Commentary Magazine


Topic: Benghazi

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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NATO Libya Follow-up Long Overdue

The Wall Street Journal has a rather startling report today about Libya: NATO is considering sending a training mission there to improve the quality of Libya’s security forces. The need for such a mission is obvious: not only is Libya at the mercy of various militias but it is so ungoverned that its distant deserts in the southwest have become a refuge for al-Qaeda fighters fleeing the French offensive in Mali. So why is this report so startling? Because the need for such a step is so long overdue.

Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed in October 2011 by Libyan rebels assisted by NATO airpower. Many of us were warning even before Gaddafi fell that there would be a need for international help to reestablish lawful authority after the revolution’s success. Nearly a year and eight months have passed since then, and the need for outside security assistance has become all the more clear and urgent. The murder of the U.S. ambassador and other Americans in Benghazi on September 11 of last year should have made that evident. Yet the Obama administration has not stepped in to fill the need. Neither have our allies. The result: yet another ungoverned space where al-Qaeda militants can operate.

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The Wall Street Journal has a rather startling report today about Libya: NATO is considering sending a training mission there to improve the quality of Libya’s security forces. The need for such a mission is obvious: not only is Libya at the mercy of various militias but it is so ungoverned that its distant deserts in the southwest have become a refuge for al-Qaeda fighters fleeing the French offensive in Mali. So why is this report so startling? Because the need for such a step is so long overdue.

Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed in October 2011 by Libyan rebels assisted by NATO airpower. Many of us were warning even before Gaddafi fell that there would be a need for international help to reestablish lawful authority after the revolution’s success. Nearly a year and eight months have passed since then, and the need for outside security assistance has become all the more clear and urgent. The murder of the U.S. ambassador and other Americans in Benghazi on September 11 of last year should have made that evident. Yet the Obama administration has not stepped in to fill the need. Neither have our allies. The result: yet another ungoverned space where al-Qaeda militants can operate.

This is a tragedy that was clearly foreseen and still ongoing, yet the very crew that came to office criticizing President Bush for lack of preparation after Saddam Hussein’s downfall has been blithely repeating the same mistake in Libya. And no one seems to be talking about it. Instead, all of the discussion about Libya is over the “talking points” issued after the September 11 attack by the administration.

While there is legitimate cause for investigation into the administration’s response to the attack which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, the far more urgent and important issue is the fate of Libya, which remains up for grabs. Yet both Democrats and Republicans seem to be so opposed to any hint of “nation building” that they instead appear to be content to watch Libya’s continuing collapse into chaos.

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NYT to GOP: Remember Monica Lewinsky

On Wednesday I mentioned the possibility that President Obama will be treated as though his name is on the ballot in 2016 even though he won’t be running–much the way Obama himself ran against George W. Bush in 2008. But today the New York Times tackles a much more immediate version of this story: whether and how Obama will be used against Democrats in next year’s mid-term congressional elections.

The conceit of the Times story is that Republicans are tempted to tie Obama to the various scandals of his administration currently in the news, and then tie Democrats to Obama, but they face a major obstacle: voters give Obama high marks for personal likability. It is another article warning Republicans against “overreaching,” with an added–and, frankly, bizarre–twist. The Times claims Republicans risk re-enacting the fallout from their predecessors’ conduct during Bill Clinton’s scandal-plagued year in his second term.

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On Wednesday I mentioned the possibility that President Obama will be treated as though his name is on the ballot in 2016 even though he won’t be running–much the way Obama himself ran against George W. Bush in 2008. But today the New York Times tackles a much more immediate version of this story: whether and how Obama will be used against Democrats in next year’s mid-term congressional elections.

The conceit of the Times story is that Republicans are tempted to tie Obama to the various scandals of his administration currently in the news, and then tie Democrats to Obama, but they face a major obstacle: voters give Obama high marks for personal likability. It is another article warning Republicans against “overreaching,” with an added–and, frankly, bizarre–twist. The Times claims Republicans risk re-enacting the fallout from their predecessors’ conduct during Bill Clinton’s scandal-plagued year in his second term.

There are plenty of sensible suggestions in the article, but the overarching comparison doesn’t hold up. Although many Americans believed Clinton had acted unethically with Monica Lewinsky and illegally by misleading the grand jury, many of those same Americans also agreed when Clinton said that he had been asked “questions no American citizen would ever want to answer.” He would later be impeached for it.

