Pushing Back on Benghazi

Last week’s hearings on Benghazi by the House Oversight Committee must have hit a nerve, because President Obama blasted his critics at a joint White House news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Labeling it a “political circus,” the president said “the whole issue of ‘talking points’ frankly… has been a sideshow…There’s no ‘there’ there.”

Apparently getting angrier by the minute, the president continued:

What happened was tragic…We don’t have time to be playing these political games in Washington. We have to focus on protecting [diplomats in harm’s way].

The president was responding to half the problem uncovered by Congressional investigators—his Administration’s confused or possibly misleading explanation of what happened in Benghazi in the days and weeks afterward, which happened to be the climactic part of the 2012 presidential campaign.

Over the weekend, others involved pushed back on the substance of what happened in Benghazi, where a terror attack killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, at a consulate which also may have been a CIA station.

President Obama speaks at a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron at the White House Monday. Source: WhiteHouse.gov.

President Obama speaks at a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron at the White House Monday. Source: WhiteHouse.gov.

Former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who along with former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Michael Mullen led the State Department’s investigation of the tragedy, also took on critics of his report on the Sunday talk shows. Here’s what he said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” when asked about the role of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

They’ve tried to point a finger at people more senior than where we found the decisions were made. The decisions were made and reviewed at the level that we fixed responsibility for failures of performance. Those people were named in the report. Two of the four that we felt failed in their performance were, under our recommendation, relieved of their jobs.

Asked about whether more military action could have been taken to protect the Americans, Pickering said:

The question of, could military aircraft have made a difference? Could they have gotten there in time? And the answer at that time…to Mr. Hicks was, “No.” Subsequently, Admiral Mullen looked at that very carefully. General Dempsey did. They both have testified that there was no military capacity to get there.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates backed up Pickering on the same show, telling Bob Schieffer:

…To send some small number of special forces or other troops in without knowing what the environment is, without knowing what the threat is, without having any intelligence in terms of what is actually going on on the ground, I think, would have been very dangerous. And personally, I would not have approved that.

Pickering and Gates are highly credible people, having served with distinction in both Democratic and Republican administration. And both Pickering and Mullen will likely appear before Congress to answer questions.  Congress has the right and responsibility to uncover the truth about Benghazi, and they should investigate further.

But make no mistake—this is politically driven. As Politico revealed Monday, House Speaker John Boehner is trying to turn Benghazi into a defining political fight with President Barack Obama”:

Starting last fall, Boehner has run a Capitol-wide campaign to keep turf-conscious committee chairs informed, at the same time using his sway to press the Obama administration to comply with congressional investigators trying to untangle what happened.

The speaker has privately strategized with high-profile GOP senators like John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina…

“This is all Boehner,” said one senior Republican aide of the focus on Benghazi. “He’s obsessed with it. He brings it up all the time.”

Political circus indeed.



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