The release of a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday on the Benghazi terrorist attack casts a shadow over the record of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The study declares that the assault on the U.S. facility in Benghazi could have been prevented had the State Department taken warnings about terrorism seriously. Security at the outpost was shortchanged in no small measure because bad decisions were made in Washington for which Clinton bears ultimate responsibility. The report also makes clear that the participants in the assault on the mission were affiliated with al-Qaeda groups, effectively debunking the assertions made in a recent controversial New York Times article. While it shed no further light on the attempt by the administration to spin the incident as a spontaneous gathering of film critics upset about a video produced in the United States rather than an act of terrorism, it still leaves open the question why that happened.
Taken together with previous investigations, the report leaves no doubt that four Americans died as a result of negligence and bad judgment at the highest levels of the State Department as well as a determination to avoid doing anything that might alter the public perception that the Obama administration had vanquished al-Qaeda. It’s a sorry record and one for which no one, especially those at the top of the food chain, have been held accountable. But conservatives who have been frustrated by the way Clinton has evaded criticism over Benghazi shouldn’t get their hopes up about this report. No one should labor under the delusion that it will hinder Clinton’s efforts to secure the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
If Republicans haven’t already discovered that much of the mainstream media has taken their cue from the Obama administration and long ago decided that there is nothing to see here, the lack of interest in following up on this scandal even after this latest report should convince them now. Those who are rightly clamoring for more accountability from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie about the misconduct of his aides in the Bridgegate scandal have had more than a year to ask the same kind of questions of Clinton about what she knew and when she knew it about security in Benghazi and the post-attack lies told by the administration. But they haven’t and won’t start now just because of a new Senate report.
Media apathy about investigating Benghazi is infuriating. While the origin of a traffic jam has become the focal point for a genuine controversy that has seriously hobbled Christie’s presidential prospects, it is astonishing that those insisting on a fuller accounting of a far more serious incident involving the deaths of four Americans serving their country is routinely characterized as solely the province of extremists and conspiracy theorists.
The double standard here is clear. While no one is saying that Clinton deliberately sent Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others to their deaths, she was the person responsible for this disaster. Had any other presidential contender been in charge of an agency whose negligence led to four deaths, it is hard to imagine they would not be disqualified in the eyes of the general public by it, let alone be acclaimed as a likely next president of the United States as is the case with Clinton. But the idea of derailing the chances of electing our first woman president merely because of an inconvenient terrorist attack in Libya is unimaginable to most of our chattering classes. That’s why this report isn’t likely to generate any more coverage of the issue in the coming days, weeks, and months than previous discussions of the scandal.
While Republicans are right to complain about this and should pursue further inquiries, they need to lower their expectations about this controversy. Benghazi shouldn’t be filed away, but the GOP needs to avoid appearing obsessed about it in a way that would allow liberals to depict them as unhinged or conspiratorial. If she runs, the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination will be handed to Clinton on a silver platter. At that point there will be more than enough time for conservatives to revive a discussion of Benghazi and in the glare of a general-election campaign it will be harder for Hillary and her many media enablers to change the subject. This may not be the silver bullet that will prevent her from becoming president, but it will be a potent issue that can’t be ignored. Until then, Republicans frustrated about their inability to hold Clinton accountable should keep their powder dry and wait for their moment.