Additionally, plenty of Clinton’s supporters argued the personal scandal had nothing to do with Clinton’s presidential responsibilities. That cannot be persuasively argued in the case of President Obama’s scandals, which are on the issues and which are completely intertwined with his approach to governing and how his decisions in the White House impact Americans. The tragedy in Benghazi is testament to the dangers of the president’s “lead from behind” foreign policy and refusal to be frank about the threats facing America.

The IRS scandal was about a powerful enforcement arm of the government targeting those who disagreed with Obama and blatantly trampling on the constitutional rights of his political opponents. As McClatchy reports, the IRS abuse may have been much more comprehensive than first reported:

A group of anti-abortion activists in Iowa had to promise the Internal Revenue Service it wouldn’t picket in front of Planned Parenthood.

Catherine Engelbrecht’s family and business in Texas were audited by the government after her voting-rights group sought tax-exempt status from the IRS.

Retired military veteran Mark Drabik of Nebraska became active in and donated to conservative causes, then found the IRS challenging his church donations.

While the developing scandal over the targeting of conservatives by the tax agency has largely focused to date on its scrutiny of groups with words such as “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, these examples suggest the government was looking at a broader array of conservative groups and perhaps individuals. Their collective experiences at a minimum could spread skepticism about the fairness of a powerful agency that should be above reproach and at worst could point to a secret political vendetta within the government against conservatives.

The emerging stories from real people raise questions about whether the IRS scrutiny extended beyond applicants for tax-exempt status and whether individuals who donated to these tax-exempt organizations or to conservative causes also were targeted.

McClatchy’s use of the term “real people” here is awkward to say the least, but the point the reporters are making is that the IRS was initially believed to have targeted organizations but in fact may have been targeting individuals as well, expressly for their political beliefs. The IRS appears to have gone looking for possible conservatives to hassle and silence.

Obama’s health-care reform sets out to expand the size and scope of both the federal government generally and the IRS specifically. Whether Obama personally ordered the IRS to target conservatives and pro-Israel groups beyond simply egging on suspicion of them publicly and repeatedly doesn’t change the way his approach to governing enables this behavior. Clinton’s dalliances may have had limited or no relevance to Americans’ own lives, but the opposite is true of the Obama administration’s IRS scandal.

Conservatives don’t have to accuse Obama of unethical behavior to make this point. The president’s vision for the country, and that of his party, is to increase the power and reach of the IRS into the health care of Americans. If Democrats think that constitutes a personal attack, then they object to any criticism of their leader. And they shouldn’t expect congressional candidates around the country to play along.

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Is Benghazi Taking Its Toll on Hillary Clinton’s Poll Numbers?

In discussing Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential prospects, media commentators have made a common and constant error, which I tried to point out repeatedly. They noted Clinton’s high approval ratings as secretary of state, and suggested those numbers buoyed her chances in 2016. But her approval numbers at State were unimpressive: her predecessors had those numbers too, and some had approval ratings even higher than Clinton. Secretary of state is viewed as an apolitical position and the face of the American government abroad, and as such earns inflated poll numbers.

I pointed out that those numbers not only don’t portend future political success (anyone remember President Colin Powell, who left office with a 77 percent approval rating at State?), but they would also come down to earth once Clinton left Foggy Bottom and began to re-enter the political arena. And so they have. Quinnipiac’s new survey finds Clinton’s favorability rating dropping to 52 percent (from Quinnipiac’s previous finding of 61). Her once-daunting lead over hypothetical challengers has narrowed to a surmountable 8 percent over Rand Paul and Jeb Bush.

And all that comes before Clinton actually begins campaigning–that is, if she decides to run. It would be difficult to beat her in a Democratic primary, but even the typical primary campaign process would expose some of her flaws as a candidate, as Keith Koffler writes in Politico. Clinton is hardworking, determined, sharp, and well connected, but that hasn’t stopped her from being, in Koffler’s determination, “the most overrated politician of her generation.” Koffler gets it exactly right when he notes that after her failure to produce results in health care, “The rest of Clinton’s record reads like an excruciatingly long CV that seeks to overwhelm with content but out of which nothing particularly impressive pops out.”

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In discussing Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential prospects, media commentators have made a common and constant error, which I tried to point out repeatedly. They noted Clinton’s high approval ratings as secretary of state, and suggested those numbers buoyed her chances in 2016. But her approval numbers at State were unimpressive: her predecessors had those numbers too, and some had approval ratings even higher than Clinton. Secretary of state is viewed as an apolitical position and the face of the American government abroad, and as such earns inflated poll numbers.

