Commentary Magazine


Topic: Benghazi

The Obama Administration’s Tower of Fabrications Begins to Crack

We continue to learn more disturbing things about the Benghazi scandal. In addition to the story by ABC’s Jonathan Karl, which Jonathan Tobin referenced, Stephen Hayes–who has been doing fantastic reporting on this matter–has a story in the forthcoming issue of the Weekly Standard in which we learn this:

CIA director David Petraeus was surprised when he read the freshly rewritten talking points an aide had emailed him in the early afternoon of Saturday, September 15. One day earlier, analysts with the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis had drafted a set of unclassified talking points policymakers could use to discuss the attacks in Benghazi, Libya. But this new version — produced with input from senior Obama administration policymakers — was a shadow of the original.

After recounting the details, Hayes says this:

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We continue to learn more disturbing things about the Benghazi scandal. In addition to the story by ABC’s Jonathan Karl, which Jonathan Tobin referenced, Stephen Hayes–who has been doing fantastic reporting on this matter–has a story in the forthcoming issue of the Weekly Standard in which we learn this:

CIA director David Petraeus was surprised when he read the freshly rewritten talking points an aide had emailed him in the early afternoon of Saturday, September 15. One day earlier, analysts with the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis had drafted a set of unclassified talking points policymakers could use to discuss the attacks in Benghazi, Libya. But this new version — produced with input from senior Obama administration policymakers — was a shadow of the original.

After recounting the details, Hayes says this:

This candid, real-time assessment from then-CIA director Petraeus offers a glimpse of what many intelligence officials were saying privately as top Obama officials set aside the truth about Benghazi and spun a fanciful tale about a movie that never mattered and a demonstration that never happened.

It’s worth recalling here that in the aftermath of the attacks on the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, the Obama White House was eager to throw the CIA under the bus. During the vice presidential debate, for example, Joe Biden was asked why the White House had attributed the death of Ambassador Stevens to the video. He responded: “Because that was exactly what we were told by the intelligence community.” (h/t Michael Gerson.)

That statement is exactly false, as are so many of the things said by the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, the U.N. ambassador, and the White House press secretary weeks after the attacks–and weeks after the truth was fully known.

The president’s courtiers in the press clearly wish this story would go away. I can understand why. Because it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Obama administration’s account of events was built on a tower of fabrications. That tower is beginning to crack. And there will be more to follow. 

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Liberal Denial Can’t Derail Benghazi Probe

Eight months after al-Qaeda-linked terrorists murdered four Americans in Benghazi, liberal talking heads, columnists and editorial writers don’t need Hillary Clinton’s State Department mafia or the Obama spin team in the West Wing to give them their talking points about what happened. They’ve figured out on their own that discussion of what led to this disaster and the administration’s furious attempt to deceive the American people afterwards will do more than undermine President Obama’s credibility. The more we learn about this affair, the less invulnerable the person they want to succeed Obama looks. That’s why despite the drip-drip of information leaking out about the prelude, most liberals are still portraying the tragedy as a trumped-up non-scandal that has been blown out of proportion.

It’s true that it is going to be difficult for Benghazi to become a front-burner issue so long as the New York Times editorial page pooh-poohs it as a Republican “obsession” or leading columnists like the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson puts it down as a “witch hunt.” Like legislation, scandals need bipartisan support from all sectors of the media in order to generate the sort of political crisis that impacts the future of politicians. Yet the problem with TIME magazine’s Joe Klein’s “Republicans are chasing their tails” over Benghazi talking point is that there is already enough known about the decisions taken to send Ambassador Chris Stevens to Benghazi or the failure of the United States to have forces available to rescue him and his colleagues, and especially about the politically-motivated lies that were told about the event after the event, to provide fodder for investigators for weeks of future hearings. It may be that congressional Republicans are acting like they smell blood rather than appearing as impartial investigators, but they are no guiltier of that than any other participants in a D.C. inquisition. So long as we have journalists, like ABC’s Jonathan Karl, following up on the work of the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes about the damaging trail of email evidence about doctored talking points, the pressure for a special committee to investigate Benghazi with subpoena power will escalate.

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Eight months after al-Qaeda-linked terrorists murdered four Americans in Benghazi, liberal talking heads, columnists and editorial writers don’t need Hillary Clinton’s State Department mafia or the Obama spin team in the West Wing to give them their talking points about what happened. They’ve figured out on their own that discussion of what led to this disaster and the administration’s furious attempt to deceive the American people afterwards will do more than undermine President Obama’s credibility. The more we learn about this affair, the less invulnerable the person they want to succeed Obama looks. That’s why despite the drip-drip of information leaking out about the prelude, most liberals are still portraying the tragedy as a trumped-up non-scandal that has been blown out of proportion.

It’s true that it is going to be difficult for Benghazi to become a front-burner issue so long as the New York Times editorial page pooh-poohs it as a Republican “obsession” or leading columnists like the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson puts it down as a “witch hunt.” Like legislation, scandals need bipartisan support from all sectors of the media in order to generate the sort of political crisis that impacts the future of politicians. Yet the problem with TIME magazine’s Joe Klein’s “Republicans are chasing their tails” over Benghazi talking point is that there is already enough known about the decisions taken to send Ambassador Chris Stevens to Benghazi or the failure of the United States to have forces available to rescue him and his colleagues, and especially about the politically-motivated lies that were told about the event after the event, to provide fodder for investigators for weeks of future hearings. It may be that congressional Republicans are acting like they smell blood rather than appearing as impartial investigators, but they are no guiltier of that than any other participants in a D.C. inquisition. So long as we have journalists, like ABC’s Jonathan Karl, following up on the work of the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes about the damaging trail of email evidence about doctored talking points, the pressure for a special committee to investigate Benghazi with subpoena power will escalate.

What Hayes and Karl have learned is that there was a conscious effort on the part of State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland (acting, as she stated, at the behest of her “building’s leadership”—a clear reference to Clinton) and White House spinmeister Ben Rhodes, to scrub the administration talking points of references to al-Qaeda, among other topics that might undermine the Obama re-election campaign’s theme that terrorism was no longer an issue. The attempt to claim the event was merely feedback to a YouTube video trailer was also part of the pattern of deception. Add in evidence that the State Department has tried to intimidate whistle blowers to keep their mouths shut and what you’ve got is something that no one doubts would be treated by these same outlets as a scandal of the first order if we were talking about a Republican administration.

But the issue here isn’t whether this is damning stuff. It’s whether the accumulation of stupid decisions, lies after the fact and bumbling attempts to cover it all up afterward are enough to create a story that will have legs. Democrats and their liberal cheering section in the press keep telling us that this is “old news” and tend to echo Hillary Clinton’s exasperated rhetorical question when she was on the Senate hot seat and demanded to know “what difference does it make?”

What these liberal outlets are finding out is that the deeper enterprising journalists dig into this business, the more apparent it is that the ones who are chasing their tails here are those trying to ignore it rather than the reporters doing their jobs and following the trail to its end points at the top of the State Department and the White House. Only once we unravel all of the disparate strands of evidence about Benghazi and its aftermath will we know whether it will materially affect Clinton’s presidential chances. Doing so won’t prevent official Washington from doing its job in debating immigration reform or confronting the crisis in Syria or even in pondering what’s going wrong in Libya today, as the Times editorial page helpfully suggests Benghazi probers do instead of looking at the scandal.

The political left in this country may not like the direction the newly discovered information is taking us. But for all of their attacks on the House GOP and their indignant claim that it is much ado about nothing, they are helpless to stop it. It may be that without the Times and the Washington Post and all the other liberal mainstream organs chiming in on this story, Benghazi will not be enough to persuade Democrats that Hillary Clinton should not be our 45th president. But whether they like it or not, it may be enough to fatally damage her chances of ever moving back to the White House.

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The Benghazi Scandal Grows

National Journal’s Michael Hirsh, in writing about the House hearings on the September 11, 2012 attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, said, “Benghazi was a tragedy. It will, almost certainly, remain a political issue. What it is not – by a long shot — is a scandal yet.”

To understand why this judgment is wrong, it’s helpful to keep in mind that weeks after the attack the Obama administration claimed the cause of the violence was a spontaneous demonstration, not pre-planned attacks; that the cause of the demonstrations was an anti-Muslim YouTube video; and that there was no terrorist involvement in the attacks.

