Column: Benghazi Questions Have Been Answered
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has reiterated his determination to put a hold on President Barack Obama’s nominees for Federal Reserve chairman and Homeland Security secretary until the administration allowed survivors of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, to testify before Congress. He first delivered this threat following the Oct. 27 broadcast of a 60 Minutes feature on the Benghazi attack. CBS has now retracted that report, based on the unreliability of its primary source.
No matter. Like General Petain at Verdun, or perhaps like a Republican senator facing several challengers in a primary, Graham has said the administration’s nominees shall not pass. He wants answers to a series of questions: Did survivors of the attack report a protest? Was there inadequate security? Did they tell anybody earlier about a threat from al-Qaida?
It’s rare when an ordinary citizen can help out a mighty senator, but let me try: Sen. Graham, you can lift your hold, because those questions have already been answered.
Start with the 100 pages of emails that the administration released last May, which make clear that the original intelligence reports, rightly or wrongly, included references to a protest against an anti-Islamic film trailer. They also make clear that there had been earlier reports of activity by al-Qaida affiliates, which were also identified as being involved in the attacks. Moreover, the Accountability Review Board convened last fall after the attacks has already made clear that security in Benghazi was “grossly inadequate.”
So far, Republicans have yet to unearth a grand political conspiracy or cover-up by the Obama administration involving Benghazi. This week, they interrogated Central Intelligence Agency security officers who were on site. That shed more light on some decisions that, absent the fog of war, might have been made differently. Yet if something truly damaging was likely to have surfaced, it surely would have done so before. Put another way, could the architects of the current health-care debacle really engineer a cover-up capable of withstanding the frantic digging of five congressional committees?
The Republican hunt for snarks and bandersnatches isn’t making anyone safer. In fact, Graham’s holds on nominees having nothing to do with Benghazi will only hurt the country — unless, that is, you prefer the Federal Reserve not to have a chairman, and the Department of Homeland Security not to have a secretary.
Instead, Congress should be making sure the State Department actually implements the review board’s recommendations, which cover knotty areas from language training and building security to threat analysis. Past experience suggests compliance will be spotty at best. If Graham means it when he says, “I want to perform oversight,” that’s where to focus.
James Gibney is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.