment as punishment because he was not able to work and was publicly identified as being blamed for the tragedy that cost the lives of four Americans, including his friend Ambassador Chris Stevens.

His reputation had been unfairly sullied with no explanation. He was reactivated with no explanation. But he has spent the better part of a year having been blamed by the administration for the death of an American ambassador and three others, so what will the administration do to make sure his name is cleared? What will Clinton do to make it right?

Furthermore, if these officials aren’t (fully) to blame for what happened, who is? Surely the fact that disciplinary action was taken suggests the State Department believes someone deserves opprobrium for the tragedy–or was it not serious enough, in Kerry’s judgment, to warrant anything more than a shuffling of desks around the office?

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Delaying Justice in Benghazi

President Obama has been getting unwarranted criticism for over-reacting to a terrorist threat by closing U.S. embassies across the Middle East last week (all but the embassy in Yemen have since reopened). Actually, if leaks are accurate about how the NSA intercepted a conference call among senior al-Qaeda leaders, the administration acted prudently to disrupt their plot. The administration also is right to step up drone strikes in Yemen to try to further degrade al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate organization that was allegedly going to carry out the attack on U.S. interests in the Middle East.

I’m more worried not about administration over-reaction but about its under-reaction to the last successful attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission–the one in Benghazi almost a year ago, resulting in the death of the U.S. ambassador and several of his colleagues. Justice still has not been done because of the administration’s puzzling insistence–lost amid all the controversy over the talking points about whether it was a terrorist attack or not–to treat this as a criminal offense, not what it was: an act of war. The New York Times reports today, buried deep in a long story:

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President Obama has been getting unwarranted criticism for over-reacting to a terrorist threat by closing U.S. embassies across the Middle East last week (all but the embassy in Yemen have since reopened). Actually, if leaks are accurate about how the NSA intercepted a conference call among senior al-Qaeda leaders, the administration acted prudently to disrupt their plot. The administration also is right to step up drone strikes in Yemen to try to further degrade al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate organization that was allegedly going to carry out the attack on U.S. interests in the Middle East.

I’m more worried not about administration over-reaction but about its under-reaction to the last successful attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission–the one in Benghazi almost a year ago, resulting in the death of the U.S. ambassador and several of his colleagues. Justice still has not been done because of the administration’s puzzling insistence–lost amid all the controversy over the talking points about whether it was a terrorist attack or not–to treat this as a criminal offense, not what it was: an act of war. The New York Times reports today, buried deep in a long story:

Investigators have made only halting progress on the case, leading some F.B.I. agents in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, to voice frustration that there have been no arrests so far, the officials said. Capturing the suspects will most likely require significant negotiations between the State Department and the Libyan government over who will conduct any raids and where the suspects will be tried. The military’s Joint Special Operations Command has drafted plans to capture or kill the suspects, but for now that option has been set aside, Pentagon officials said.

This is repeating the same mistake the Reagan administration made after the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and that the Clinton administration and Bush administrations made after the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. There are always arguments for inaction, some of which look compelling at the time. But failing to retaliate effectively for attacks on U.S. targets overseas inevitably comes back to haunt us because it sends a message of American weakness. It is well past time for the administration to unleash JSOC to capture or kill the men responsible for killing an American ambassador and destroying an American diplomatic post.

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If Benghazi’s No Scandal, Why a Cover-Up?

President Obama has been a broken record lately claiming over and over again that Republicans are promoting “phony scandals,” the chief of which is the effort to keep asking questions about the Benghazi terror attack that left four Americans dead last September. The White House has continued to insist that the notion that there was anything sinister about the administration’s conduct during or after attack is simply a political red herring not based in fact. Though many are still troubled by the failure to provide adequate protection for Americans in Benghazi, the decision not to send help as the attack unfolded as well as by the clearly false “talking points” that led current National Security Advisor Susan Rice to put out a false story about the incident being a case of film criticism run amok, for the most part the mainstream media has agreed with the White House’s conclusions and dropped the issue entirely.

But thanks to CNN’s Jake Tapper, there are new questions being raised about Benghazi that can’t be dismissed by presidential scorn or a catch phrase:

Sources now tell CNN dozens of people working for the CIA were on the ground that night, and that the agency is going to great lengths to make sure whatever it was doing, remains a secret.