Now compare that narrative with some of what we learned based on the testimonies of Gregory Hicks, deputy chief of mission in Libya before he became the top American diplomat in Libya after Ambassador Chris Stevens was murdered, as well as Mark Thompson, the former deputy coordinator for operations in the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau and Eric Nordstrom, an official in the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

1. Mr. Hicks confirmed that he received a call from Ambassador Stevens shortly before he died. Stevens said to Hicks, “Greg, we’re under attack.” (Not, “There’s a demonstration outside the diplomatic outpost.”) Mr. Hicks also confirmed that the night of the attacks the Libyan president, Mohamed Yusuf al-Magariaf, called him and said these attacks were led by Islamic extremists with possible terror links. Five days after the attack the Libyan president said on CBS’s Face the Nation that the attacks were “pre-planned” and “pre-determined.” And Mr. Hicks told the House committee, “The only report that our mission made through every channel was that this was an attack. No protest.” Mr. Hicks also emphasized there was “no report” from anyone on the ground that that there was a demonstration. 

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National Journal’s Michael Hirsh, in writing about the House hearings on the September 11, 2012 attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, said, “Benghazi was a tragedy. It will, almost certainly, remain a political issue. What it is not – by a long shot — is a scandal yet.”

To understand why this judgment is wrong, it’s helpful to keep in mind that weeks after the attack the Obama administration claimed the cause of the violence was a spontaneous demonstration, not pre-planned attacks; that the cause of the demonstrations was an anti-Muslim YouTube video; and that there was no terrorist involvement in the attacks.

Now compare that narrative with some of what we learned based on the testimonies of Gregory Hicks, deputy chief of mission in Libya before he became the top American diplomat in Libya after Ambassador Chris Stevens was murdered, as well as Mark Thompson, the former deputy coordinator for operations in the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau and Eric Nordstrom, an official in the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

1. Mr. Hicks confirmed that he received a call from Ambassador Stevens shortly before he died. Stevens said to Hicks, “Greg, we’re under attack.” (Not, “There’s a demonstration outside the diplomatic outpost.”) Mr. Hicks also confirmed that the night of the attacks the Libyan president, Mohamed Yusuf al-Magariaf, called him and said these attacks were led by Islamic extremists with possible terror links. Five days after the attack the Libyan president said on CBS’s Face the Nation that the attacks were “pre-planned” and “pre-determined.” And Mr. Hicks told the House committee, “The only report that our mission made through every channel was that this was an attack. No protest.” Mr. Hicks also emphasized there was “no report” from anyone on the ground that that there was a demonstration. 

 2. We learned of a September 12 e-mail from Beth Jones, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, who wrote to several key individuals in the State Department that she had a direct conversation with the Libyan ambassador. Ms. Jones wrote, “I told him [the Libyan ambassador] that the group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al-Sharia, is affiliated with Islamic terrorists.”

3. Asked about the role played by the YouTube video that the administration said had sparked the attack in Benghazi, Mr. Hicks told the House Oversight Committee, “The YouTube video was a non-event in Libya.” He added, “The video was not instigative of anything that was going on in Libya. We saw no demonstrations related to the video anywhere in Libya.”

4. When Mr. Hicks was asked his reaction to Ambassador Susan Rice’s televised account of the events in Benghazi–when she blamed the attacks on the YouTube video; repeatedly characterized it as a spontaneous demonstration; and insisted there was no involvement by terrorist elements–Hicks said he was “stunned,” that “my jaw dropped” and that he was “embarrassed.”

5. According to Hicks, Special Forces were “furious” when they were told to stand down during the Benghazi attack. “I will quote Lieutenant Colonel Gibson,” Hicks told the committee. “He said, ‘This is the first time in my career that a diplomat has more balls than somebody in the military.’” (Lt. Colonel Gibson, located in Tripoli, was ready to board a C-130 to go to help the Americans under attack.) The previous claim by others that ”there was never a stand down order by anybody” was false, according to Hicks.

6. Mr. Hicks said that after a long and distinguished career, there was “a shift” in the way State Department officials treated him after he asked why Susan Rice had blamed the Benghazi attack on protests sparked by a YouTube video. 

“In hindsight, I think it began after I asked the question about Ambassador Rice’s statement on the TV shows,” Hicks said. He had asked Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Beth Jones why Susan Rice had said the Benghazi attack stemmed from a demonstration. Jones said that she didn’t know, according to Hicks. “The sense I got was that I needed to stop the line of questioning,” Hicks added.

Mr. Hicks went on to tell the committee that Ms. Jones gave a “blistering report” of his performance when he returned to the U.S. to attend the funeral of Ambassador Stevens, though he was given “no indication” there were issues with his work. “She even said she didn’t understand why anyone in Tripoli would want me to come back,” Hicks recalled. “I’ve been effectively demoted from deputy chief of mission to desk officer,” he said.

7. Mr. Hicks testified that he was instructed not to be personally interviewed by Representative Jason Chaffetz, who was visiting Libya to investigate what had happened. He also said he had “never,” in any other circumstance, been told not to talk with Members of Congress investigating an event. And when a lawyer was excluded from one meeting with intelligence officers because he lacked security clearances, Hicks received a furious call from then-chief of staff to Hillary Clinton, Cheryl Mills. According to Hicks, Ms. Mills called him directly. Mr. Hicks described her as being ”very upset.” Mills, Hicks said, demanded to know what was said in the meeting. 

8. Those testifying yesterday said they felt that the investigation of the Benghazi attack by the State Department, the Accountability Review Board, was inadequate because many people who were directly involved in the attacks–including those testifying as well as Secretary of State Clinton–were not interviewed. “They stopped short of interviewing people who I personally know were involved in key decisions,” said Eric Nordstrom.

Add to all this the reporting of Steve Hayes of the Weekly Standard. Thanks to his story, we know that the early talking points produced to explain the Benghazi attacks were accurate–but after the State Department and the White House altered them, the American people were presented with an utterly false account of events.

As I wrote earlier this week, early (accurate) references to “Islamic extremists” were removed. Early (accurate) references to “attacks” were changed to “demonstrations.” And there was no mention of any YouTube video in any of the many drafts of the talking points — even though everyone from the president of the United States to the secretary of state to the U.N. ambassador blamed the attacks on the “awful, “heinous,” “offensive,” “reprehensible,” “disgusting” and “widely disseminated” video. Except that we now know the video was irrelevant to what happened.

It sounds like a scandal to me. 

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The 2012 Election Is Over; the Benghazi Scandal Is Not

I have a somewhat different take than that of Seth Mandel, who says that Stephen Hayes’s scoop on Benghazi “is probably more significant than it may have seemed at first glance, even though he didn’t provide much in the way of new information.”

My first reaction–which I spoke about on Friday during my appearance on the panel discussion on Fox News’s Special Report with Bret Baier–was that the story is explosive, largely because Hayes’s story provides much in the way of new information.

It provides fresh evidence that, in the words of Hayes, “senior Obama administration officials knowingly misled the country about what had happened in the days following the assaults [on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi on September 11, 2012].” (Emphasis added).

We now know, for example, that the early talking points were accurate–and it was only after the State Department and the White House, among others, got done revising the talking points that the truth was transformed into a false account.

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I have a somewhat different take than that of Seth Mandel, who says that Stephen Hayes’s scoop on Benghazi “is probably more significant than it may have seemed at first glance, even though he didn’t provide much in the way of new information.”

My first reaction–which I spoke about on Friday during my appearance on the panel discussion on Fox News’s Special Report with Bret Baier–was that the story is explosive, largely because Hayes’s story provides much in the way of new information.

It provides fresh evidence that, in the words of Hayes, “senior Obama administration officials knowingly misled the country about what had happened in the days following the assaults [on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi on September 11, 2012].” (Emphasis added).

We now know, for example, that the early talking points were accurate–and it was only after the State Department and the White House, among others, got done revising the talking points that the truth was transformed into a false account.

To be specific: early (accurate) references to “Islamic extremists” were removed. Early (accurate) references to “attacks” were changed to “demonstrations.” And there was no mention of any YouTube video in any of the many drafts of the talking points–even though everyone from the president of the United States to the secretary of state to the U.N. ambassador blamed the video for the attacks.

The Benghazi scandal has always been multi-layered. There was the near-criminal negligence before and during the assault on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, when pleas for more security prior to the attacks and assistance during the attacks were denied. And then there were the misleading accounts after the attacks.

It now seems clear, based on the reporting by Steve Hayes and the accounts of those who were key actors during the attacks, that the accounts of the attacks by the Obama administration were not simply wrong; they were knowingly and willfully wrong. Which turns a mistake into a lie.

For the president and his team, there was probably both ideology and self-interest at play. To take them in order: This is the latest example of the Obama administration living in a fantasy world of its own making, in which Islamic extremism barely exists and poses no real threat to America. We saw it in the aftermath of the Ft. Hood massacre, where a jihadist attack (by Major Nidal Hasan) was said to be an example of “workplace violence.” They refuse to call evil by its name. 

