In the new book, The Great War of Our Time (excerpts in the New York Times), Michael J. Morell, former Deputy Director of the C.I.A., exonerates former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (now National Security Adviser) Susan Rice of skullduggery in dealing with the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, which led to the death of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. government employees. The Republicans have been fishing in these waters for a long time, but the hook has always come up without any bottom mud. They have been doing so with an eye to discredit the likely Democratic nominee for president in 2016... Hillary Clinton.
Republicans have accused Susan Rice of publicly blaming the consulate attack on demonstrators angered by an unrelated defamation of the prophet Mohammed in order to minimize its connection to terrorists, which would have undermined the Obama administration's case that the United States had the terrorists on the run. Yet Morell says "no evidence" exists to support the charge that "there was a conspiracy between C.I.A. and the White House to spin the Benghazi story in a way that would protect the political interests of the president and Secretary Clinton." He further notes that Rice, who went on the Sunday talk shows after the attack, was merely publicly rendering the C.I.A.'s initial analysis that demonstrations had preceded the attack. Morell indicates that only after Rice had gone public did the C.I.A. change its initial assessment. Morell also debunks the Republicans' more sensational allegation that the C.I.A. and U.S. military "were ordered to stand down and not come to the rescue of their comrades." Because political appointees would be very unlikely to reap any gain from issuing such an order -- and even if they would do so, they would undertake the high risk that it would become public -- this conspiracy theory has always been downright looney.
In fact, Morell's concludes that the consulate attack was not an insidious, meticulous affair and occurred "with little or no advanced planning "and "was not well organized." He says that those who conducted the assault "did not appear to be looking for Americans to harm. They appeared intent on looting and conducting some vandalism," setting fires that killed the ambassador and one of the other government employees.
Even if Morell, who served his stint as deputy C.I.A. director under the Obama administration, has merely written a defense of that administration's actions, the Republicans have always been making a mountain out of a molehill anyway. In the worst case, what if the Clinton, Rice, and Obama were deliberately spinning the attack so that it didn't undermine their line that they were bringing terrorism under control? We had just been through the Bush administration, which had a vice president, Dick Cheney, that lied us into a catastrophic invasion of Iraq by deliberately implying a connection between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government that the C.IA. told him likely wasn't there -- a calamitous falsehood that Morell criticizes in the book. By this standard any spinning by the Obama administration on the Benghazi attack looks tame by comparison. But now Morell tells us that even that spinning did not even happen.
In addition, Morell has some credibility because he is a career C.I.A. analyst, not a partisan politico, and also served in the Bush administration as President Bush's personal intelligence briefer. In the book, he writes of admiration for both Bush and Obama.
On the Benghazi issue, the Democrats have had it right. The real issue should have been the lax State Department security that led to the diplomats' death and how that could be rectified. The Republicans had a much better case to criticize Hillary for this failure during her watch at State.
In addition, the Republicans could criticize Hillary for her much more important lapses in judgment in advocating the disastrous American use of force on Iraq and Libya in order to take out their respective leaders. Both interventions violated international law and common sense and have turned into chaotic messes that have bred more terrorism. She could also be disparaged for her support for the ineffectual escalation of the Afghan War, the expansion of Obama's illegal drone wars, and the aborted plans to conduct air strikes against Syria. But all of these criticisms of Hillary's policy stances and operational diplomatic security lack the sensational "gotcha" that our current presidential campaigns require. Unfortunately, America's media, and consequently its voters, usually waste their time during election campaigns on hyped private e-mail or fundraising or bridge scandals, so that they don't have to explore the candidates' duller, but much more important, positions on important policy issues. In fact, Hillary's judgement on big issues has always been questionable, going way back to her formulation of a costly Rube Goldberg-style health care proposal during her husband's administration. By beating a dead horse on Benghazi, which obviously has had "no there there" for a long time, Republicans have been wasting valuable time that they could have been using to critique Hillary's larger policy blunders.