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Published: Wednesday, 5/15/2013


Benghazi bumbling

Details of crises often take time to sort out, but that doesn't seem to dissuade Republicans vengeance

No matter how often Republicans denounce them, the initial talking points used by the White House to describe the attack in Benghazi, Libya, are not the real point. But they have become a major political issue in large part because of the White House’s inept response to questions about how they were written.

In every administration, talking points — officially sanctioned comments — are massaged and fought over by any agency with a stake in the outcome. It is also true that the details of crises often take time to sort out; we now know that the attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others was carried out by al-Qaeda-linked groups, though at least initially that was unclear.

Republicans are pressing on against President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, citing emails to suggest the administration tried to cover up the link to terrorism. There is little doubt the White House could have handled the talking points issue better.

Press Secretary Jay Carney said that the Central Intelligence Agency rewrote the talking points, when emails showed the State Department played a substantial role. But both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have accepted responsibility for the security failures, and a State Department inquiry board last November called for reforms to correct those problems.

That hasn’t stopped Republicans from seeking to name a special investigative commission. GOP-led committees in the House have already held numerous hearings on Benghazi, and produced no blockbuster revelations. Mrs. Clinton testified before the Senate in January.

Even so, Republicans are trying to justify having a new commission by discrediting the State Department inquiry. It was surprising that the inquiry board did not question Mrs. Clinton or her two top deputies because, as Thomas Pickering — the former diplomat who cochaired the inquiry — explained, the board concluded that mistakes were made by less-senior officials.

There are serious issues that need follow-up, including the CIA’s role in responding to the Benghazi attacks, stability in Libya, which is in disarray, and the status of diplomatic security reforms. But none of that seems to concern Republicans who are out for political vengeance.

— New York Times

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