But it’s also obvious that the president and his administration wanted to advance a storyline that al-Qaeda was in retreat. The Benghazi attacks eviscerated that claim–and so the president and his team decided to disfigure the facts, to mislead the American people, to fit their story and advance their political interests. Barack Obama had an election to win–and so he had a scandal to hide.

That has worked until now, when the House will hold hearings later this week featuring whistleblowers who will, by all accounts, tell a story fundamentally at odds with the version the Obama administration has been peddling.

On Friday I referred to the Benghazi scandal as a time-release capsule, where a delay takes place before the full effects are felt. The Obama administration lied about an Islamic attack on an American outpost that killed an American ambassador and three others. They have been caught in the lie. We’re now in the process of seeing how deep, and how high, the corruption goes.

The election is over. This scandal is not.

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The Return of Clintonian Politics

Stephen Hayes’s scoop on Benghazi is probably more significant than it may have seemed at first glance, even though he didn’t provide much in the way of new information. His article was built around the emails released by a group of Republican House committee chairmen after a congressional investigation into the Obama administration’s response to the September 11 anniversary attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya. Those emails detailed the efforts of the administration to craft talking points that downplayed or omitted information the administration already knew about the role of Islamic terrorist actors in the attacks, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens.

The resulting talking points were designed to mislead the American public about what happened, because then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s leadership at Foggy Bottom was marked by negligence and incompetence, and the new talking points were written to exonerate her. But Hayes provided a key piece of information: names. Specifically, he revealed the authors of some of those emails. As a result, it’s far easier to piece together what happened. Hayes explains that State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland raised concerns that the original talking points too accurately portrayed the incompetence at the highest levels of State. Hayes continues:

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Stephen Hayes’s scoop on Benghazi is probably more significant than it may have seemed at first glance, even though he didn’t provide much in the way of new information. His article was built around the emails released by a group of Republican House committee chairmen after a congressional investigation into the Obama administration’s response to the September 11 anniversary attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya. Those emails detailed the efforts of the administration to craft talking points that downplayed or omitted information the administration already knew about the role of Islamic terrorist actors in the attacks, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens.

The resulting talking points were designed to mislead the American public about what happened, because then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s leadership at Foggy Bottom was marked by negligence and incompetence, and the new talking points were written to exonerate her. But Hayes provided a key piece of information: names. Specifically, he revealed the authors of some of those emails. As a result, it’s far easier to piece together what happened. Hayes explains that State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland raised concerns that the original talking points too accurately portrayed the incompetence at the highest levels of State. Hayes continues:

In an attempt to address those concerns, CIA officials cut all references to Ansar al Sharia and made minor tweaks. But in a follow-up email at 9:24 p.m., Nuland wrote that the problem remained and that her superiors—she did not say which ones—were unhappy. The changes, she wrote, did not “resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership,” and State Department leadership was contacting National Security Council officials directly. Moments later, according to the House report, “White House officials responded by stating that the State Department’s concerns would have to be taken into account.” One official—Ben Rhodes, The Weekly Standard is told, a top adviser to President Obama on national security and foreign policy—further advised the group that the issues would be resolved in a meeting of top administration officials the following morning at the White House.

As I’ve written in the past, there is simply no way around Clinton’s failure to address security needs, her dismissal or ignorance of threats on the ground, and the general chain-of-command disorganization and bureaucratic confusion that prevailed during her tenure at State. But Clinton also wants to run for president, presumably, or at least have the option open to her. So her staff demanded the White House tell the public a different story, and the White House complied. (The mainstream media comes out of this looking ever worse, by the way.)

What came next wasn’t very surprising to anyone who has endured the brand of politics practiced by the Clintons. Though it was obviously on Clinton to explain what had just happened, she didn’t want to be within a mile of accountability. So Clinton kept silent and the administration sent out Susan Rice to deliver the misleading talking points on the Sunday shows. That proved a setback to Rice–who should have seen the whole thing coming a mile away–in her quest to succeed Clinton when the latter stepped aside after the election. But Clinton wants to be president and doesn’t want Rice elevating her stature and developing her own power base, so Clinton’s allies in the media fairly brazenly sabotaged Rice’s sputtering nomination.

As Clinton gears up to attempt to return to the White House, the Benghazi episode is worth keeping in mind as a reminder of the Clintonian politics of personal destruction and ruthless dishonesty that would surely return with her. But the Benghazi revelations weren’t the only such reminder in the news recently. MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry drew some attention for cutting a promo for the network lamenting the lack of a “collective” notion of child-rearing, suggesting that “we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”

This generated the attention MSNBC was looking for, since it was creepy and mildly totalitarian, and people seemed genuinely surprised that this was the image the network wanted to project of its own programming. (If the public actually watched MSNBC they would probably be less surprised, but they don’t.) Yet if Harris-Perry’s Orwellian idea of who your children belong to sounded familiar, it should: as Jonah Goldberg wrote in a 2007 column, Hillary Clinton once said that “As adults we have to start thinking and believing that there isn’t really any such thing as someone else’s child. … For that reason, we cannot permit discussions of children and families to be subverted by political or ideological debate.”

Goldberg protested:

But here’s the thing: There really is such a thing as somebody else’s child. I don’t want to live in a country where there’s no such thing as somebody else’s child, because that means there’s no such thing as my child. And the fact is, my child is mine and nobody else’s (save, of course, for her mother). Almost as important, I don’t want to live in a country where I am a “subversive” simply by offering political or ideological debate against this vision.

That objection to Clinton’s worldview was relevant then and is relevant now. Clinton is popular largely because she has stayed out of the partisan fray and enjoyed the approval ratings shared by secretaries of state from both parties (though a lower approval rating than some of her predecessors). But if and when Clinton runs for president again, it’s worth remembering what brand of politics she’ll bring with her.

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The Benghazi Scandal and Media Bias

I served in the Bush White House during the intense press coverage about who leaked the name of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA agent, to Robert Novak. It was a story that obsessed the media and led to a three-year criminal investigation by a special counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald.

In the end, it turned out Richard Armitage was the person responsible for leaking Ms. Plame’s name, no laws were violated related to the leak, and the favorite target of the press, Karl Rove, was innocent of any wrong-doing. Though one individual in the administration was convicted of lying under oath, no underlying crime was committed. Ms. Plame and her husband Joseph Wilson, who we know made misleading statements during the whole episode, became celebrities of a sort. It was, in retrospect, much ado about very little, even if the press made life hell for innocent individuals.

Call it collateral damage from a scandal-crazed media.

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I served in the Bush White House during the intense press coverage about who leaked the name of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA agent, to Robert Novak. It was a story that obsessed the media and led to a three-year criminal investigation by a special counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald.

In the end, it turned out Richard Armitage was the person responsible for leaking Ms. Plame’s name, no laws were violated related to the leak, and the favorite target of the press, Karl Rove, was innocent of any wrong-doing. Though one individual in the administration was convicted of lying under oath, no underlying crime was committed. Ms. Plame and her husband Joseph Wilson, who we know made misleading statements during the whole episode, became celebrities of a sort. It was, in retrospect, much ado about very little, even if the press made life hell for innocent individuals.

Call it collateral damage from a scandal-crazed media.

I thought about all this in light of the testimony last Thursday of outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey. As Bill Kristol and I point out in our op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today, we learned from their testimony that President Obama, upon being told about the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, never once followed up with Panetta, Dempsey, or anyone else to see how things were developing. We learned that Messrs. Panetta and Dempsey both knew the assault on the compound were terrorist attacks on the night of the assault, even as the administration – in the persons of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama – continued to peddle a false version of events for weeks afterward. And despite having been told about Ambassador Christopher Stevens’ repeated warnings that the embassy could not sustain an attack and he was concerned of the chaos and rise of Islamist elements in Benghazi, no forces were put in place or made ready nearby to respond to a possible attack. And during the actual attack, which we knew about in real time, not a single major military asset was deployed to help rescue Americans under assault.

As a result, the first American ambassador in more than 30 years was murdered, and so were three other Americans.

Here’s a thought experiment. Assume during the Bush or Reagan years three things happened: (1) four Americans were killed in a terrorist-led attack on an American compound; (2) the president and his top aides showed stunning indifference and passivity before and during the lethal attacks; and (3) the nation was misled for weeks after the attacks, even though the highest ranking members of the administration knew the true story.

Do you think the elite media would have covered this story with intensity comparable to, or greater than, the Plame story? Absolutely. Presidents Bush or Reagan would have been bombarded with questions. There would have been a feeding frenzy. They would not have been subject to obsequious “60 Minutes” interviews.  The press narrative would have made this scandal a central part, not a footnote, of both presidencies. 

