In the Arena

Real Diehl on Benghazi

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The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl is usually a reliable, and responsible, advocate for neocon-ish policies in the Middle East. His column today is a rebuke to those trying to make the Benghazi tragedy into a scandal. Indeed, Diehl asserts what should be obvious to any honest observer: there is no scandal here. There was merely inter-agency fol-de-rol concerning talking points. As I’ve written before, talking points seem the primary product of latter-day governance–which is a scandal of a different sort, one which has enveloped every Administration for the past 20 years. If only Presidents were as concerned with managing the government as they are with massaging the message. Diehl compares the current conservative melodrama with the liberal melodrama surrounding the “16 words” about the sale of yellowcake uranium to Saddam Hussein that George W. Bush infamously uttered in a State of the Union message.

Bush was called on this inaccuracy by Ambassador Joe Wilson, whose bottom line was correct but whose details were hyperbolic or incorrect. The current controversy is far more frivolous than the 16 Words. Those words were used to propel us into an injust and obscene war. The talking points in this case, Diehl writes:

…were edited over several drafts to remove references to the extremist militia Ansar al-Sharia and previous attacks in Benghazi. But this was not a cover-up. Instead, the changes were mainly the product of interagency tensions: State thought the CIA, which was mainly responsible for the Benghazi mission, was preempting an FBI investigation and trying to shift blame for the fiasco.

Meanwhile, by the ABC account, every draft of the talking points says that the attacks “were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault . . .” That’s what Rice said. It might have been wrong, but it was the intelligence assessment at the time. So what, exactly, is the scandal?

I’m not sure that this completely absolves the Administration, especially the State Department. Electoral politics may have been a consideration–although, in the ecology of internecine knife-fights, the distinctions between spooks and diplomats far surpass the Republican-Democrat divide in bitterness and significance.

In any case, those Republicans seeking to blow this into a major controversy are pursuing a political goal. They have been found utterly empty on the substance of the case. And Diehl’s conclusion is correct: We should be having a serious conversation about the consequences of embassy security in the Middle EAst…just as we should be having a serious national conversation about 501(c)4s and their tendency to slip from policy advocacy to political intervention. But we seem destined to have a spring devoted to toxic partisan spin not substance.

23 comments
gheyward
gheyward

Awwww,  dont sweat all this  small  stuff,   what  difference  does it  make to anything?   

Obama  is Great, Obama is Good;
Let us thank Him for our food.
By His hands we all are fed,
Give us Obama our Daily Bread.



stephengreen736
stephengreen736

Did you notice previous comments post to this story? Your readers don't seem to agree with you. I do because it's as plain as day the anti Obama forces are at it again. They've already forgotten the lesson they should  have learned in the election. And making mountains out of molehills is back...

MichaelStephenson1
MichaelStephenson1

Newsflash, Joe:  The government lied over and over on an array of topics. Try to come to terms with that. Republican politicization is a detail compared to what Obama's buddies have done and are still doing.

(Joe, it's never too late to wipe the Obama DNA off your chin and at least pretend to be honest and objective.)


Mickey_Dugan
Mickey_Dugan

Secret kill lists, Benghazi cover-ups, IRS targeting conservatives, the Justice Department wiretapping Associated Press, Joe Klein blowing more smoke up our rear-ends . . . Kafka and Orwell wrote this stuff, so, yeah, no doubt Obama is delivering on his "most transparent administration ever" promise. That Gay Pride Parade in SF this year minus Bradley Manning is going to be a doozy.

RobertBaesemann
RobertBaesemann

The most general characterization of the attack would seem to be that the Movie and the Cairo protest triggered hostility among some Libyans in Benghazi. Militants promoted a demonstration. Heavily armed terrorists joined the group and opportunistically used it to cover the initial phases of their assault. By the time people in the Consulate alerted the Embassy, they were surrounded by over 150 people armed with assault rifles, RPGs, heavy machine guns, mortars, and light artillery. At that point there was confusion about everything. The Administration said it was an attack that originated with a demonstration and later said it was a terrorist attack. Republicans now insist that the Administration should have been far more specific, and some one should have offered the public a special case of what was said. No one has yet provided reliable information that was then available that would have been a basis for making specific allegations. No o0ne can tell me what the Democrats would have gained in terms of electoral politics by stating things as they did. Who would have voted differently if Obama and Clinton had said Ai Qaeda rather than just terrorist? When did the people get the right to know things that the Government does not know? 

Arimathean
Arimathean

In an era where social services and federal obligations have been gutted (through the sequester) due to the political game, and when we have illegally imprisoned suspects STILL in our custody due to political hemming and hawing, I find it very, very difficult to muster any outrage that the "talking points" might have been affected by political concerns.  Frankly, at this point, I'd be shocked if they weren't.

Steve_Davies_20912
Steve_Davies_20912

Joe:

 Which of Wilson's "details" were "hyperbolic or incorrect"?

grape_crush
grape_crush

> But we seem destined to have a spring devoted to toxic partisan spin not substance.