CNN has learned the CIA is involved in what one source calls an unprecedented attempt to keep the spy agency’s Benghazi secrets from ever leaking out.

The main focus of this effort is to prevent their personnel from speaking not just to the media, but also to members of Congress. While it must be acknowledged that the spy agency is entrusted with our nation’s secrets, the all-out push described in Tapper’s report seems to speak more to a desire to silence whistle-blowers and to cover up any possible wrongdoing than anything else. If Benghazi is a “phony scandal,” Americans are entitled to ask why the government is behaving so suspiciously.

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President Obama has been a broken record lately claiming over and over again that Republicans are promoting “phony scandals,” the chief of which is the effort to keep asking questions about the Benghazi terror attack that left four Americans dead last September. The White House has continued to insist that the notion that there was anything sinister about the administration’s conduct during or after attack is simply a political red herring not based in fact. Though many are still troubled by the failure to provide adequate protection for Americans in Benghazi, the decision not to send help as the attack unfolded as well as by the clearly false “talking points” that led current National Security Advisor Susan Rice to put out a false story about the incident being a case of film criticism run amok, for the most part the mainstream media has agreed with the White House’s conclusions and dropped the issue entirely.

But thanks to CNN’s Jake Tapper, there are new questions being raised about Benghazi that can’t be dismissed by presidential scorn or a catch phrase:

Sources now tell CNN dozens of people working for the CIA were on the ground that night, and that the agency is going to great lengths to make sure whatever it was doing, remains a secret.

CNN has learned the CIA is involved in what one source calls an unprecedented attempt to keep the spy agency’s Benghazi secrets from ever leaking out.

The main focus of this effort is to prevent their personnel from speaking not just to the media, but also to members of Congress. While it must be acknowledged that the spy agency is entrusted with our nation’s secrets, the all-out push described in Tapper’s report seems to speak more to a desire to silence whistle-blowers and to cover up any possible wrongdoing than anything else. If Benghazi is a “phony scandal,” Americans are entitled to ask why the government is behaving so suspiciously.

As Tapper writes:

Since January, some CIA operatives involved in the agency’s missions in Libya, have been subjected to frequent, even monthly polygraph examinations, according to a source with deep inside knowledge of the agency’s workings.

The goal of the questioning, according to sources, is to find out if anyone is talking to the media or Congress.

It is being described as pure intimidation, with the threat that any unauthorized CIA employee who leaks information could face the end of his or her career.

In exclusive communications obtained by CNN, one insider writes, “You don’t jeopardize yourself, you jeopardize your family as well.”

Another says, “You have no idea the amount of pressure being brought to bear on anyone with knowledge of this operation.”

We don’t need to know every aspect of the CIA’s mission in Benghazi. But given the obvious security failures and the inability of the United States to come to the aid of its besieged employees under fire, it’s worth asking what exactly were all those Americans doing that night and why were they doing it? Moreover, if there were so many witnesses available, why haven’t at least some of them been produced to answer these questions before Congress even in closed sessions? And if there were literally dozens more American personnel with knowledge of what happened there, we must again ask how the administration could have produced talking points about the incident that promoted the false narrative that it was not a terrorist attack.

Just as frustrating is the fact that just a few days earlier CNN interviewed one of the people identified by the FBI as a suspect in the Benghazi attack. That suspect has never been interviewed by the FBI or the Libyan government but was somehow tracked down by a journalist. At present, not a single one of the many terrorists who were responsible for killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans has been brought to justice and, to date, the American people haven’t received a serious answer as to why that should be.

At this point with so many unanswered questions about Benghazi, the administration should be facilitating the investigation of the attack rather than actually impeding it. We don’t know whether the code of omerta being imposed on CIA personnel is merely a function of bureaucratic inertia or a far more sinister attempt to prevent Congress and the public from finding out more about the failures of both the agency and the State Department. No one should make assumptions about wrongdoing, but given the unwillingness of the administration to apply its supposed belief in transparency to this question, it is, at the very least, reasonable to conclude that something is amiss here.

That these reports come as we are learning about the decision to shut down 21 U.S. embassies and consulates in the Middle East and to issue travel warnings to U.S. citizens because of a belief that al-Qaeda is plotting new terrorists attacks only adds more credence to the calls for more answers about the disaster in Benghazi. 