Yet with a few honorable exceptions, journalists have devoted only a fraction of the attention to the Benghazi story as it did to the Plame story. The press, in fact, has shown a remarkable incuriosity to the period before, during, and after the terrorist attack that cost the lives of Ambassador Stevens, security personnel Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, and information officer Sean Smith. There has been none of the burning passion and obsession with the lethal Benghazi attack and the administration’s misleading accounts of it that we witnessed during the Plame story.

I’ll leave it to discerning readers to figure out why. 

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In Mali, Stand with the French

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent much of Wednesday being grilled on Capitol Hill about the conditions which led to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. As John McCain, among others, pointed out, the chaos which prevailed in Libya was not inevitable; it was due in no small part to the administration’s failure to do more to support state-building after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in an American-supported insurgency.

The failure to follow up has destabilized not only Libya but also nearby countries such as Mali, where the French have felt compelled to rush into the vacuum to prevent Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and associated extremist organizations from consolidating their hold on the northern part of the country and even marching on the capital. What’s truly odd is how reluctant the administration is to help the French, even though they are on the front lines of our common battle against jihadism.

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent much of Wednesday being grilled on Capitol Hill about the conditions which led to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. As John McCain, among others, pointed out, the chaos which prevailed in Libya was not inevitable; it was due in no small part to the administration’s failure to do more to support state-building after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in an American-supported insurgency.

The failure to follow up has destabilized not only Libya but also nearby countries such as Mali, where the French have felt compelled to rush into the vacuum to prevent Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and associated extremist organizations from consolidating their hold on the northern part of the country and even marching on the capital. What’s truly odd is how reluctant the administration is to help the French, even though they are on the front lines of our common battle against jihadism.

The administration has finally agreed to airlift a French battalion into the fight but is still holding off on a French request for aerial refueling. The reason for the administration’s reluctance is truly bizarre: According to the New York Times, “A French official, speaking on ground rules of anonymity to describe bilateral discussions, said some officials in Washington were concerned that assigning American tanker planes to refuel French warplanes bombing Islamist militant targets in Mali might make the United States appear as a co-belligerent in the conflict. Even if that view was not supported under international law, it could be the perception across the Muslim world.”

If accurate, this would suggest that “some officials in Washington” are worried that by fighting terrorists we ourselves will become a target for terrorism. Earth to Washington: the jihadists already hate us and are already doing everything possible to do us harm.

Americans, after all, were just killed along with the citizens of other countries in the hostage-taking at a gas plant in Algeria. It seems a little far-fetched at this late date to imagine that we might propitiate the extremists by not fighting them too hard. Actually, if we abstain from the fight, the most likely result is that the Islamists will be able to consolidate their gains in Mali and then turn Mali into a base for terrorism against Western interests—including American interests.

The French may not always stand with us, but in the present instance we must stand with the French and not imagine that we can somehow get out of the line of fire.

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Hillary Clinton’s Postmodernism

I wanted to weigh in on the Congressional testimony yesterday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

As most people know by now, when Secretary of State Clinton was asked by Senator Ron Johnson about the Benghazi terror attack and the fact that the story we were told by the administration was false, Mrs. Clinton exploded.

“With all due respect,” Hillary shouted, “the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans. What difference, at this point, does it make?”

Let’s be clear what Mrs. Clinton is saying. It really doesn’t matter whether the president and his advisers misled the public on the origins of a lethal terrorist attack that claimed four American lives, including the first ambassador murdered in more than 30 years. What matters, she insisted, is what we do going forward. There is no useful purpose to be served by dwelling on the past. Get over it. Move on. Chill out.

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I wanted to weigh in on the Congressional testimony yesterday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

As most people know by now, when Secretary of State Clinton was asked by Senator Ron Johnson about the Benghazi terror attack and the fact that the story we were told by the administration was false, Mrs. Clinton exploded.

“With all due respect,” Hillary shouted, “the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans. What difference, at this point, does it make?”

Let’s be clear what Mrs. Clinton is saying. It really doesn’t matter whether the president and his advisers misled the public on the origins of a lethal terrorist attack that claimed four American lives, including the first ambassador murdered in more than 30 years. What matters, she insisted, is what we do going forward. There is no useful purpose to be served by dwelling on the past. Get over it. Move on. Chill out.

What a perfectly post-modern approach to things. For Mrs. Clinton, like her husband, truth seems to have no intrinsic worth. It’s an instrument to be used in the quest to gain and maintain power. If people have to manipulate the truth, ignore it, or roll their eyes at it in order to maintain “political viability” (to use an infamous phrase from her husband), then so be it. If misleading the public is necessary to help a president prevail in a bitter election—well, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. That, at least, is the Clinton logic.

Having a president and his administration mislead the nation is problematic. How problematic depends on whether the story was intentionally misleading or not. That is the difference between a mistake and a lie. And I’m not prepared to say the president and his administration lied. What I am prepared to say is that the Obama administration misled us. That is serious enough. And for Mrs. Clinton to simply wave that off with a dismissive and aggressive outburst offers us a disturbing (if not altogether unsurprising) insight into her worldview.

What difference does it make?

A lot, actually.

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“What Difference Does it Make?” Plenty

As Seth noted earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her long-awaited congressional testimony about Benghazi with excuses and an attempt to misdirect the public about what the administration knew about the incident and when it knew it. But while Clinton happily listened to fawning praise from the Democratic members of the Senate committee this morning, she lost her cool when one senator pressed her closely to account for the false story that had been put out in the days following the attack.

Senator Ron Johnson pointed out that accurate information about the assault that would have easily corrected the misconception, promoted by United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and others, that the attack was merely a protest about a film rather than a terrorist attack was available at the time. Clinton not only refused to answer that question in a straightforward matter, but snapped, “What difference does it make?” about the whole matter of the false account. She then attempted to insinuate that there was still some doubt about the matter.

The answer to her question is clear. An administration that sought, for political purposes, to give the American people the idea that al-Qaeda had been “decimated” and was effectively out of commission had a clear motive during a presidential campaign to mislead the public about Benghazi. The fact that questions are still unanswered about this crime and that Clinton and President Obama seem more interested in burying this story along with the four Americans that died is an outrage that won’t be forgotten.

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As Seth noted earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her long-awaited congressional testimony about Benghazi with excuses and an attempt to misdirect the public about what the administration knew about the incident and when it knew it. But while Clinton happily listened to fawning praise from the Democratic members of the Senate committee this morning, she lost her cool when one senator pressed her closely to account for the false story that had been put out in the days following the attack.

Senator Ron Johnson pointed out that accurate information about the assault that would have easily corrected the misconception, promoted by United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and others, that the attack was merely a protest about a film rather than a terrorist attack was available at the time. Clinton not only refused to answer that question in a straightforward matter, but snapped, “What difference does it make?” about the whole matter of the false account. She then attempted to insinuate that there was still some doubt about the matter.

The answer to her question is clear. An administration that sought, for political purposes, to give the American people the idea that al-Qaeda had been “decimated” and was effectively out of commission had a clear motive during a presidential campaign to mislead the public about Benghazi. The fact that questions are still unanswered about this crime and that Clinton and President Obama seem more interested in burying this story along with the four Americans that died is an outrage that won’t be forgotten.

While Clinton gave, as she has before, lip service to the idea that she took responsibility for the tragedy, throughout her testimony she demonstrated that she regarded the whole idea of accountability as a detail to be shrugged off or pigeonholed along with internal government reports about the matter. Her attitude, when not listening to paeans to her service and frequent trips abroad, seemed to betray her belief that not only were questions about Benghazi unimportant but that she knew the mainstream press would continue to give her a pass for her failures.

The problem here is not just what she considers an irrelevant question from Johnson or a mere “difference of opinion”–as she characterized Senator John McCain’s scathing attack on her record on the issue–but a belief that four dead Americans in Benghazi was really not such an earth-shaking event. Her consistent talking point seemed to be that the committee shouldn’t bother itself trying to find out what happened and why and who was responsible for the mistakes that led to the deaths, but merely to “move on”—to steal a phrase made popular during her husband’s presidency. That’s why she still won’t say who changed the public talking points about Benghazi that led to Rice’s lies and why they were altered.

That’s been the key to understanding the administration’s desire to treat its lies about Benghazi as somehow unworthy of further investigation. In Hillary’s world, lies don’t matter as long as it’s her side telling them. That’s not a standard that she and other Democrats would apply to any Republican. As McCain pointed out, the American people deserve an honest account of events that gets the facts straight.

Senator Rand Paul rightly pointed out that her failure of leadership ought to have led to her dismissal. Saying that the State Department gets lots of cables and she can’t be expected to read them all is not the sort of arrogant answer a Senator Hillary Clinton would have accepted from a Republican administration.

