A long-awaited independent report on the death of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya had scathing criticism of how the US State Department handled the whole incident.
The panel’s review, headed up by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, blasted “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” at State and a security plan “inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.”
The report cited numerous requests for more security made by officials at the consulate in Benghazi and the full Embassy in Tripoli and concluded that the consulate in Benghazi was “severely under-resourced with regard to certain needed security equipment.” It said State relied far too much on Libyan militia members for security.
Three State Department officials with direct responsibility for security resigned Wednesday. Just before the election, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted responsibility and President Obama did as well, at least rhetorically, during his debate with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Meanwhile, the report described a sustained, well-organized attack on the mission in Benghazi and on another annex where CIA personnel were staying. It also said, significantly, that “no protest took place before the Special Mission and Annex attacks, which were unanticipated in their scale and intensity.”
In other words, it was a terrorist attack, not a protest against an anti-Muslim film like those in cities throughout the Muslim world around that time.
That directly contradicts the talking points delivered on Sunday talk shows by UN Ambassador Susan Rice, appearances that got her into big trouble with Republican Senators who were intent on denying her a possible appointment as Secretary of State in the second Obama administration. She withdrew her name from consideration from that post last week. Coincidence? I doubt it.
The report’s overall findings upheld two key points made by conservatives in the weeks before the election:
- It was always a terrorist attack, not a spontaneous protest.
- The State Department failed to provide adequate security to protect the compound against such an attack.
Two other claims they made, however, were not upheld:
- U.S. forces in Libya did not delay their response to the attack; they were simply overwhelmed. “Americans in Benghazi and their Tripoli colleagues did their best with what they had, which, in the end, was not enough to prevent the loss of lives.”
- And the report did not find any Administration effort to hold off protection because of politically correct notions about the Libyan government or the Arab Spring. “The Board found no evidence of any undue delays in decision making or denial of support from Washington or from the military combatant commanders. Quite the contrary,” the panel wrote.
The latter was the argument made by Fox News hosts—and the one that got the most traction with its viewers and the least with voters.
Conservatives are right to keep pressing this issue—the panel found many problems with the State Department’s analysis and preparations—and yes, the panel studiously avoided going much higher, to Secretary Clinton or the president, as Michael Hirsh pointed out in National Journal. Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, et al. should continue to push for more answers.
Secretary Clinton must take the ultimate blame for much of this, and it could hurt her in a future presidential campaign. But based on what we know, that’s as far as it goes for now.