If there is no scandal concerning the events that led to Benghazi and its aftermath, there certainly appears to be something that resembles a cover up going on about it. The White House needs to drop the politicized refrain about “phony scandals” and start treating this issue seriously. It should direct the CIA to start answering questions from the Congress. The sooner it does, the better it will be for the president once we find out—as we inevitably will—what it is that they are trying to keep secret.

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Benghazi’s Legacy in Iraq

The September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was a preventable tragedy. The blame for Stevens’s death lies with the terrorists that murdered him, although they would not have gotten the chance had it not been for negligence if not incompetence at very senior ranks of the State Department. That the Obama administration responded with obfuscation rather than serious introspection merely compounded the tragedy.

The State Department, for its part, still smarting from the loss of four of its own, has also learned the wrong lessons. About a month ago, I penned a short piece for the American Enterprise Institute arguing that too much security can be a bad thing. It is easy to guarantee the safety of diplomats but, if such a guarantee requires locking diplomats away from the societies in which they are supposed to serve and comes at the expense of the ability of diplomats to do their jobs, then the broader goals of American diplomacy will be missed.

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The September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was a preventable tragedy. The blame for Stevens’s death lies with the terrorists that murdered him, although they would not have gotten the chance had it not been for negligence if not incompetence at very senior ranks of the State Department. That the Obama administration responded with obfuscation rather than serious introspection merely compounded the tragedy.

The State Department, for its part, still smarting from the loss of four of its own, has also learned the wrong lessons. About a month ago, I penned a short piece for the American Enterprise Institute arguing that too much security can be a bad thing. It is easy to guarantee the safety of diplomats but, if such a guarantee requires locking diplomats away from the societies in which they are supposed to serve and comes at the expense of the ability of diplomats to do their jobs, then the broader goals of American diplomacy will be missed.

Nowhere is this clearer now than in Iraq. The Basra corniche is a lively place at night. Cars cruise, locals play backgammon, restaurants are packed, and businessmen talk in luxury hotels. Thursday nights are shopping nights in the Al Jazair neighborhood, where men and women look for bargains in indoor markets, hit the new supermarkets, or take a break for some shawarma with their sons and daughters in one of the bustling fast food restaurants. Alas, it is a city life the diplomats stationed at the U.S. consulate will never experience, because the consulate is located out by Basra International Airport, about 15 miles from the center of town. While the consul-general does go to formal receptions and events, few Basrawis ever see the Americans outside the consulate walls. To their credit, American diplomats have expressed frustration to their Iraqi friends over the situation.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, a $750 million behemoth alongside the Tigris River, may house more than a thousand diplomats and other government diplomats, and even more contractors, but few ever see Baghdad. Iraqi officials say most officials who leave the embassy compound go either to the airport, to parliament, or one of perhaps a half dozen other Iraqi government offices all within walking distance (though the American diplomats are not allowed to walk outside). Outside the International Zone, Iraqis say they have seen Iranians, Turks, Russians, and Chinese but few have ever met an American diplomat. Nevertheless, each of the American government employees housed and working in the embassy gets hardship and danger pay that might add 70 percent to their annual salary, even if they never meet an Iraqi.

Perhaps nothing shows the Benghazi meltdown more than the U.S. consulate in Kirkuk. Kirkuk, for economic, political, and cultural reasons, may be the most important city outside Baghdad and perhaps Najaf. Yet after the attack on the Benghazi consulate, the State Department moved its Kirkuk consulate to Erbil, an hours’ drive away, where the United States already has a consulate. Now I’ve been staying in Kirkuk city for the past several days and, as I’ve indicated in other posts, it’s regaining its former glory. While the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) often brags about its heightened security, Kirkuk is not located in areas controlled by the KRG and so security does remain a problem, albeit a manageable one: Top officials live in compounds sealed off by blast walls and checkpoints, but get out and about by switching cars and license plates frequently, and taking other basic precautions.

If the purpose of an American diplomat is simply to pass messages, then the State Department can reduce its budget considerably if they would rely on Skype or build a couple secure video teleconference facilities. I say that with tongue in cheek, of course, because the purpose of American diplomats is more: State Department employees might talk about one project or another, but when push comes to shove, American embassies should be about influence, showing the flag, and gaining an increased understanding of societies that is not possible simply by sitting at a desk, meeting with officials, or hunkering down behind blast walls. Alas, it seems that in the wake of Benghazi, both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her successor John Kerry have responded by raising the white flag. How sad it is that rather than recognize and repair the faults in management and intelligence that led to Benghazi, the State Department prefers simply to hide its head in the sand, its diplomats behind sandbags.