“What difference does it make” is an answer that ought to hang over Hillary Clinton for the rest of her public career. It is just one more indication that what happened after Benghazi in the State Department was akin to a cover up. Should Clinton run for president in 2016, this is a story that won’t go away. Nor should it. 

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Clinton Opens Benghazi Hearing with Excuses, Misdirections

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is testifying today on the attack on the American mission in Benghazi in September and the administration’s response. In her opening statement, Clinton said she takes responsibility, though her statement instead makes excuses for what happened and her State Department’s myriad mistakes.

Clinton’s statement focuses on the post-attack response as well–a convenient way to attempt to distract from the pre-attack failures. For example, she says after the attack happened she saw firsthand what the accountability review board “called ‘timely’ and ‘exceptional’ coordination.” But the exceptional coordination was in removing the U.S. mission’s survivors 12 hours after the attack, according to the review board. The problem with the performance of Clinton’s State Department was that coordination prior to the attack was far from “exceptional.” Here is what the review board had to say about that:

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is testifying today on the attack on the American mission in Benghazi in September and the administration’s response. In her opening statement, Clinton said she takes responsibility, though her statement instead makes excuses for what happened and her State Department’s myriad mistakes.

Clinton’s statement focuses on the post-attack response as well–a convenient way to attempt to distract from the pre-attack failures. For example, she says after the attack happened she saw firsthand what the accountability review board “called ‘timely’ and ‘exceptional’ coordination.” But the exceptional coordination was in removing the U.S. mission’s survivors 12 hours after the attack, according to the review board. The problem with the performance of Clinton’s State Department was that coordination prior to the attack was far from “exceptional.” Here is what the review board had to say about that:

Communication, cooperation, and coordination among Washington, Tripoli, and Benghazi functioned collegially at the working-level but were constrained by a lack of transparency, responsiveness, and leadership at the senior levels. Among various Department bureaus and personnel in the field, there appeared to be very real confusion over who, ultimately, was responsible and empowered to make decisions based on both policy and security considerations.

Clinton also sought to downplay the perceived rarity of such a tragedy by repeating a list of attacks on American diplomatic and security missions over the last several decades, attempting to establish a pattern that makes her failures of management and judgment seem almost incidental. In her statement, she said:

Any clear-eyed examination of this matter must begin with this sobering fact: Since 1988, there have been 19 Accountability Review Boards investigating attacks on American diplomats and their facilities. Benghazi joins a long list of tragedies, for our Department and for other agencies: hostages taken in Tehran in 1979, our embassy and Marine barracks bombed in Beirut in 1983, Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, our embassies in East Africa in 1998, consulate staff murdered in Jeddah in 2004, the Khost attack in 2009, and too many others.

The appropriate comparison here is, ironically, with the attacks on our embassies in East Africa, which occurred during her husband’s administration and were also partially the result of negligence. What unfolded in Benghazi was similar because Clinton’s State Department also ignored warnings and didn’t take seriously enough the danger to the Benghazi mission or the credible threats to foreign diplomatic personnel there. As the review board noted:

It is worth noting that the events above took place against a general backdrop of political violence, assassinations targeting former regime officials, lawlessness, and an overarching absence of central government authority in eastern Libya. While the June 6 IED at the SMC and the May ICRC attack were claimed by the same group, none of the remaining attacks were viewed in Tripoli and Benghazi as linked or having common perpetrators, which were not viewed as linked or having common perpetrators. This also tempered reactions in Washington. Furthermore, the Board believes that the longer a post is exposed to continuing high levels of violence the more it comes to consider security incidents which might otherwise provoke a reaction as normal, thus raising the threshold for an incident to cause a reassessment of risk and mission continuation. This was true for both people on the ground serving in Libya and in Washington.

It is unlikely Clinton will be able to distract those questioning her today with her talk of implementing “29 recommendations” and “64 specific action items.” Nor should they be fooled by Clinton’s attempt to “take responsibility” while maintaining nothing could be done and lauding her State Department’s performance.

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The Non-Response to Benghazi, Four Months Later

Today marks four months since the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, which killed our ambassador and three other Americans. Justice still has not been done—and it looks increasingly unlikely that it will ever be done.

Just a couple of days ago a Tunisian court freed Ali Harza, a Tunisian man who was one of the few to be charged in connection with the assault. This is what comes from giving the FBI the lead in the response to this assault on American territory. The criminal investigation appears to be going nowhere fast, which is hardly surprising given how hard it is to gather evidence and bring indictments under such chaotic conditions. The only mystery is why this isn’t being treated as what it is—an act of war on the United States that deserves a military response.

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Today marks four months since the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, which killed our ambassador and three other Americans. Justice still has not been done—and it looks increasingly unlikely that it will ever be done.

Just a couple of days ago a Tunisian court freed Ali Harza, a Tunisian man who was one of the few to be charged in connection with the assault. This is what comes from giving the FBI the lead in the response to this assault on American territory. The criminal investigation appears to be going nowhere fast, which is hardly surprising given how hard it is to gather evidence and bring indictments under such chaotic conditions. The only mystery is why this isn’t being treated as what it is—an act of war on the United States that deserves a military response.

The Obama administration does not hesitate to use extra-judicial means to kill our enemies in Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia, but in Libya it appears to be hamstrung by legalistic niceties. There are, to be sure, legitimate concerns about undermining the sovereignty of a fledgling pro-American regime. But while unilateral American action could prove embarrassing for Libyan officials, doing nothing is the worst course of all. It sends a signal—similar to the non-response to the USS Cole bombing by the Clinton and Bush administrations—that a symbol of America can be attacked and Americans killed with impunity. That is a very dangerous message to send in a very rough region of the world.

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Will Senate GOP Help Clinton Escape Accountability Once Again?

As Alana mentioned, Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense may hinge not on policy or his qualifications, but something more important to the Senate club: how much the others senators like him. John Kerry, the president’s choice for secretary of state, will almost certainly breeze through his own confirmation hearings for the same reason. But the best contrast to the story about whether the cool kids will let Hagel eat lunch with them is Politico’s story on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s upcoming testimony on Benghazi.

In the wake of the attack, which left our ambassador and three others dead, I wrote that the fact that Clinton’s State Department denied requests for more security for our diplomatic team there made two things clear. First, that declining the security requests was irresponsible given the danger of the posting, and second, that the request itself was evidence that Clinton was negligent in the attention she was paying to the Benghazi team even though the folly of this approach was becoming more obvious by the day. A subsequent accountability review report came to the same conclusions, and painted a picture of a poorly administrated, chaotic, and inattentive State Department. So what is her appearance before a Senate panel expected to be like? From Politico:

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As Alana mentioned, Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense may hinge not on policy or his qualifications, but something more important to the Senate club: how much the others senators like him. John Kerry, the president’s choice for secretary of state, will almost certainly breeze through his own confirmation hearings for the same reason. But the best contrast to the story about whether the cool kids will let Hagel eat lunch with them is Politico’s story on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s upcoming testimony on Benghazi.

In the wake of the attack, which left our ambassador and three others dead, I wrote that the fact that Clinton’s State Department denied requests for more security for our diplomatic team there made two things clear. First, that declining the security requests was irresponsible given the danger of the posting, and second, that the request itself was evidence that Clinton was negligent in the attention she was paying to the Benghazi team even though the folly of this approach was becoming more obvious by the day. A subsequent accountability review report came to the same conclusions, and painted a picture of a poorly administrated, chaotic, and inattentive State Department. So what is her appearance before a Senate panel expected to be like? From Politico:

GOP members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee promise that Clinton will face a “tough but respectful” grilling when she testifies about the Obama administration’s handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya that killed four Americans.

After all, the outgoing secretary is still on the mend from a concussion and subsequent blood clot she suffered after a bad fall over the holidays. She served in the Senate with many of those she will appear before. And she has close friendships with Republicans like Sen. John McCain, perhaps the most vocal critic of the administration’s response to Benghazi.

In other words, don’t be surprised if the hearing is simply a ruse to throw Clinton a surprise going-away party. We were already made aware that Clinton’s friendship with McCain was enabling her to avoid accountability for Benghazi’s failures. Clinton should have lost her job immediately. Barring that, GOP foreign policy voices should have been raised over her management at State during the debacle. Instead, they targeted Susan Rice, eventually leading to the spiking of her possible nomination to succeed Clinton. (Though no one played a more important role in sidelining Rice’s nomination than Clinton herself.)

The article suggests that Clinton’s recent illness and concussion will earn her sympathy, which of course they should–except she already had the sympathy before her illness. That is, there is no change in the Senate GOP’s posture toward Clinton: they went easy on her months ago, and they’ll continue to do so.