I pointed out that those numbers not only don’t portend future political success (anyone remember President Colin Powell, who left office with a 77 percent approval rating at State?), but they would also come down to earth once Clinton left Foggy Bottom and began to re-enter the political arena. And so they have. Quinnipiac’s new survey finds Clinton’s favorability rating dropping to 52 percent (from Quinnipiac’s previous finding of 61). Her once-daunting lead over hypothetical challengers has narrowed to a surmountable 8 percent over Rand Paul and Jeb Bush.

And all that comes before Clinton actually begins campaigning–that is, if she decides to run. It would be difficult to beat her in a Democratic primary, but even the typical primary campaign process would expose some of her flaws as a candidate, as Keith Koffler writes in Politico. Clinton is hardworking, determined, sharp, and well connected, but that hasn’t stopped her from being, in Koffler’s determination, “the most overrated politician of her generation.” Koffler gets it exactly right when he notes that after her failure to produce results in health care, “The rest of Clinton’s record reads like an excruciatingly long CV that seeks to overwhelm with content but out of which nothing particularly impressive pops out.”

That might not have been such a weakness before Benghazi. Genuinely revolutionary foreign-policy accomplishments emanating from the State Department are the exception, not the rule. The fact that the dispute over Kashmir remains unresolved is not a failure of each American secretary of state, and the same goes for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other such issues. If anything, a bit of modesty from America’s diplomats would do them some good. But Benghazi changed the calculus on her tenure because Clinton’s massive failure of leadership, organization, attention, and accountability in the death of an American ambassador and three others tips the scales in the wrong direction for Clinton.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times conducted one of its “Room for Debate” roundtables on Clinton and her legacy at State. No one was able to drum up a genuine accomplishment, because there weren’t any. She was praised for traveling a lot, which seems damning with faint praise at best. She was lauded as a voice for women’s rights, which is important but which yielded no tangible results. No doubt she will use this experience in the campaign by name-dropping world leaders and other impressive names from her Rolodex. But sounding like a living, breathing Tom Friedman column isn’t going to win over many of those who don’t already support her.

It isn’t just Benghazi, either; there isn’t much for Clinton to brag about in the developments of the Arab Spring or her administration’s silent acceptance of an overtly anti-Semitic new Islamist tyrant in Egypt. Her mishandling of the Russian “reset” is a topic she’ll probably want to ignore as well. Which leaves the mostly superficial “pivot” to Asia. Yet “Vote for Hillary: She’s been to Laos” strikes me as an underwhelming campaign theme.

None of this may matter in a Democratic primary, however, since her party seems desperate to hand her the nomination and because the Democrats have for a decade run solely on identity politics and stayed miles away from serious policy discussions. And whatever her flaws, Clinton would be a far better nominee than her would-be rivals like Martin O’Malley and Joe Biden–though Biden’s chances would depend much on how the Obama presidency ends.

But for a general election, it should matter a great deal. Clinton is no longer an up-and-coming party insurgent. She is a veteran near the end of her political career, and ought to have some accomplishments–or any, in fact. She will have to make the argument that if they elect her, voters can expect more than just speeches and photo-ops. That might be a tougher sell than her fans realize.

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Obama Goes from Lincolnian to Carteresque

The November 7, 2008 broadcast of PBS’s Charlie Rose featured a conversation with David Remnick of the New Yorker and historians Alan Brinkley and Michael Beschloss.

“The extraordinary outpouring of celebration, joy, and hope all over the world at this election is something I could never have imagined in my lifetime,” according to Professor Brinkley. “There’s a discipline to Obama that is so extraordinary,” he raved. And then he added: “I don’t think we’ve had a president since Lincoln who has the oratorical skills that Obama has. Obama has that quality that Lincoln had.”

Mr. Remnick also compared Obama’s rhetorical skills to Lincoln. The campaign also “shows him in a decision-making mold that is very encouraging.” Obama demonstrated a “receptivity to ideas outside the frame” and possesses a “worldview that allows for complexity.” He “assumes a maturity in the American public” and possesses “great audacity.” Not to believe Obama’s election will have “enormous effect” on the streets of Cairo, or Nairobi, or Jerusalem is “naive.” It continued in this vein until Remnick finally had to say, “We’ll climb out of the tank soon.” (For the record, Remnick never has.) 