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A Syria Policy Clear as Mud

The administration is now in the tenth month of its Benghazi investigation, with no signs of it ever ending. Nine and a half months ago, President Obama told the UN the Benghazi attack was an “assault on America” and that he would be “relentless” in bringing the killers to justice, but so far no action has been taken. The administration’s investigation into Assad’s game-changing, red line-crossing use of chemical weapons in Syria is entering its third month, while Hezbollah and Iran threaten to end the game before the investigation is complete.

At yesterday’s State Department press conference, a reporter noted that a week ago France had provided additional evidence of Assad’s use of chemical weapons and asked spokesperson Jen Psaki for a response. That produced a remarkable colloquy:

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The administration is now in the tenth month of its Benghazi investigation, with no signs of it ever ending. Nine and a half months ago, President Obama told the UN the Benghazi attack was an “assault on America” and that he would be “relentless” in bringing the killers to justice, but so far no action has been taken. The administration’s investigation into Assad’s game-changing, red line-crossing use of chemical weapons in Syria is entering its third month, while Hezbollah and Iran threaten to end the game before the investigation is complete.

At yesterday’s State Department press conference, a reporter noted that a week ago France had provided additional evidence of Assad’s use of chemical weapons and asked spokesperson Jen Psaki for a response. That produced a remarkable colloquy:

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any new updates for you. I can say that it is because we take chemical weapons and their potential use so seriously that we need to fully investigate, and why we’re taking every step to do just that. You’re familiar with the steps we’re taking, of course –

QUESTION: I’m not familiar. What’s exactly you are doing right now? It has been two months that you have been using this exact same line when you are asked about the chemical weapons.

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s never been about a deadline self-imposed by you or by anyone else. This is about – been about finding the facts and getting to the bottom of the facts, [blah, blah, blah for 82 more words].  

QUESTION: So it’s been a week now since you got the French evidence and you’re saying that you’re still not done, you’re still not satisfied? …

MS. PSAKI: We’re not going to evaluate it in public, but if there was a change in our policy –

QUESTION: No, no, I’m not asking you to evaluate … I’m just saying you still haven’t made that determination?

MS. PSAKI: There has not been a change in our policy.

QUESTION: Okay. So then logically, we should infer that you guys looked at the French stuff and said, “Eh, not — ”

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t – I would caution you against inferring anything.

QUESTION: Well, then you want to tell us where you stand? … And you will recall that it wasn’t just the French that came out and said they had incontrovertible evidence.

MS. PSAKI: That’s true.

QUESTION: It was also the Brits.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So if you guys have taken a look at the evidence which you have – you’ve had now for a week, and … I think that the observer is left to conclude that you have decided that the evidence that you got from the French wasn’t – didn’t hit the mark.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, you’re making a lot of conclusions. There’s no change in our policy. I’m not going to read out what we think of the information we received from the French or the British or any other country. This is being analyzed, of course, and looked at seriously by a team internally, but I have no change in policy or approach to announce.

QUESTION: Okay. But … correct me if I’m wrong – the approach still is that if chemical weapons use can be – is proved to a certainty or to a degree with which you’re confident that it is – that is accurate, that that is a game-changer –

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: — and that a game-changing means a policy shift, correct?

MS. PSAKI: That is – the President said it is a redline, it is a game-changer. What that means in terms of the options, as you know, I will leave that to them to discuss.

QUESTION: Well, does changing the game mean – I mean, to me, that means that – that would signal – it would be a harbinger of a policy shift. Am I incorrect?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to get ahead of where we are, which is we’re not at that point.

QUESTION: So a game-changer doesn’t necessarily change the game. Is that what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, the President himself –

QUESTION: Because I don’t get it then.

MS. PSAKI: The President himself, and the Secretary has repeated, have said – let me just finish – that this is a redline, that if it’s crossed there are a number of options for them to consider. But we’re not at that point yet, so I don’t want to get ahead of what it means when we’re not at that point yet. We haven’t crossed –

QUESTION: Okay … you seem to be implying that one of the options is to do nothing, is to change nothing. Is that an option?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to analyze the President’s options. They’re expansive. They’re – he’s asked his national security team to look into them.

