Readers of the latest congressional report about the deaths of four Americans at a U.S. outpost in Benghazi in 2012 will learn that there was woefully inadequate security there; that the U.S. military wasn’t in a position to attempt a timely rescue; and that Obama administration officials inaccurately described the attack as the outgrowth of protests in Libya over an anti-Muslim video posted on YouTube.
The problem is that none of these conclusions in the report by Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi is new, despite devoting two years of staff time and $7 million in tax dollars to the effort. As Democratic members of the committee observed in a statement that pre-empted Tuesday’s release of the report, “The evidence obtained by the select committee confirms the core findings already issued by many previous investigations into the attacks in Benghazi.”
That’s not surprising, because the genesis of this committee wasn’t a desire to acquire additional knowledge about the attack that took the life of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and improve security for diplomats in the future; it was a cynical exercise designed to put the Obama administration — and particularly Hillary Clinton — on trial (at public expense) in an effort to help Republicans win back the White House.
Benghazi as a political issue originated in an inept effort by Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican candidate for president, to use the attacks to undermine President Obama’s claim that his administration had terrorists on the defensive. At a televised debate, Romney insisted that “it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.” (Actually, Obama said a day after the attacks that "no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation,” but the context was clear.)
After Obama was re-elected, Republicans seized on Benghazi as an opportunity to embarrass Clinton, who was secretary of state during the attacks and a likely candidate for president in 2016. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy gave the game away last year when he said: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”
Indeed, the report details supposed inconsistencies in statements by Clinton about the origins of the attacks. In a separate, more accusatory statement, two committee members alleged that “rather than tell the American people the truth and increase the risk of losing an election, the administration told one story privately and a different story publicly.”
But Clinton addressed that charge when she testified before the committee last fall, noting that “there was a lot of conflicting information that we were trying to make sense of. The situation was very fluid. It was fast-moving.” Voters who found that explanation satisfying then aren’t likely to have their minds changed by this report; those who did not needed no further convincing.
The attack on the Benghazi compound was a tragedy and an indictment of lax security and poor military preparedness. But its prolonged politicization by Republicans has been unseemly. With the publication of this report, the party should finally move on.