I mention that discussion for several reasons. The first is that as a general matter it’s not wise to compare any person to Lincoln, particularly before they’ve even taken office, which was the case during this 2008 discussion. Second, Obama had achieved nothing in his life that deserved these types of encomiums. It didn’t matter. Journalists and historians were besotted by the Myth of Obama, not the reality. But now that we’re four years and four months into the Obama presidency, reality has set in. And let’s just say that Mr. Obama has lost some distance to Lincoln in the race for the greatest president in American history. Quite some distance, in fact.

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The November 7, 2008 broadcast of PBS’s Charlie Rose featured a conversation with David Remnick of the New Yorker and historians Alan Brinkley and Michael Beschloss.

“The extraordinary outpouring of celebration, joy, and hope all over the world at this election is something I could never have imagined in my lifetime,” according to Professor Brinkley. “There’s a discipline to Obama that is so extraordinary,” he raved. And then he added: “I don’t think we’ve had a president since Lincoln who has the oratorical skills that Obama has. Obama has that quality that Lincoln had.”

Mr. Remnick also compared Obama’s rhetorical skills to Lincoln. The campaign also “shows him in a decision-making mold that is very encouraging.” Obama demonstrated a “receptivity to ideas outside the frame” and possesses a “worldview that allows for complexity.” He “assumes a maturity in the American public” and possesses “great audacity.” Not to believe Obama’s election will have “enormous effect” on the streets of Cairo, or Nairobi, or Jerusalem is “naive.” It continued in this vein until Remnick finally had to say, “We’ll climb out of the tank soon.” (For the record, Remnick never has.) 

I mention that discussion for several reasons. The first is that as a general matter it’s not wise to compare any person to Lincoln, particularly before they’ve even taken office, which was the case during this 2008 discussion. Second, Obama had achieved nothing in his life that deserved these types of encomiums. It didn’t matter. Journalists and historians were besotted by the Myth of Obama, not the reality. But now that we’re four years and four months into the Obama presidency, reality has set in. And let’s just say that Mr. Obama has lost some distance to Lincoln in the race for the greatest president in American history. Quite some distance, in fact.

One example: In the Daily Beast, the influential Democratic political consultant Bob Shrum has written a column in which the best defense he can offer the president in the context of the IRS scandal is this:

For the White House, there is no crime here, there is no scandal, no matter how feverishly, irresponsibly, or demagogically the GOP labors to concoct one. This is not a case of Nixonian indifference to the Constitution, the law, and the president’s oath of office. But it does look like a reprise of Cartersque incompetence, increasingly so as we learn more about how the White House staff handled—or mishandled—a crisis they knew was coming… For the White House, the problem here resembles Carter, not Nixon.

This critique echoes the comments made to CBS’s Sharyl Attkisson by an Obama administration official, who told her in the context of the Benghazi scandal, “We’re portrayed by Republicans as either being lying or idiots. It’s actually closer to us being idiots.”

Before he took office, we were told time and again that Obama was a Lincolnian figure. Now that he’s been in office and demonstrated his governing skills, his strongest liberal supporters and his own staff are defending the president by insisting that we have a White House that is being run by Carteresque idiots.

Welcome to reality. 

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What the White House Really Thinks

Much has been written and said about the astoundingly tone deaf performance of White House spokesman Jay Carney during this past month of scandals. The former journalist has lost the confidence of the people who were once his colleagues due to his unwillingness to tell the truth about his own deceptive statements (never mind those he represents in front of the press) about the Benghazi talking points or even to acknowledge that he has changed his story. The same applies to the shifting story he has told about the Internal Revenue Service scandal and when the White House learned about it.

The latest iteration of Carney’s story contradicts earlier ones that claimed they knew nothing about the investigation. Now it appears that the White House chief of staff and other officials learned of the situation over a month ago and actually consulted with the Treasury Department about how to soften the blow when it finally went public. Like everyone else following this story, I look forward to finding out who was the genius who decided that IRS official Lois Lerner should be the one to let drop the news with an apology and also saying she didn’t know math.

But anyone looking for an explanation for his unashamed stonewalling and obfuscation got an answer yesterday during an exchange with CBS News’s Major Garrett in which he compared questions about the White House’s conduct about Benghazi and the IRS to those who pursue the birther myth. In other words, anyone who has had the temerity to notice the lies and the trimming is cordially invited to shut up.