QUESTION: All right. I understand. But it seems to me the Administration has been about as clear as mud on this, on what it means. And I just want it –

MS. PSAKI: Some mud is clear.

The colloquy may serve as a summary of some of the premises underlying the administration’s policy: some mud is clear; some red lines aren’t red; some game-changers don’t change the game; some sets of options include the option to do nothing; some investigations never end; sometimes keeping all options on the table means never having to choose one; and sometimes people who say they don’t bluff, bluff.  

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Obama Can’t Be Trusted with Power

I agree with Jonathan’s post both in terms of substance and the media response to the NSA/surveillance stories. 

On the former: the PRISM program, in the right hands and used with discretion, can be justified based on the threats to America. But in the wrong hands–in executive branch hands that have abused power and punished political enemies–it has the potential to be misused. Which brings me to the current chief executive.

My views on President Obama are such that very little would surprise me in terms of the ethical lines he would cross in order to gain and maintain political power.

That may seem like an overly harsh judgment, so let me take a moment to explain what I mean. I have become convinced, based on what I would argue is the increasing weight of the evidence, that Mr. Obama is a man whose sense of mission, his arrogance and self-righteousness, and his belief in the malevolence of his enemies might well lead him and his administration to act in ways that would seem to him to be justified at the time but, in fact, are wholly inappropriate.

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I agree with Jonathan’s post both in terms of substance and the media response to the NSA/surveillance stories. 

On the former: the PRISM program, in the right hands and used with discretion, can be justified based on the threats to America. But in the wrong hands–in executive branch hands that have abused power and punished political enemies–it has the potential to be misused. Which brings me to the current chief executive.

My views on President Obama are such that very little would surprise me in terms of the ethical lines he would cross in order to gain and maintain political power.

That may seem like an overly harsh judgment, so let me take a moment to explain what I mean. I have become convinced, based on what I would argue is the increasing weight of the evidence, that Mr. Obama is a man whose sense of mission, his arrogance and self-righteousness, and his belief in the malevolence of his enemies might well lead him and his administration to act in ways that would seem to him to be justified at the time but, in fact, are wholly inappropriate.

I would include as evidence to support my assertion the president’s routine slander of his opponents, his serially misleading statements (including flat-out falsehoods about the lethal attacks on the Benghazi consulate), the IRS scandal and the public signals the president sent to that agency over the years, the unprecedented targeting of journalists by the Department of Justice and the attorney general’s nasty little habit of misleading Congress, Mr. Obama’s unusually dishonest campaign against Mitt Romney, and his overall contempt for the rule of law. He just doesn’t think that rules should apply to him, that he is above all that. Those who see themselves as world-historical figures tend to do that.  

I also agree with Jonathan that “no one should be under any illusion about whether they [those at the New York Times] will press this or any other issue if they thought the president was in any real trouble. Their pious disclaimers notwithstanding, partisanship will always trump principle at the Times.” That is true of many other liberals in the press as well. The degree to which a substantial number of the elite media are in the tank for President Obama varies–but that they are in the tank is unquestionable.

With all that said, however, I do believe that the controversy over the National Security Agencies and its surveillance techniques could politically damage the president and his party, at least in this respect. This issue–unlike the IRS/DOJ/Benghazi scandals that are engulfing the administration–has ignited a revolt among some of Mr. Obama’s core supporters. They are downright angry at the president for what they (rightly) consider to be a betrayal of his previous promises. And anytime a president is dealing with an issue that is fracturing his base without winning over swing voters, it’s not good for him.

This doesn’t mean that in an election liberals would vote for Republicans. But it might well mean that their enthusiasm for the Democratic Party will be dampened, that fundraising falls off, and that the willingness to work for Democratic candidates is reduced. And in a mid-term election, those things matter.

We’re still a long way off from the 2014 mid-term election, of course. But the last four weeks or so have been damaging ones for the president, in ways that could be durable. Certain impressions–having to do with incompetence, hypocrisy, dissembling and contempt for the rule of law–are beginning to harden. That can’t be good for Mr. Obama or his party. And just think; we’re only a little over four months into the president’s second term.

It can get worse. And my guess is it will.

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The Growing Stench of Corruption

Two new polls–one from Bloomberg National Poll, the other from the Wall Street Journal/NBC News–show a clear erosion in the public’s trust in Barack Obama’s honest and integrity.

