The Senate Intelligence Committee made headlines last week by reporting that the 2012 attack in Benghazi was preventable. But frankly, we knew that. The deeper message of the bipartisan report was that Republicans in Congress wasted a year arguing about what turned out to be mostly phony issues.
The GOP’s Benghazi obsession was the weird backdrop for foreign-policy debate through much of last year. Sen. Lindsey Graham used it as a pretext for blocking administration nominations. Rep. Darrell Issa used the issue to impugn the integrity and independence of a review conducted by retired Adm. Mike Mullen and former Ambassador Tom Pickering.
Driving the Republican jihad was a claim, first reported in October 2012 by Fox News, that CIA personnel had wanted to respond more quickly to the Benghazi attack but were ordered to “stand down,” perhaps by political higher-ups. Although this claim was promptly rebutted by CIA officials, it was repeated by Fox at least 85 times, according to a review by the liberal advocacy group Media Matters.
The Senate Intelligence report addressed this inflammatory charge head-on. “The committee explored claims that there was a ‘stand down’ order given to the security team at the annex. Although some members of the security team expressed frustration that they were unable to respond more quickly to the mission compound, the committee found no evidence of intentional delay or obstruction by the chief of [the CIA] base or any other party.”
The Senate panel also rejected the insinuation, made repeatedly by Republicans, that the Obama administration failed to scramble available military assets that could have defended the Benghazi annex and saved the lives of the four American victims.
These are bipartisan findings, mind you, endorsed by the panel’s Republican members as well as Democrats.
The Obama administration’s supposed cover-up on Benghazi became a crusade for leading Republicans. A low point came when Issa’s Committee on Oversight and Reform issued a report last September questioning “the independence and integrity of the review” by the Mullen-Pickering group. The Republican tirades about Benghazi were unfortunate not just because they were based on erroneous speculation but because they distracted policymakers from the real challenge of framing coherent policy in the Middle East. S
In fact, the Senate Intelligence report echoes many of the themes of the earlier report by the Accountability Review Board, which noted “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies.”
Perhaps the silliest aspect of the Benghazi affair was the focus on the errant “talking points” prepared for Congress, which cited incorrect intelligence about “spontaneous demonstrations” in Benghazi that wasn’t corrected by the CIA until a week after the points were delivered on Sunday talk shows by Susan Rice, then U.N. ambassador. Rice is still under a cloud because she repeated the CIA’s “points” prepared at Congress’ insistence.
Next time, the Senate report notes, the intelligence community should just tell Congress what facts are unclassified – and let the legislators do the talking.
David Ignatius’ email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.