First thing is for supposedly straight journalists such as yourself to stop buying into the spin.

Not that anyone expects a mea culpa from you , Joe.

AAC
AAC

"They have been found utterly empty on the substance of the case."

***

On the contrary, there's enough substance to cast doubt on the Administration's handling of Benghazi.  

The Obama Administration's goal is to make it all go away.  That's not necessarily in anyone's best interest either.  

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@gheyward What difference does what make? Do you have anything to charge him with or are you here just acting like a clown?

Arimathean
Arimathean

(I am referring to Gitmo, of course -- just realized I hadn't been clear.)

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@Steve_Davies_20912 

I think he means the 16 words were factually correct (because of the disclaimer that British Intel was reporting was technically true) but it was hyperbolic and incorrect because it was inflating intel that was believed to be non-credible and likely discredited for a political objective of justifying Iraq.

jmac
jmac

@grape_crush Digby:  "The major media has never copped to their role in the tabloid sideshow that politics in the 90's became. They have never copped to their part in elevating Bush to the status of demigod and running beside him like a bunch of eunuchs waving palm fronds during the lead-up to the war."

After 11 Congressional hearings  and four firings it's time to put this to rest.  If a special committee called for by McCain is put into place to investigate a 'cover up' then we have yet again fallen into the rabbit hole.   We've had Fast and Furious, Benghazi and now the IRS - all fodder to rile up the base and get them to the polls at the mid-terms.  One thing is for sure, the Right knows how to get their message out.  

Arimathean
Arimathean

@AAC To make WHAT go away?  The talking points are a non-issue, the security requests never went to Obama, and the military & CIA both responded or attempted to respond to the attacks.  Seriously, what do you want to call attention to?

gheyward
gheyward

@mantisdragon91 @gheyward    I  am just pointing out that people like Joe Klein and other hard-core  leftist

worship Obama as a God .   n'est ce pas?

jmac
jmac

@forgottenlord @Steve_Davies_20912   It sounds like Joe is saying Wilson's bottom line was correct but Wilson's details were hyperbolic or incorrect.  

Either way, it  was the British White Paper that was incorrect in Sept of 2002.  Wilson's report to the CIA  in Feb of 2002 was correct.  Bush went with the British rather than his own CIA,  who are just as guilty as our admin in what happened in Iraq.  We know that from the Downing Street Memo - investigated once by Congress in a basement where Republicans sent it to die.  

AAC
AAC

@Arimathean @AAC 

To make WHAT go away?  To make questions about the veracity of the Administration's statements go away.  

The talking points are a "non-issue" until they are found to be intentionally misleading.  The Administration said it changed one word.  Susan Rice's statements were knowingly false.

Suddenly, a very sharp, capable Administration with no problem articulating its positions has become suddenly obtuse.  It didn't know.  It only had certain data.  Sure.  

dianacastillo
dianacastillo

Also neither the CIA nor the military responded with forces which were needed because they said "there wasnt enough time to reach there"  How the heck could they know how long the attacks were going to go on?

dianacastillo
dianacastillo

@Arimathean @AAC  

the talking points are not a non-issue , they totally took out any reference to Alqueada or another terrorist group, even though they knew they were the ones responsible.  this is out and out lying to the american public.  unless you believe the government has the right to lie to us because we are just too stupid to understand?

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@gheyward@mantisdragon91So you have no facts. Why don't you keep screaming about Benghazi. Or did I school you enough on what happened to make you come to your senses. So now perhaps I cans school you on the next scandal that has the GOP all aghast.


This might shock you, but the politicos weighing in on the IRS scandal aftermath occasionally leap to conclusions. Over the weekend, the National Republican Congressional Committee issued attacks on Democratic incumbents because they (or more realistically, their spokesmen) had not issued responses to the scandal. (For example: "We all know that Tim Bishop could care less about crushing debt and wasteful government spending, but his failure to speak up on these issues on behalf of [his] constituents is flat out wrong.") A big assumption on the right is that Democrats spurred the IRS's bad behavior by banging the table about the Kochs and Karl Rove and all those rich people hiding money in tax-exempt "social welfare" groups.

Why assume? Because the IG report actually absolves the rest of the administration and the Obama campaign from the accusation of direct pressure. The key lines:

We asked the Acting Commissioner, Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division; the Director, EO; and Determinations Unit personnel if the criteria were influenced by any individual or organization outside the IRS. All of these officials stated that the criteria were not influenced by any individual or organization outside the IRS. Instead, the Determinations Unit developed and implemented inappropriate criteria in part due to insufficient oversight provided by management. Specifically, only first-line management approved references to the Tea Party in the BOLO [Be on the Look-Out] listing criteria before it was implemented. As a result, inappropriate criteria remained in place for more than 18 months.

This is why, since the report came out, you've heard more questions about when/why/how key Democrats learned of the story, and why they didn't react until the AP broke the news last Friday. Recall that the IRS officials dinged here are often career officials and Bush appointees -- not great scalps. The IG's saying that they're the only scalps that deserved to be separated from their skulls.