Nearly half of those surveyed–47 percent–believe the president isn’t telling the truth when he says he didn’t know the IRS was giving extra scrutiny to the applications of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. More than half–55 percent–say the IRS actions raise questions about the administration’s “overall honesty and integrity.” Fifty-eight percent believe the administration’s handling of the Benghazi consulate attacks raises questions about the honesty of the White House, while the same number say the Department of Justice’s subpoenaing of reporter e-mails and phone records in its leak investigations raise concerns.

For roughly half the public to believe Mr. Obama is lying at this relatively early stage in the congressional investigation is quite high, especially since at this point there’s no direct evidence showing the president knew about these scandals prior to May of this year. (Which isn’t to say the IRS and the Treasury Department didn’t know about the IRS’s nefarious activities long before the 2012 election or that the White House chief of staff and White House counsel didn’t know about the scandal prior to when Obama says he learned of it.)

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Two new polls–one from Bloomberg National Poll, the other from the Wall Street Journal/NBC News–show a clear erosion in the public’s trust in Barack Obama’s honest and integrity.

Nearly half of those surveyed–47 percent–believe the president isn’t telling the truth when he says he didn’t know the IRS was giving extra scrutiny to the applications of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. More than half–55 percent–say the IRS actions raise questions about the administration’s “overall honesty and integrity.” Fifty-eight percent believe the administration’s handling of the Benghazi consulate attacks raises questions about the honesty of the White House, while the same number say the Department of Justice’s subpoenaing of reporter e-mails and phone records in its leak investigations raise concerns.

For roughly half the public to believe Mr. Obama is lying at this relatively early stage in the congressional investigation is quite high, especially since at this point there’s no direct evidence showing the president knew about these scandals prior to May of this year. (Which isn’t to say the IRS and the Treasury Department didn’t know about the IRS’s nefarious activities long before the 2012 election or that the White House chief of staff and White House counsel didn’t know about the scandal prior to when Obama says he learned of it.)

This could well have a corrosive effect on the Obama presidency. For one thing, it means the president’s strongest political asset–the fact that many Americans have come to like and trust Obama–is beginning to crumble. For another, it means the president’s words will become devalued. Increasingly the claims and denials by Obama and his administration will, on a range of matters, be ignored, since he’s an untrustworthy man. And the growing stench of corruption will not only harm the president; it will hurt his party as well. 

“Obama’s incredibly shrinking presidency is a reminder that politics is a transactional business,” George Will recently wrote, “that trust is the currency of the transactions and that the currency has been debased.”

Scandals fall on a continuum, from low-grade ones (like “travelgate”) to more serious ones (like Iran-Contra, the Lewinsky affair, and Watergate). What determines how serious a scandal is depends on the nature of what was done and whether people in authority, including senior administration officials and/or the president, were involved.

The abuse of power by the IRS is an extraordinary breach of trust, and right now, because of stonewalling, we don’t know all who were involved. But sooner or later, with Congress investigating these scandals, we hopefully will. The lethal attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi involved the death of four Americans, including the first American ambassador since the 1970s, and misleading the public in the aftermath of the attacks. And the Department of Justice’s targeting of reporters is unprecedented, with the attorney general at the center of the scandal and now being investigated for misleading Congress.

This is not the kind of alignment you want to have early in a second term.

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Susan Rice’s Consolation Prize

The news that Susan Rice will be named to replace Tom Donilon as President Obama’s national security adviser is not surprising in the least–indeed, it was close to a sure thing as soon as Rice’s name was dropped from consideration to be secretary of state. But there is irony aplenty in this promotion, and it explains why the New York Times is wrong to cast the appointment as “a defiant gesture to Republicans.” The Times joins many commentators on the left in being completely confused by the complicated politics of l’affaire Rice, so it’s worth reviewing.

Rice’s stock began to drop because of her own attempt to raise her profile. When Hillary Clinton was permitted by the Obama administration to evade accountability for her failures that led to the Benghazi terror attack, the administration needed someone to go on the Sunday morning political talk shows and push false talking points to mislead the American people on the causes of the attack. Rice was happy to step in, hoping to prove herself to the Obama White House and increase her chances vis-à-vis John Kerry to succeed Clinton at Foggy Bottom. But the false talking points proved understandably controversial, and put Rice at the center of the storm. What happened next is what seems to have the Times so baffled.