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Much has been written and said about the astoundingly tone deaf performance of White House spokesman Jay Carney during this past month of scandals. The former journalist has lost the confidence of the people who were once his colleagues due to his unwillingness to tell the truth about his own deceptive statements (never mind those he represents in front of the press) about the Benghazi talking points or even to acknowledge that he has changed his story. The same applies to the shifting story he has told about the Internal Revenue Service scandal and when the White House learned about it.

The latest iteration of Carney’s story contradicts earlier ones that claimed they knew nothing about the investigation. Now it appears that the White House chief of staff and other officials learned of the situation over a month ago and actually consulted with the Treasury Department about how to soften the blow when it finally went public. Like everyone else following this story, I look forward to finding out who was the genius who decided that IRS official Lois Lerner should be the one to let drop the news with an apology and also saying she didn’t know math.

But anyone looking for an explanation for his unashamed stonewalling and obfuscation got an answer yesterday during an exchange with CBS News’s Major Garrett in which he compared questions about the White House’s conduct about Benghazi and the IRS to those who pursue the birther myth. In other words, anyone who has had the temerity to notice the lies and the trimming is cordially invited to shut up.

What can you say about an administration that considers leaking stories to the New York Times that make the president look like a national security hero kosher but seeks to criminalize journalism that points out his mistakes?

What can you say about a White House that doesn’t think it is obligated to acknowledge that it has changed its story about these scandals so often that even its chief flack can’t keep them straight?

Jay Carney’s crack about birthers told us all we need to know about any of this.

To talk about birthers when the whole country knows Carney has been slipping and sliding through the lies that have been told about Benghazi and other topics show us the crew that currently works at 1600 Pennsylvania think they are above criticism. They believe their political opponents are not only wrong; they are illegitimate and not worthy of a hearing.

While journalists are disgusted with Carney and even his masters in the West Wing may be scratching their heads about his recent performances, he really isn’t the problem. His contempt for the truth and for those who question his “Emperor’s new clothes” approach to transparency is symptomatic of the kind of second term arrogance that many of us suspected would undo the “hope and change” crowd once the president was re-elected.

Obama’s win last November has convinced Carney and other White House loyalists that they can afford to thumb their noses at decency and even honesty since their still-popular boss can no longer be held accountable by the voters. But what they forget is that even re-elected presidents can’t behave like monarchs.

It is never a good sign for a president to behave as if it is beneath him to acknowledge problems. It’s even worse when those paid to spin him start to act in the same manner.

Jay Carney’s arrogant contempt for the truth stems from the president’s attitude that was on display last week when he had a public temper tantrum about Benghazi questions. An administration that doesn’t believe it should be held accountable is one that is capable of just about anything. But that’s something our colleagues at the AP and Fox News have already discovered.

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Blame the Middle Manager for Benghazi?

Nine months after the terrorist attack in Benghazi that cost four American lives, we’re finally finding out who it was that the State Department thinks is responsible for the debacle: the middle managers. Josh Rogin’s exclusive interview at the Daily Beast with the only person to lose his job over the tragedy doesn’t tell us much about why Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were left without security in the face of clear danger from an al-Qaeda affiliate. But it does tell us everything we need to know about how Hillary Clinton’s State Department functioned.

Benghazi is one of the worst disasters in American diplomatic history, but the sum total of accountability for it is limited to the career of Raymond Maxwell, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) who was placed on administrative leave in December after the now-famous Administrative Review Board (ARB) led by Thomas Pickering issued its report. Pickering didn’t bother interviewing the person in charge of the department—Secretary Clinton—but according to Rogin’s sources, Maxwell was consigned to perdition for not reading his daily intelligence reports. If so, perhaps he deserves his fate even though Maxwell claims he had “no involvement to any degree with decisions on security and the funding of security at our diplomatic mission in Benghazi.” That is something that cannot be said of others, including the secretary, who sent Stevens on what proved to be a fatal mission. Yet what comes across loud and clear in the piece is that what happened at Foggy Bottom in the aftermath of the debacle was that a middle manager was made to walk the plank while all senior personnel were spared from the consequences of the mistakes that were made.

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Nine months after the terrorist attack in Benghazi that cost four American lives, we’re finally finding out who it was that the State Department thinks is responsible for the debacle: the middle managers. Josh Rogin’s exclusive interview at the Daily Beast with the only person to lose his job over the tragedy doesn’t tell us much about why Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were left without security in the face of clear danger from an al-Qaeda affiliate. But it does tell us everything we need to know about how Hillary Clinton’s State Department functioned.

