THE BLOG
05/11/2013 04:16 pm ET Updated Jul 11, 2013

Benghazi Politics

Republicans are obsessed with last September's attack by terrorists on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. So rabid are their efforts to uncover a scandal that some in the party are throwing the word impeachment around.

An independent inquiry, headed by former Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Pickering and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, released a damning report last December. It found that "systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies" within the State Department resulted in a "security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place." Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took full responsibility in a Congressional hearing in January.

Instead of focusing on what is being done to capture the perpetrators and what measures are being put in place to assure it doesn't happen again, tragically Republicans are zeroing in on a misleading set of administration talking points used by officials to explain the attack. The State Department's top spokeswoman at the time, Victoria Nuland, objected to including the CIA's reference in an early draft to intelligence about the threat from al Qaeda in Benghazi. ABC News reported that one of her emails said it "could be abused by members (of Congress) to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that either? Concerned."

With the presidential election a few weeks away last fall, Republicans believed that the administration did not want to say anything that would undermine President Barack Obama's claim that Al Qaeda was defeated. Instead, they believe the talking points were intentionally "scrubbed" of references to Al Qaeda. And they cite as further proof the statements made by America's U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on the Sunday talks shows that the attack was in response to an anti-Islamic film that had fueled violent anti-American demonstrations at the same time in 20 countries, including Egypt and Tunisia.

Were her statements, which came from the talking points, a deliberate attempt to mislead the American people? Reuters reported that, "A source familiar with the Benghazi communications said Nuland was concerned the talking points went further than what she was allowed to say during her briefings and that 'the CIA was attempting to exonerate itself at the State Department's expense.'" In other words, this was a skirmish between two government agencies over who would be blamed.

In Wednesday's Congressional hearing, chaired by Republican Representative Darrell Issa, three witnesses spoke at length about the incident. The then number two official in America's Tripoli Embassy, Gregory Hicks, said he was stunned when he heard Rice's account. He claimed that he was later demoted for raising questions about how the incident was handled by the State Department. That charge was denied by the State Department, which said he was reassigned with no reduction in pay. Nonetheless, Hicks was not prohibited from speaking to Congress.

There were 64 attacks on American diplomatic targets during President George W. Bush's administration. American diplomatic facilities have been targets of anti-American sentiment for decades. In spite of that, Congress has been reducing diplomatic security budgets in recent years.

Sadly, four Americans died in the attack at Benghazi. In their memory, and for the sake of all those who serve our country overseas, Republicans in Congress should now focus their attention on how to better protect our outposts rather than trying to score political points.

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