When I wrote about the accountability review report, I mentioned former (Bill) Clinton advisor Aaron David Miller’s theory that the perception that Clinton will run for president in 2016–a perception Clinton has relentlessly fed–has won her fear, not love. That may be. Politico is also running with a story on Public Policy Polling’s recent survey on a hypothetical matchup between Clinton and Chris Christie, and the Clinton-watchers at the Washington Post are scouring her words for a hint that she’ll pursue that course:

“And then retirement?” a reporter asked.

“I don’t know that that’s the word I would use,” she said, “but certainly stepping off the very fast track for a little while.”

No one seems particularly concerned that the upcoming hearing on Benghazi will harm Clinton’s legacy, least of all Clinton. And it could do the opposite: Republicans who try criticizing Clinton on the issue in a future election will surely be asked–and rightfully so–why they exonerated her the first time around.

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Justice for Benghazi? Still on Hold

In the wake of the murder of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya on 9/11/12, the administration made up for its deceptive accounts of the incident with bloodthirsty avowals that the persons responsible would be hunted to the ends of the earth. Nearly four months later, those promises remain unfulfilled. That stark reality was brought home today by the news that the only known suspect who had been arrested in connection with the terror attack that took the life of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans is no longer in custody. The suspect, a Tunisian named Ali Harzi, was being held in Tunis but was let go even though he is reportedly still considered a suspect by the United States.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland attempted to deflect questions about the investigation today by saying that it was the FBI’s responsibility. But that lame response goes right to the heart of the government’s ongoing failure in this case. The administration has consistently failed to treat Benghazi the way we ought to expect the U.S. government to respond to what was a direct terror attack on a symbol of American sovereignty. Instead of a full-court press from security and intelligence services, it was handed off to an FBI that seems to still be lost in Libya. From the first days during which we were told a fairy tale about the murders being a case of film criticism run amok to the present when questions about an investigation that shows no sign of life are stonewalled, Benghazi remains a fiasco for which there has no been accountability.

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In the wake of the murder of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya on 9/11/12, the administration made up for its deceptive accounts of the incident with bloodthirsty avowals that the persons responsible would be hunted to the ends of the earth. Nearly four months later, those promises remain unfulfilled. That stark reality was brought home today by the news that the only known suspect who had been arrested in connection with the terror attack that took the life of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans is no longer in custody. The suspect, a Tunisian named Ali Harzi, was being held in Tunis but was let go even though he is reportedly still considered a suspect by the United States.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland attempted to deflect questions about the investigation today by saying that it was the FBI’s responsibility. But that lame response goes right to the heart of the government’s ongoing failure in this case. The administration has consistently failed to treat Benghazi the way we ought to expect the U.S. government to respond to what was a direct terror attack on a symbol of American sovereignty. Instead of a full-court press from security and intelligence services, it was handed off to an FBI that seems to still be lost in Libya. From the first days during which we were told a fairy tale about the murders being a case of film criticism run amok to the present when questions about an investigation that shows no sign of life are stonewalled, Benghazi remains a fiasco for which there has no been accountability.

Though reports speak of at least 15 suspects that have been identified in one way or another, the FBI seems no closer to solving the case and bringing the killers to justice then it was months ago when it was not even able to operate on the ground in Benghazi. The Libyan government doesn’t control Benghazi and is unable or unwilling to help U.S. efforts to take down the al-Qaeda-linked network that helped bring off this daring crime. Under those circumstances, one can hardly blame the FBI for its inability to bring the terrorists to justice since it is obviously more of a military problem than an ordinary criminal case. But for all of the tough-guy talk from the president and his foreign policy team about Benghazi, the actual follow-up is beginning to seem more like the aftermath of a 9-1-1 call than a U.S. security priority.

We can hope that given enough time the FBI will eventually make some arrests, allowing the president to say that justice has been done. But something is going to have to change on the ground in Libya before that happens. As it stands, the only administration pledge on justice for Benghazi that has been kept was the one made by Hillary Clinton when she told the father of one of the murdered Americans that the person who made the film that Clinton, Susan Rice and others falsely claimed was responsible for the attack would be jailed. That man has been imprisoned, though reportedly for parole violations rather than for having offended Muslims.  That unfortunate fact is not only a reminder that justice delayed is justice denied but that Obama, Clinton and the rest of the administration involved in the string of bad decisions that led to this debacle have yet to be held accountable for it.

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Senate Report Raises Benghazi Questions

One of the many unanswered questions of the Benghazi attack is why it took so long for CIA backup forces to get from Tripoli to Benghazi. According to a new Senate report, this may have been an intentional delay by the Libyan government. Eli Lake reports:

The biggest recent development—which was overshadowed by the fiscal cliff negotiations—came on New Year’s Eve, when the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released a report that raised the question of whether Libyan officials assisted the Benghazi terrorists. The report found that a team of CIA contractors dispatched from Tripoli to Benghazi on the night of the attacks waited at least three hours after arriving at the Benghazi airport before departing to the scene because of negotiations with Libyan government officials. According to the report, members of Congress still don’t know the exact reason for the delay. “Was it simply the result of a difficult Libyan bureaucracy and a chaotic environment or was it part of a plot to keep American help from reaching the Americans under siege in Benghazi?” the report asks. 

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One of the many unanswered questions of the Benghazi attack is why it took so long for CIA backup forces to get from Tripoli to Benghazi. According to a new Senate report, this may have been an intentional delay by the Libyan government. Eli Lake reports:

The biggest recent development—which was overshadowed by the fiscal cliff negotiations—came on New Year’s Eve, when the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released a report that raised the question of whether Libyan officials assisted the Benghazi terrorists. The report found that a team of CIA contractors dispatched from Tripoli to Benghazi on the night of the attacks waited at least three hours after arriving at the Benghazi airport before departing to the scene because of negotiations with Libyan government officials. According to the report, members of Congress still don’t know the exact reason for the delay. “Was it simply the result of a difficult Libyan bureaucracy and a chaotic environment or was it part of a plot to keep American help from reaching the Americans under siege in Benghazi?” the report asks. 

As Eli goes on to note, the night of the attack was chaotic. Still, based on this first-hand account in the Daily Beast, there were indications that bad actors were among the Libyan group that met the CIA team in Tripoli. The Senate report simply raises the question of whether Libyan government officials were somehow involved.

Of course, with the Libyan government in transition, it’s hard to pinpoint who would have been responsible for this. There wasn’t really anyone in charge at that point. But if it turns out there was a faction inside the government that was preventing American help from reaching the diplomatic mission, that raises additional concerns about Obama’s Libya policy, his light-footprint intervention, and the future of America’s relationship with the Libyan government.

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Senate GOP to Hold Kerry Confirmation Until Clinton Testifies?

Hillary Clinton is returning to work next week, and apparently some Senate Republicans are considering holding John Kerry’s confirmation vote hostage unless she testifies on Benghazi. Sounds to me like an empty threat, but over to Josh Rogin

Clinton has pledged to remain in the job until Kerry is confirmed, which Obama said he was confident would happen “quickly.” The Senate is expected to take up Kerry’s nomination in early January, but multiple Republican senators have already said they won’t agree to a vote on Kerry’s nomination until Clinton testifies about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. Illness and a concussion has prevented Clinton from appearing thus far.

For the sake of accountability, Clinton should testify—but to be honest, she probably wouldn’t add much more than what her deputies have already said. The real benefit of her testimony for Republicans would be that she might say something self-incriminating that could be used when she runs for president in 2016. She probably knows this, which is why she’d be crazy to do it unless she’s compelled to. After all, if the GOP wants her to testify badly enough, the House foreign affairs committee can always issue a subpoena.

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Hillary Clinton is returning to work next week, and apparently some Senate Republicans are considering holding John Kerry’s confirmation vote hostage unless she testifies on Benghazi. Sounds to me like an empty threat, but over to Josh Rogin

Clinton has pledged to remain in the job until Kerry is confirmed, which Obama said he was confident would happen “quickly.” The Senate is expected to take up Kerry’s nomination in early January, but multiple Republican senators have already said they won’t agree to a vote on Kerry’s nomination until Clinton testifies about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. Illness and a concussion has prevented Clinton from appearing thus far.

For the sake of accountability, Clinton should testify—but to be honest, she probably wouldn’t add much more than what her deputies have already said. The real benefit of her testimony for Republicans would be that she might say something self-incriminating that could be used when she runs for president in 2016. She probably knows this, which is why she’d be crazy to do it unless she’s compelled to. After all, if the GOP wants her to testify badly enough, the House foreign affairs committee can always issue a subpoena.