Benghazi is one of the worst disasters in American diplomatic history, but the sum total of accountability for it is limited to the career of Raymond Maxwell, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) who was placed on administrative leave in December after the now-famous Administrative Review Board (ARB) led by Thomas Pickering issued its report. Pickering didn’t bother interviewing the person in charge of the department—Secretary Clinton—but according to Rogin’s sources, Maxwell was consigned to perdition for not reading his daily intelligence reports. If so, perhaps he deserves his fate even though Maxwell claims he had “no involvement to any degree with decisions on security and the funding of security at our diplomatic mission in Benghazi.” That is something that cannot be said of others, including the secretary, who sent Stevens on what proved to be a fatal mission. Yet what comes across loud and clear in the piece is that what happened at Foggy Bottom in the aftermath of the debacle was that a middle manager was made to walk the plank while all senior personnel were spared from the consequences of the mistakes that were made.

The ARB actually fixed the blame for Benghazi at the assistant secretary level that would have meant that Maxwell’s boss, Beth Jones, should have been the one to fall on her sword along with others of similar rank. But according to Rogin:

But Jones was not disciplined in any way following the release of the report, nor was the principal deputy assistant secretary of State at NEA, Liz Dibble, who is slated to receive a plush post as the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in London this summer. In the DS bureau, the assistant secretary, principal deputy, and deputy assistant all lost their jobs. In the NEA bureau, only Maxwell was asked to leave.

Jones and Dibble were responsible for security in Libya, Maxwell and three State Department officials said. What’s more, when Maxwell was promoted to his DAS position in August 2011, most responsibility for Libya was carved out of his portfolio, which also included Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Although Maxwell did some work on Libya, all security related decisions were handled by Dibble and Jones, according to the three officials.

At the time he was placed in career limbo, Rogin reports Maxwell was told that after the political storm about Benghazi blew over, he would come back to his department and get a senior job. But apparently Clinton and Mills reneged, leaving him out in the cold to face the music while they were allowed to go on in their positions.

Suffice to say that if Mrs. Clinton had a shred of personal honor, she would have taken genuine responsibility for Benghazi rather than merely says those words as a figure of speech. If she did, she might not have let her department sacrifice a low-level person like Maxwell for supposedly not reading every item he was sent to read while her defenders claimed it was unreasonable, if not defamatory, to hold her responsible for the documents that went out under her name. Instead, she left State to the applause of her acolytes to wait for a propitious moment to resume her quest for the presidency, all the way claiming none of what happened in Benghazi was her fault.

If the Obama administration took the issue of embassy security as seriously as it claims to—while insisting that any attention paid to the lies it told about Benghazi is a distraction—it might have cleaned house at State in a way that made it clear that all those involved with the refusal to give Stevens adequate security did not escape accountability.

Maxwell’s saga is a depressing reminder of everything that is wrong with Obama and Clinton’s sense of entitlement and a refusal to be accountable for mistakes. It will be up to the Congress and a slowly awakening mainstream press to keep the issue alive and reopen the question who, other than a middle manager with unrelated job responsibilities, should be blamed for Benghazi.

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Obama’s Courtiers at the New York Times

In a New York Times story about how President Obama is seeking a path forward beyond his troubles, we’re told this: “In the last few days, the administration appears to have stopped the bleeding. The release of internal e-mails on Benghazi largely confirmed the White House’s account.”

No it hasn’t.

The original White House account was that the White House and the State Department made only minor, stylistic changes to the Benghazi talking points. That claim was utterly untrue. In addition, the president, the secretary of state, the president’s press secretary, and the ambassador to the United Nations all blamed the lethal attacks on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi on an anti-Muslim YouTube video, a claim that was false and never even appeared in the talking points. And the early (correct) talking point references to Islamic terrorist attacks and Ansar al-Sharia were removed, which is one reason why then-CIA director David Petraeus concluded he’d just as soon not use them.

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In a New York Times story about how President Obama is seeking a path forward beyond his troubles, we’re told this: “In the last few days, the administration appears to have stopped the bleeding. The release of internal e-mails on Benghazi largely confirmed the White House’s account.”

No it hasn’t.

