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Benghazi as a political football

Editorial

Republican criticism of the White House over the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi smacks of politics.

October 16, 2012
  • Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan speaks at a campaign rally in Cincinnati, Ohio. Ryan has said that the attack on the consulate in Benghazi was proof of the "unraveling" of President Obama's foreign policy.
Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan speaks at a campaign… (Al Behrman / Associated…)

It was probably too much to expect that Republicans would ignore the political possibilities in the deadly attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya and the Obama administration's evolving explanations of what exactly occurred. But, predictable or not, their indictment is so overbroad as to be self-defeating.

Not only is the administration accused of disregarding warnings about the security situation in Benghazi (with the implication that the attack could have been avoided), but Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suggested over the weekend that Susan Rice, the U.S. representative to the United Nations, knowingly misled the nation about the nature of the attack. And both Graham and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan have said that the incident was proof of the "unraveling" of President Obama's foreign policy.

The Sept. 11 attack on the consulate in Benghazi, in which U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed, was a tragedy. Was it also preventable? At a congressional hearing last week, Eric Nordstrom, the State Department's former regional security officer in Libya, criticized his superiors for ignoring his concerns about the growing risk of armed militias and extremist groups in Benghazi. But he also acknowledged that posting a few more Americans at the site would not have been sufficient to repel the onslaught by heavily armed extremists.

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As with 9/11 and other acts of terrorism, 20/20 hindsight makes it easy for critics to argue that this attack might have been avoided. But even if further investigation suggests that the State Department should have foreseen problems and increased security, the suggestion that the attack is emblematic of an "unraveling" of Obama's policy in the Middle East is excessive.

Then there is the charge that the administration prevaricated when it said that the attack in Benghazi was the outgrowth of a spontaneous protest over the "Innocence of Muslims" video that provoked protests throughout the Muslim world rather than what it actually was — a premeditated terrorist operation. It's true that it wasn't until Oct. 9 that senior State Department officials admitted that there was never any protest in Benghazi.

Clearly it took too long for that to be made clear. But on Sunday, Sen. Graham offered a more sinister explanation: Rice and other administration officials knew the truth early on, he said, but dissembled in order "to sell a narrative, quite frankly, that [in] the Mideast the wars are receding and Al Qaeda has been dismantled." That's an absurd charge, as Graham seemed to recognize when he later softened it by saying "either they're misleading the American people or incredibly incompetent."

The Obama administration also has engaged in some political spin. In his debate with Ryan, Vice President Joe Biden said that "we weren't told" of requests for greater security in Benghazi. That may have been accurate as a reference to the White House, but it was disingenuous in light of the testimony about warnings made to the State Department. Still, in the politicization of Benghazi, the administration finishes a poor second to the Republicans, who are determined to shore up their own election year narrative.

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