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It's Amateur Hour With The Benghazi Select Committee

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BENGHAZI COMMITTEE ISSA GOWDY
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), | ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Over at the New Republic, Brian Beutler gives good gobsmack on a very strange action taken by the post-modern Richelieu, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), on the eve of the new Benghazi Select Committee getting up and rolling. Per ABC News, it seems that Issa went ahead and tipped everyone to the existence of a "still-classified State Department email," indicating that "one of the first responses from the White House to the Benghazi attack was to contact YouTube to warn of the 'ramifications' of allowing" the infamous "Innocence of Muslims" video to remain on the site.

All of which means that before the CIA starting crafting talking points about the attack, the White House was (and not without good reason -- there had been numerous angry clashes across the Muslim world over that video) taking the proactive, base-covering step to mitigate further damage done by the "Innocence of Muslims" clip. Per Beutler:

The White House is thrilled with this revelation because it supports the view that their early citations of the YouTube video were sincere -- not intended to whitewash the truth, that American public servants had been victims of a terrorist attack. The claim that this YouTube business was all a big lie is central to the entire convoluted Benghazi conspiracy, and something Select Committee chairman Trey Gowdy has harped upon in the past. Issa's leak supports the opposite conclusion.

All of which leads Beutler to rightly wonder if Issa put this out there to undermine Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) in a fit of pique, or if he simply does not know what he is doing. Issa has since offered up a bouquet of pushback, to which Beutler responds with a funny one-act-play imagining of how President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conspired to create exonerating evidence for a misdeed they could not have anticipated, and then classified it to ensure that no one could find it, because that makes sense. Go read the whole thing.

As you might expect, this news has already begun to percolate among congressional Democrats. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who will be the Democrats' ranking member on the select committee, put out a statement Thursday afternoon:

"This latest document leak makes the strongest case yet for Democrats seeking procedures to protect against these kinds of abuses. In what has become an irresponsible pattern, Chairman Issa unilaterally released a cherry-picked document excerpt –- claiming it means one thing when in fact it means the opposite -– and he disregarded the fact that his ‘new evidence’ was reported publicly two years ago. He did this without consulting Democrats, and it is unclear whether he even consulted Rep. Gowdy, who also sits on the Oversight Committee. These actions undermine the credibility of both the Oversight Committee and the new Select Committee, and Speaker Boehner should uphold his promise to end this circus.”

There is, of course, real question as to whether the select committee will stage a circus, or a legitimate inquiry. And the discernible difference between the two concepts is rooted in the obsession with the "Innocence Of Muslims" YouTube clip and the way it was knitted up in the talking points that drove the first few critical news cycles. One might ask, at this point, "Can we maybe table the entire discussion about this YouTube clip and the wilderness of conspiracies that have sprung up in its fungal soil?" Because the truth is that it is really the least interesting and compelling aspects of the Benghazi attacks. It's what you focus on if you want the circus.

Look, according to one side of the argument, the "maybe the YouTube clip had something to do with the attack" idea was born when Susan Rice went on the Sunday morning chat shows (never a good venue to discuss anything serious) to offer her best guesses as to what happened, based upon the incomplete information that was on hand at the time. The fault, according to this side, is simply that the "fog of war" hadn't sufficiently lifted.

Here is the darkest possible alternate interpretation. The White House was so concerned that any terrorist attack would hamper their reelection hopes that they were desperate to downplay any reference to terror. The idea here, I guess, is that the White House just put an idea out there, crossed their fingers, and hoped it would stick. Which is a daft idea, by the way. But the thing I keep coming back to, when I consider the preeminent concerns of those who promulgate the darkest possible interpretation, is that in the end, their preeminent concerns seem to be about nothing more than the fact that somebody lost a presidential election.

And, indeed, that is what appears to be Gowdy's primary concern -- over and above facility security and the availability of a response to the attack. Here's Gowdy, in an interview with Charlie Rose from early May:

I think that you can certainly fashion an argument that that's the most important of the three issues because that gets at whether or not people can trust or rely upon what government tells them. And it's difficult, Charlie, to go back to 2012. But if you and I can go back there in our minds, we're in the throes of a general election. And one of the narratives is that al Qaeda is on the run, Osama bin Laden is dead, G.M. is alive. I think that Ben Rhodes' memo probably was the straw that broke the camel's back because that memo made it really clear we're going to blame an Internet video and not a broader policy failure in Libya.

Here's a pro tip: Harping on who-said-what-when about the YouTube video is actually not a thing that's going to get you closer to an examination of the "broader policy failure in Libya." Harping on the video only demonstrates a lack of interest in the "broader policy failure in Libya." This obsession is about nothing more than resentment over 2012's election-year wounds and the bitter taste of licking them two years later.

If Benghazi Select Committee members want to be useful, they should reflect on this piece by the Washington Examiner's Tim Carney:

There is a real Benghazi scandal and it's this: President Obama illegally invaded Libya, overthrew Moammar Gadhafi, and then -- due to politics -- left a power vacuum that terrorists filled, turning Libya into a hotbed of jihadist groups. The 2012 attack that killed four Americans was a consequence of the disorder and violence the administration left in the wake of its drive-by war.

I don't expect fans of the White House to necessarily appreciate Carney's take (I don't expect defenders of the Iraq War misadventure to appreciate it either, it's the same critique!), but the fact of the matter is that the way Carney frames his concerns is far more serious, responsible, and ethically-founded than anyone still caterwauling about the YouTube video or Susan Rice's "Meet The Press" appearance. As I've had the occasion to say in the past, the fact that four Americans died in Benghazi is nothing more than the natural and predictable consequences of going to war with Libya. It's the "going to war with Libya" part that deserves scrutiny. The rest of this is just window shopping for frivolousness.

Of course, as Carney suggests, there may be a reason that the people running the select committee aren't interested in a deeper investigation:

Americans had little appetite for a third war in the Muslim world. Obama presumably knew that, which is why he flouted the Constitution and skirted Congressional approval. (Congress was probably grateful for this.)

Yeah, they probably were grateful, so maybe nobody gets away clean on this.

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