The original White House account was that the White House and the State Department made only minor, stylistic changes to the Benghazi talking points. That claim was utterly untrue. In addition, the president, the secretary of state, the president’s press secretary, and the ambassador to the United Nations all blamed the lethal attacks on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi on an anti-Muslim YouTube video, a claim that was false and never even appeared in the talking points. And the early (correct) talking point references to Islamic terrorist attacks and Ansar al-Sharia were removed, which is one reason why then-CIA director David Petraeus concluded he’d just as soon not use them.

To add insult to injury, the White House continues to deny its role in the deception. For example, Mr. Carney continues to stand by his statement made last November that the White House and the State Department “have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of those two, of these two institutions were changing the word ‘consulate’ to ‘diplomatic facility’.” He does so despite documents that prove he is wrong. It doesn’t matter. For the Obama White House, we’re in the “Who do you believe, me or your lying eyes?” phase. For the Times to therefore conclude that the internal e-mails on Benghazi “largely confirmed the White House’s account” is largely ludicrous and transparently incorrect.

It’s yet one more example of the Times specifically, and the elite press more broadly, parroting White House claims that are misleading and which no Republican administration could ever hope to get away with.

Based on the last 10 days, some journalists have turned on the president in the short run. But most of them will revert back to their pattern of the last four-plus years. Which is to say they will once again settle into their role as courtiers for the Obama White House. There is no other plausible explanation for why so many journalists continue to downplay or even misrepresent the Benghazi scandal. They are determined to make this story go away.

Whether or not that happens is an open question. What is not in dispute, however, is that the American people were systematically misled by the president and his top advisers. And journalists with integrity would say so.

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Obama, Not GOP, Should Be Scandal Focus

Throughout a long week of scandal, the growing evidence of wrongdoing in the executive branch has buffeted Democrats. Like President Obama, who was slow to realize the danger to his presidency, his supporters were initially put back on their heels by the triple threat posed by the Benghazi investigation, the Justice Department’s seizure of the Associated Press’s phone records and, most damning of all, the Internal Revenue Service’s discriminatory practices. But also like the president, who took to the road today to resume his attempt to blame the interest in these issues on his opponents’ narrow partisanship, liberals are starting to speak out to minimize the importance of the scandals.

The left is working hard to classify Benghazi as a “political circus”; blame the AP for being subjected to an unprecedented phone records grab; or to say the real problem in the IRS affair is that right-wing groups attempt to gain nonprofit status. But while they are having mixed success with those efforts, they are gaining some traction with the notion that the real problem today is not the administration’s incompetence or malfeasance but overreaching on the part of Republicans.

Indeed, Republicans are already second-guessing themselves about how hard to hit the president on the scandals, with liberals using those doubts to help craft a narrative in which the real threat to the republic is an extremist GOP. There are good reasons to fear that Republican hotheads will distract the public from Obama’s troubles but it should be understood that this storyline is essentially bogus. However the president’s opposition plays their hand, any attempt to shift the focus from the administration and the president to those who are attempting to make him accountable for the government’s behavior is a yet another attempt to deceive the public.

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Throughout a long week of scandal, the growing evidence of wrongdoing in the executive branch has buffeted Democrats. Like President Obama, who was slow to realize the danger to his presidency, his supporters were initially put back on their heels by the triple threat posed by the Benghazi investigation, the Justice Department’s seizure of the Associated Press’s phone records and, most damning of all, the Internal Revenue Service’s discriminatory practices. But also like the president, who took to the road today to resume his attempt to blame the interest in these issues on his opponents’ narrow partisanship, liberals are starting to speak out to minimize the importance of the scandals.

The left is working hard to classify Benghazi as a “political circus”; blame the AP for being subjected to an unprecedented phone records grab; or to say the real problem in the IRS affair is that right-wing groups attempt to gain nonprofit status. But while they are having mixed success with those efforts, they are gaining some traction with the notion that the real problem today is not the administration’s incompetence or malfeasance but overreaching on the part of Republicans.

Indeed, Republicans are already second-guessing themselves about how hard to hit the president on the scandals, with liberals using those doubts to help craft a narrative in which the real threat to the republic is an extremist GOP. There are good reasons to fear that Republican hotheads will distract the public from Obama’s troubles but it should be understood that this storyline is essentially bogus. However the president’s opposition plays their hand, any attempt to shift the focus from the administration and the president to those who are attempting to make him accountable for the government’s behavior is a yet another attempt to deceive the public.