Republicans have already used up a lot of their chips opposing Susan Rice and Chuck Hagel, so it seems like an overreach to try to tinker with Kerry’s nomination, too. Plus, I find it hard to believe there’s much support for this idea among Senate Republicans. Senate Republicans were the ones lobbying for Kerry’s nomination. They already have their scalp from Susan Rice. Why fritter away a victory by choosing a fight they’d probably lose?

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Benghazi Warnings May Have Reached Clinton’s Office

The Senate hearing on the Benghazi report went on without Hillary Clinton today, and one State Department official acknowledged that upper levels of the department were aware of security concerns at the diplomatic mission before the attack occurred:

A top State Department official acknowledged Thursday that cables warning of serious security concerns at the U.S. compound in Benghazi went to department headquarters – and possibly to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s office – in the months leading up to the deadly Sept. 11 attack. 

Deputy Secretary of State Williams Burns, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the cables “would have been reviewed up through the assistant secretary level, and it may be that some of my colleagues on the seventh floor saw them as well.” The seventh floor refers to Clinton’s office. 

Further, Burns confirmed “there were certainly memos” that came to Clinton’s office describing some of the dozens of security incidents in the region before the attack that claimed four American lives.

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The Senate hearing on the Benghazi report went on without Hillary Clinton today, and one State Department official acknowledged that upper levels of the department were aware of security concerns at the diplomatic mission before the attack occurred:

A top State Department official acknowledged Thursday that cables warning of serious security concerns at the U.S. compound in Benghazi went to department headquarters – and possibly to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s office – in the months leading up to the deadly Sept. 11 attack. 

Deputy Secretary of State Williams Burns, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the cables “would have been reviewed up through the assistant secretary level, and it may be that some of my colleagues on the seventh floor saw them as well.” The seventh floor refers to Clinton’s office. 

Further, Burns confirmed “there were certainly memos” that came to Clinton’s office describing some of the dozens of security incidents in the region before the attack that claimed four American lives.

Clinton had great timing with that head injury. All we know from today’s hearing is that her office “may” have been aware of the red flags, but that’s still not a confirmation. Had Clinton been there, she would have had no good answer: if she wasn’t aware of the security problems, that doesn’t say much about her competence. If she was aware and did nothing, well, that’s much worse.

Four State Department officials have reportedly resigned due to the report, including diplomatic security head Eric Boswell, and deputy assistant for embassy security Charlene Lamb. But both Lamb and Boswell should have stepped down a long time ago, based on Lamb’s completely incriminating testimony a few months ago. It’s as if they were only kept around so that the State Department could have some people ready to axe as soon as the report came out. But it doesn’t look like any serious heads are going to roll. Clinton will have to deal with this if she chooses to run for president in 2016, and by that time the details of the controversy will be a distant memory.

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Will Benghazi Haunt Hillary in 2016?

The three State Department officials who resigned today in the wake of the release of a scathing report on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya will probably be the only ones held accountable for that disaster. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is conveniently laid up due to a concussion and won’t testify before a congressional committee on the issue, just as she avoided being called to account in the aftermath of the murders even though she issued a statement saying she took “full responsibility” for what happened.

As Seth wrote earlier today, Clinton, who is resigning soon anyway, has managed to maintain a reputation as a successful secretary of state despite a record that can only be characterized as unremarkable at best. A more harsh assessment would say that she has failed on virtually every major issue, whether it was relations with Russia, the Middle East peace process, or stopping Iran’s nuclear program. The Benghazi debacle is just the frosting on the cake on four years in which Clinton skated by on her reputation and a press corps determined to flatter her. She was unable to achieve any real successes, but also was clearly subordinate to the White House rather than being the person calling the shots on policy.

While it’s clear that in the short run Clinton will escape the public opprobrium she deserves for presiding over the Benghazi fiasco, it would be wrong to assume that this is the last we will hear of it. If, as many expect, she runs for president in 2016, Democratic opponents will clobber her with the account of how her department ignored pleas for more security in Benghazi and then spread misleading stories about a terrorist attack being nothing more than film criticism run amok.

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The three State Department officials who resigned today in the wake of the release of a scathing report on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya will probably be the only ones held accountable for that disaster. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is conveniently laid up due to a concussion and won’t testify before a congressional committee on the issue, just as she avoided being called to account in the aftermath of the murders even though she issued a statement saying she took “full responsibility” for what happened.

As Seth wrote earlier today, Clinton, who is resigning soon anyway, has managed to maintain a reputation as a successful secretary of state despite a record that can only be characterized as unremarkable at best. A more harsh assessment would say that she has failed on virtually every major issue, whether it was relations with Russia, the Middle East peace process, or stopping Iran’s nuclear program. The Benghazi debacle is just the frosting on the cake on four years in which Clinton skated by on her reputation and a press corps determined to flatter her. She was unable to achieve any real successes, but also was clearly subordinate to the White House rather than being the person calling the shots on policy.

While it’s clear that in the short run Clinton will escape the public opprobrium she deserves for presiding over the Benghazi fiasco, it would be wrong to assume that this is the last we will hear of it. If, as many expect, she runs for president in 2016, Democratic opponents will clobber her with the account of how her department ignored pleas for more security in Benghazi and then spread misleading stories about a terrorist attack being nothing more than film criticism run amok.

Though she was the runner up in the 2008 Democratic presidential contest, that was a case more of Barack Obama winning than Clinton losing. Clinton entered that race as the overwhelming favorite in part because of her last name but also because she had no real personal liabilities as a candidate other than the idea among many in the party that it was time to move on from the Clinton era. Many Democrats who are unlikely to think critically about the Obama administration will ignore the facts about the dismal record of the State Department under her leadership. But in four years, when Obama is on his way out of the White House, it is entirely possible that by then some will be willing to hold Benghazi against his first secretary of state. In 2008, Clinton’s campaign attempted to exploit Obama’s lack of experience by talking about 3 a.m. crisis phone calls. But in 2016, it will be Clinton’s opponents who will be talking about how she flubbed just such a crisis and the result was lost American lives.

Despite the blithe confidence of her fans, the assumption that Hillary will have a cakewalk to the Democratic nomination in 2016 may turn out to be just as wrong as similar predictions in the years leading up to 2008. A bright new face may crowd her out just as one did during her first presidential try. But Clinton remains a formidable contender; the Benghazi blame that she is currently dodging may turn out to be one more reason why she will never be president.

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Benghazi Report Makes Clear Clinton’s Failure–and Obama’s

Since the terrorist attack in Benghazi killed our ambassador there and three others, I’ve been asking just how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has managed to avoid accountability for what was clearly her State Department’s failure. Others have begun asking that same question, including former Clinton administration official Aaron David Miller. Miller offered a few possible answers, one of which was that her expected run for the presidency in 2016–which is already in motion–has convinced the Washington establishment to stay on her good side.

Miller was asking the question in the context of the strangely effusive praise she has been receiving for her work as secretary of state, even though she has been surely unremarkable–and that was before the debacle in Benghazi (and, I would add, Foggy Bottom’s failure with regard to the Palestinians’ unilateral declaration of statehood at the UN). It’s possible that Miller is right–that most people don’t actually believe what they’re saying about Clinton, but are simply speaking flattery to power. But yesterday’s release of the inquiry into Benghazi should inspire at least some honesty about Clinton’s manifest failure there. It also explains why Republicans have latched on to Benghazi with such force: as the report shows, the tragedy in Benghazi was evidence of the failure of the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy across the administration.

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Since the terrorist attack in Benghazi killed our ambassador there and three others, I’ve been asking just how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has managed to avoid accountability for what was clearly her State Department’s failure. Others have begun asking that same question, including former Clinton administration official Aaron David Miller. Miller offered a few possible answers, one of which was that her expected run for the presidency in 2016–which is already in motion–has convinced the Washington establishment to stay on her good side.

Miller was asking the question in the context of the strangely effusive praise she has been receiving for her work as secretary of state, even though she has been surely unremarkable–and that was before the debacle in Benghazi (and, I would add, Foggy Bottom’s failure with regard to the Palestinians’ unilateral declaration of statehood at the UN). It’s possible that Miller is right–that most people don’t actually believe what they’re saying about Clinton, but are simply speaking flattery to power. But yesterday’s release of the inquiry into Benghazi should inspire at least some honesty about Clinton’s manifest failure there. It also explains why Republicans have latched on to Benghazi with such force: as the report shows, the tragedy in Benghazi was evidence of the failure of the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy across the administration.

