The latest congressional report on the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. diplomatic stations in Benghazi, Libya, reaffirms some important truths. Here’s the highlight reel of what the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Democrats and Republicans could agree on:
• The State Department was woefully lax in responding to numerous reported security threats in Benghazi.
• There was no “tactical warning” of a planned attack on the anniversary of 9/11.
• There were no protests in Benghazi that immediately preceded the attacks.
• Although the attacks were “deliberate and organized,” U.S. intelligence has affirmed that “their lethality and efficacy did not necessarily indicate extensive planning.”
• Individuals and groups with some ties to al-Qaida participated in the attacks.
• “There were no U.S. military resources in position to intervene in short order in Benghazi.”
The details of the attacks and the events that led up to them are clear by now. The report’s description of what happened in Benghazi offers few surprises to aficionados. Disagreement remains, however, among Democrats and Republicans on the committee and beyond. Most of it has to do with the attacks’ aftermath, beginning with the controversial “talking points” used by officials from President Barack Obama’s administration on television talk shows the following Sunday.
That’s right: An investigation into an attack that killed four Americans has degenerated into a slapfight about who did what to a set of talking points. Such concern will not make one American safer. If the Republicans were smart, not to mention more responsible, they would set that issue aside and focus on two more pressing challenges: holding the State Department accountable for some fatally scandalous management decisions, and ensuring that procedures and resources are put in place to prevent something similar from happening again.
The buck has yet to stop anywhere for the department’s failure to upgrade Benghazi’s security arrangements, despite repeated requests from the field that it do so. As the original Accountability Review Board on Benghazi convened by the State Department noted, there was “very real confusion over who, ultimately, was responsible and empowered to make decisions based on both policy and security concerns.”
After more than 273 significant attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities since 1998, that kind of confusion is as mystifying as it is inexcusable. It casts a cloud over Hillary Clinton’s stewardship of the State Department.
Sadly, the Republicans’ obsession with the talking points suggests that their leadership is not up to the kind of honest investigation and oversight that would lead to a clear and just assignation of responsibility. One straightforward thing Congress can do, however, is conduct an audit of the State Department’s 29 recommendations to improve security after Benghazi. If Congress can compel it to make these most recent recommendations stick, that would offer both institutions at least a shot at redemption.