The main Democratic talking point this week has been an extension of the same keynote they’ve been sounding for the last three years with mixed success: Republicans are extremists and bent only on obstructing a popular president. The three scandals all point toward a general validation of Republican complaints about Obama’s obsessive belief in big government. But this was discounted by those who wrongly label Tea Partiers as foes of democracy rather than exemplars of how grassroots politics is so supposed to work.

To be fair, the Democratic task of shifting blame to the accusers is easier when Republicans get ahead of the investigations. For Senator Jim Inhofe or Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann to be talking about impeachment is a bad sign for Republicans. In fact, any time Bachmann moves back to center stage from the relative obscurity her poor showing as a presidential candidate had consigned her to is a not a favorable indicator for the GOP.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was right to admit today on NPR that he and other Republican leaders did go too far in 1998 when they impeached Bill Clinton, a move that transformed a president who had disgraced his office into a victim of the GOP. That Gingrich and fellow Republican House leader Bob Livingston were also later proved to be hypocrites when it came to sexual hijinks makes that misjudgment even worse. Gingrich’s advice to his successors to step back and let the administration’s bungling and lies speak for themselves is the sort of sage counsel he could have used when he was speaker.

But while it is fair to point out that Republicans need to be calm and factual as they begin the work of unraveling the administration’s misdeeds and mistakes, it is another thing entirely to frame the current situation as one in which the GOP is in jeopardy, as a feature in Politico did today.

Comparisons with past scandals, whether more serious or less, are almost by definition inexact. But no matter what you think about whether any of Obama’s troubles rank up there with those of his predecessors, the posture of Republicans at the hearings of investigative committees exploring these issues is no different from the Democratic interrogators of GOP figures during Watergate or Iran Contra. If some are grandstanding, that goes with the territory and Democrats who didn’t object to such antics when it was their opponents in the hot seat are in no position to complain when their people are put on the spot.

The only reason the media is treating the behavior of the Republicans as a big story in a week that has been dominated by Obama’s problems is the willingness of many in the media to buy into the Democratic belief that the GOP is a collection of crackpots. That’s essentially been the president’s main argument all along as he posed as the adult in the room in Washington even as he did his best to exacerbate the divisions in the capital and fell asleep at the wheel as his government went off course on a variety of issues.

But no matter how much you don’t like the Republicans, it’s impossible for a fair observer to read the Benghazi emails or White House spokesman Jay Carney’s lies about them and say the problem is GOP outrage about the deceptions. Nor could anyone listen to the arrogance and deceptions on display in outgoing IRS director Steven Miller’s performance today without understanding that his Republican tormentors were merely venting the feelings of most Americans about this rather than showing their extremism.

The GOP needs to be careful not to interfere with Obama’s fumbling and give the media an excuse to revert to their familiar pattern of demonizing the right. But right now the spotlight is on the president and the big government he believes in, not those who are rightly worried about expanding the power of this inefficient and often corrupt leviathan. Changing the subject from that all-too-real drama is an exercise in misdirection that responsible journalists should avoid.

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Bob Woodward on Benghazi

The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, America’s greatest living investigative reporter, was on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and said this: “I would not dismiss Benghazi. It’s a very serious matter.” Mr. Woodward recounted his own memories of Richard Nixon’s role in editing Watergate transcripts in order to mislead the public.

The Benghazi scandal is obviously not comparable to Watergate at this stage and may never be. Watergate, after all, involved the president being at the center of a criminal conspiracy. But not every scandal has to be Watergate to be serious; and a scandal need not lead to impeachment to be deeply problematic.

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The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, America’s greatest living investigative reporter, was on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and said this: “I would not dismiss Benghazi. It’s a very serious matter.” Mr. Woodward recounted his own memories of Richard Nixon’s role in editing Watergate transcripts in order to mislead the public.

The Benghazi scandal is obviously not comparable to Watergate at this stage and may never be. Watergate, after all, involved the president being at the center of a criminal conspiracy. But not every scandal has to be Watergate to be serious; and a scandal need not lead to impeachment to be deeply problematic.

What we know right now about the lethal attacks on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi and the subsequent cover-up is serious enough. And one cannot help but feel that if the truth is finally revealed, it will reveal even more damaging things about the ethical grounding of the Obama administration. Whether the truth is finally unveiled is an open question. That’s why we have things called investigations. And unfortunately for the president, but fortunately for the truth, they are proceeding.

Stay tuned. 

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