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The news that Susan Rice will be named to replace Tom Donilon as President Obama’s national security adviser is not surprising in the least–indeed, it was close to a sure thing as soon as Rice’s name was dropped from consideration to be secretary of state. But there is irony aplenty in this promotion, and it explains why the New York Times is wrong to cast the appointment as “a defiant gesture to Republicans.” The Times joins many commentators on the left in being completely confused by the complicated politics of l’affaire Rice, so it’s worth reviewing.

Rice’s stock began to drop because of her own attempt to raise her profile. When Hillary Clinton was permitted by the Obama administration to evade accountability for her failures that led to the Benghazi terror attack, the administration needed someone to go on the Sunday morning political talk shows and push false talking points to mislead the American people on the causes of the attack. Rice was happy to step in, hoping to prove herself to the Obama White House and increase her chances vis-à-vis John Kerry to succeed Clinton at Foggy Bottom. But the false talking points proved understandably controversial, and put Rice at the center of the storm. What happened next is what seems to have the Times so baffled.

Rice or her allies floated her name as Obama’s choice to be the next secretary of state hoping to build momentum for her (though it’s possible she was actually Obama’s first choice). At the same time, Republicans in Congress were trying mightily to get the administration to answer for its failures in Libya and its decision to mislead the public on the attack. They were also hoping to get the media–which had been so embarrassingly in the tank during the fall election season that they were attacking Mitt Romney over Benghazi–to do their jobs and cover the story. Neither would play ball.

But then, they had a breakthrough. Lindsey Graham and John McCain threatened to attempt to block Rice’s nomination to State until they got answers. “I cannot imagine promoting anybody associated with Benghazi at this point,” Graham had said on CBS’s Face the Nation. It was likely a hollow threat, but the Hail Mary worked: the press grudgingly paid attention and the administration started engaging the GOP. The issue snowballed publicly when Obama gave a tetchy and overly defensive press conference that further piqued the interest of the press–and encouraged McCain and Graham to continue to press the issue of Rice’s nomination.

Graham didn’t actually mean he couldn’t imagine promoting anybody involved in the Benghazi episode. One of the officials who played a role in manipulating the Benghazi talking points that Rice repeated was State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who has just been named for a big administration promotion that requires Senate confirmation. Yet Graham issued a statement praising Nuland designed to speed her confirmation through the Senate. The point of what Graham was doing was to focus attention on Benghazi. Threatening Rice’s nomination was succeeding on that front, so he just continued doing so even though he probably wouldn’t have been able to stop Rice’s nomination if she were actually nominated.

So why did Obama drop Rice’s name from contention? Because the administration needed a scapegoat that wasn’t Hillary Clinton, whom he has been helping build support for a presidential run, and because the confirmation hearings for Rice would have forced the administration to talk more about Benghazi. Obama was hoping the issue would go away.

Graham’s bluff worked. But not before something coldly and typically Washington took place. When Rice became the center of controversy, Hillary Clinton saw an opportunity. She doesn’t get along with Rice, and didn’t want her to step in as the next secretary of state. So she began making her preference that Rice’s name be dropped from contention clear. Her friends and allies in the liberal media took the cue, and began assailing Rice in harshly personal terms far beyond anything Graham or McCain were saying. That gave Obama cover to ditch Rice.

Graham didn’t really mean it when he said he intended to stop Rice’s nomination, but the nomination was derailed anyway. Obama didn’t mean it when he stepped in to defend Rice, because he was merely trying to shut down the conversation and dropped Rice when that failed. In the end, hearings were held on Benghazi and more information came to light about the talking points, preventing both the Obama White House and Clinton from avoiding the controversy after all.

So promoting Rice to national security adviser isn’t a “defiant gesture” aimed at Republicans at all–Graham and McCain are only interested if the position requires Senate confirmation and thus enables them to control the conversation. It was never about stopping Rice; in fact, Graham and McCain would have been much happier had Obama gone through with Rice’s nomination to State and forced the public hearings.

Additionally, McCain and Graham tend to be pro-intervention on foreign policy, and would probably prefer Rice’s internationalist instincts to virtually anyone else the Democrats would be expected to appoint national security adviser. Clinton probably doesn’t care much either, since what she really wanted was to stop Rice’s nomination to State, and she did so. Rice deserved much better than the treatment she got from the Obama administration, but she probably understands that like the rest of this saga, that’s politics.

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