As the report makes clear, there is a serious management problem at the State Department:

Communication, cooperation, and coordination among Washington, Tripoli, and Benghazi functioned collegially at the working-level but were constrained by a lack of transparency, responsiveness, and leadership at the senior levels. Among various Department bureaus and personnel in the field, there appeared to be very real confusion over who, ultimately, was responsible and empowered to make decisions based on both policy and security considerations.

The report also knocks the State Department for not responding appropriately to requests for more security in Libya, and for needing those requests in the first place. The report wonders why the State Department’s decision makers didn’t understand the situation on the ground, and goes on to name 20 separate instances of violence or attempted violence against foreign missions and NGOs in the six months leading up to the attack on the American mission in Benghazi.

So Clinton was detached and ill-informed about the mission to an inexcusable degree. But President Obama himself shares some of the blame. After all, as the report notes, Libya was in a state of lawlessness for a reason:

It is worth noting that the events above took place against a general backdrop of political violence, assassinations targeting former regime officials, lawlessness, and an overarching absence of central government authority in eastern Libya. While the June 6 IED at the SMC and the May ICRC attack were claimed by the same group, none of the remaining attacks were viewed in Tripoli and Benghazi as linked or having common perpetrators, which were not viewed as linked or having common perpetrators. This also tempered reactions in Washington. Furthermore, the Board believes that the longer a post is exposed to continuing high levels of violence the more it comes to consider security incidents which might otherwise provoke a reaction as normal, thus raising the threshold for an incident to cause a reassessment of risk and mission continuation. This was true for both people on the ground serving in Libya and in Washington.

Behold the product of “leading from behind,” the Obama administration’s light-touch approach to foreign intervention. The Libya mission left a decapitated country in the midst of civil war descending into anarchy ruled by gang-led violence. The Obama administration chose to wash its hands of the ordeal when Muammar Gaddafi was gone. It was into this chaos that Clinton sent our ambassador with insufficient protection.

The report also finds fault with the intelligence establishment, though former CIA Director David Petraeus has already resigned and thus won’t be held doubly responsible for what happened. Max has also noted the confused and clumsy military response to the attack as well.

The harsh Republican response to Benghazi, then, was not just about Susan Rice and her talking points (though that was an issue for them as well, certainly), but about the broader strategic and management failures across all relevant departments of the Obama administration, and the pitfalls of the “leading from behind” strategy of military engagement.

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Benghazi Report Leaves Some Questions Unanswered

The Accountability Review Board appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to look into the deadly assault on the Benghazi consulate has come back with a damning series of findings. The panel, chaired by retired diplomat Thomas Pickering, found “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” which resulted in security “that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.” Not surprisingly, the panel affirmed what the intelligence community has been saying for months now, that contrary to what administration spokesmen said immediately afterward, there was no protest before the attack; it was simply a well-executed terrorist attack.

But for all of the rigor of the panel’s work, it was narrowly focused on the State Department’s handling of the situation. There is little said about the military response to the attacks, beyond the sending of a drone aircraft and the evacuation of the diplomats in Benghazi; and there is even less about the White House role in managing the response to the crisis, even though senior officials, up to and including the president, must have been aware of the attacks as they were occurring. Nor is there anything in the report about the failure, so far, to bring the perpetrators of the attacks to justice. Why, for example, has the administration seemingly decided to treat this as a law enforcement matter, with the FBI in the lead, rather than treating it as an act of war, with the armed forces in the lead? A fuller explanation of those issues awaits, presumably, more congressional digging.

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The Accountability Review Board appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to look into the deadly assault on the Benghazi consulate has come back with a damning series of findings. The panel, chaired by retired diplomat Thomas Pickering, found “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” which resulted in security “that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.” Not surprisingly, the panel affirmed what the intelligence community has been saying for months now, that contrary to what administration spokesmen said immediately afterward, there was no protest before the attack; it was simply a well-executed terrorist attack.

But for all of the rigor of the panel’s work, it was narrowly focused on the State Department’s handling of the situation. There is little said about the military response to the attacks, beyond the sending of a drone aircraft and the evacuation of the diplomats in Benghazi; and there is even less about the White House role in managing the response to the crisis, even though senior officials, up to and including the president, must have been aware of the attacks as they were occurring. Nor is there anything in the report about the failure, so far, to bring the perpetrators of the attacks to justice. Why, for example, has the administration seemingly decided to treat this as a law enforcement matter, with the FBI in the lead, rather than treating it as an act of war, with the armed forces in the lead? A fuller explanation of those issues awaits, presumably, more congressional digging.

The panel also included a series of recommendations for improving diplomatic security, which Secretary Clinton is said to be implementing. That is well and good, but there is a danger in the government of swinging too far from one extreme to another. So security that may have been overly lax before Benghazi may become now so restrictive that diplomats (and intelligence operatives) will be unable to meet with the population of the countries where they are posted. While clearly the State Department must do a better job of embassy security, it must recognize that it is impossible to eliminate all risk and few diplomats would want to serve in such a sterile environment that they cannot do their jobs properly. A reaction on the part of the U.S. government to the Benghazi attacks is proper and necessary; an over-reaction should be avoided.

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Can Immigration Be a Winning Issue for Lindsey Graham?

Every so often a political event that seems inevitable fails to materialize. One such event that looks to be headed in that direction is a serious primary challenge to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Long derided by conservative grassroots as “Lindsey Grahamnesty” for his moderate stance on immigration, the two-term senator has battled his own side enough that most expected the Tea Party primary wave to land on the shores of the Palmetto State with full force in 2014, when Graham’s term is up.

Yet for all such talk, there hasn’t been much noise coming from actual candidates who would challenge Graham. One reason for this, as Politico notes, is Graham’s high-profile opposition to Susan Rice’s potential nomination as secretary of state. Not only did Graham win the battle–Rice withdrew her name from consideration–but it’s also seen as a victory in conservatives’ effort to raise the profile of the administration’s failure in Benghazi and its ensuing evasiveness over misleading statements to the press about it. Graham’s poll numbers have seen a bounce from it as well. But there are other reasons for Graham’s sudden stability.

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Every so often a political event that seems inevitable fails to materialize. One such event that looks to be headed in that direction is a serious primary challenge to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Long derided by conservative grassroots as “Lindsey Grahamnesty” for his moderate stance on immigration, the two-term senator has battled his own side enough that most expected the Tea Party primary wave to land on the shores of the Palmetto State with full force in 2014, when Graham’s term is up.

Yet for all such talk, there hasn’t been much noise coming from actual candidates who would challenge Graham. One reason for this, as Politico notes, is Graham’s high-profile opposition to Susan Rice’s potential nomination as secretary of state. Not only did Graham win the battle–Rice withdrew her name from consideration–but it’s also seen as a victory in conservatives’ effort to raise the profile of the administration’s failure in Benghazi and its ensuing evasiveness over misleading statements to the press about it. Graham’s poll numbers have seen a bounce from it as well. But there are other reasons for Graham’s sudden stability.

One underreported aspect of Graham’s relationship with the conservative base is the changing politics of immigration for the GOP. Mitt Romney’s lopsided loss among Hispanics (and immigrant groups in general) in the November election gave new momentum, as well as popular support and political cover, to the GOP’s immigration moderates. Though South Carolina voters are not Florida voters, it would be a strange sight indeed for conservative voters to primary Graham over the issue of immigration but not, say, Marco Rubio–a conservative senator often associated with the Tea Party movement and a beneficiary of the right’s “primarying” strategy himself–who was planning to introduce his own version of the DREAM Act this past year.

John McCain, Graham’s fellow immigration reformer and close friend in the Senate, was also vulnerable on the issue in 2010 and seemed to run to his right on immigration to fend off a primary challenge. Graham may not have to adjust his position on immigration to fend off a primary challenge–indeed, Graham’s enthusiasm for immigration reform is looking to be more like the party’s future than its past. If that shift really takes place, it should take the issue off the table for primary challengers and may make Graham’s moderation seem wise and ahead of its time. That would be a remarkable turnaround for the party and the issue of immigration, yet it is a quite plausible scenario.

There are, of course, other reasons Graham is stronger than he seemed all along. Aside from the Benghazi episode, Graham has the fundraising and party network advantages of incumbency. He has also been one of the party’s leaders on foreign policy, where his views have been closer to his conservative base than on the issue of immigration.

He’s not out of the woods yet. The so-called fiscal cliff debate looks headed for a compromise involving raising taxes, and Graham has suggested the right be open to raising tax rates. Yet if the party caves on taxes as part of a final deal, it may absolve Graham of some of the blame. If conservatives in the GOP end up supporting some tax increases, Graham won’t be an outlier–even among conservatives. That might take the issue off the table, or at least dull its impact, the way immigration went from being evidence of Graham’s apostasy to a GOP mainstream policy position just in time for Graham’s reelection.

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