The Benghazi Hearing: Reax

Michael Hirsh has a must-read on yesterday’s hearing. At the center of it was Gregory Hicks, the deputy to Ambassador Stevens located in Tripoli at the time of the attack:

The most moving — if still-not-quite scandalous — testimony came from Hicks, who described how he virtually begged for help as Stevens and his colleagues were being killed that night of Sept. 11, 2012. The help never came. The administration’s response has been that Hicks, a diplomat, is no expert in military capabilities, and his allegations have already been directly rebutted by both Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs chairman, and former Defense Sec. Leon Panetta. Dempsey testified in February that it would have taken “up to 20 hours or so” to get F-16s to the site, and he called them “the wrong tool for the job.”

And what about ground forces?

Hicks had already told Republican investigators about the seven-person rescue team, including four U.S. Special Forces, that was delayed in heading from Tripoli (where Hicks was) to the consulate, after it was under attack. “How did the personnel react,” asked Chaffetz, “at being told to stand down?” Hicks remembered them being furious. “I will quote Lt. Col. Gibson,” said Hicks, referring to the commander at the Special Operations Command Africa who’d expected to join the mission. “He said, ‘This is the first time in my career that a diplomat has more balls than someone in the military.’ ” …

On May 1, 2013, the Pentagon sent a timeline of its actions to the House Armed Services Committee. And according to that, Panetta had OK’d the movement of FAST platoons and a special operations force before 3 a.m. local time, but no aid arrived before the mortar attack that killed Woods and Doherty. According to Hicks, the team wanted to get to Benghazi as quickly as possible. According to Panetta, if it had, it wouldn’t have helped.

The hearing’s key moment for Ed Krayewski:

[Hicks] testified that the ambassador made no mention of a demonstration at the mission in Benghazi, only an attack, and that “[t]he YouTube video was a non-event in Libya,” despite the Obama Administration’s attempts to pin the violence in Libya to protests over a trailer for an anti-Muslim film that had been on YouTube for months. It was all about the video Obama apologists cried in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack (and the run-up to November’s presidential election). That position does not appear to be connected to reality at all.

Kevin Drum sighs:

Rice’s interviews were litigated to death long ago. If you actually review the evidence, it turns out that her language was careful; it was based on CIA talking points; there was (and still is) evidence that the “Innocence of Muslims” video played a role in the attacks; and al-Magariaf was almost certainly wrong about whether the attacks were a long-planned operation. Details here.

But Stephen Hayes points out that “the Weekly Standard reported this week that early versions of those C.I.A. talking points prominently noted that extremists with ties to Al Qaeda were involved in the attacks and that Ansar al-Shariah had claimed responsibility on social media.” Joe Klein’s view:

It does seem that the Administration’s talking points were massaged a bit after the President’s candor [that the attack was an “act of terror”]. This may have been attributable to the presidential campaign and the Administration’s desire to low-ball the Al Qaeda threat. If so, this was a venial, not a mortal, sin. It affected not one life. More likely, though, the wording was scrubbed as a result of the nature of the investigation going on at the time–it may have been deemed premature to announce that it was a pre-meditated act of terror. Perhaps the local militia lucked into a situation where they showed up at the consulate and found very little security protection. Hard to say. There were protests all over the middle east that night, ginned up by jihadis using the excuse of a near-unseen anti-Muslim You Tube video.

But let’s say the street gang had been casing the joint in advance. Who’s to blame for the lax security? This is the real substance of the case. Could it have been the Secretary of State? Undoubtedly, no. This sort of question is well below her pay grade. Could it have been the person in charge of embassy security issues? More likely, and that person resigned after the subsequent investigations…and even that might have been unfair for two reasons. Security was up to the Ambassador and Chris Stevens was well known for erring on the side of greater public access to U.S. facilities. Or, more plausibly, reason number two…

Could it have been the Republicans who consistently voted against funds for increased embassy security? Hmmm…that makes their current carping seem awfully political, doesn’t it?

Hirsh’s bottom line:

There was tragic incompetence, plainly, in the Obama administration’s handling of the Benghazi attacks, and even possibly some political calculation. It is a record that may well come to haunt Hillary Clinton, the first Secretary of State to lose an ambassador in the field in more than three decades, if she runs for president in 2016. But the obvious Republican effort to turn this inquiry into the Democratic (Obama) version of the Iraq intelligence scandal that has tarred the GOP since the George W. Bush years — led by that least-credible of champions, the almost-always-wrong Darrell Issa — is just not going to amount to much.

Which is the only reason we haven’t covered this much. Because what is worth covering has largely been covered; because some in government have already lost their jobs for the incompetence; because we have had nine separate Congressional investigations, while attacks on embassies and consulates in the past have been far less likely to be controversial. In other words: this is now a function entirely of factionalism. It’s a test of how far one cable news channel can go in creating something big out of something tragic, regrettable, well worth looking into, but in the end scarcely scandalous.