An e-mail discussion about talking points the Obama administration used to describe the deadly attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, show the White House and State Department were more involved than they first said in the decision to remove an initial CIA assessment that a group with ties to al Qaeda was involved, according to CNN sources with knowledge of the e-mails…
The unclassified talking points have become a political flashpoint in a long-running battle between the administration and Republicans, who say that officials knew the attack last September 11 was a planned terror operation while they were telling the public it was an act of violence that grew out of a demonstration over a video produced in the United States that insulted Islam.
White House spokesman Jay Carney on Friday called the controversy a "distraction" from the facts and said the administration had raised the possibility of extremist involvement from the start.
He told reporters the administration was careful with information on Benghazi and was open with the public once facts were established.
After the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya last September, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was roundly criticized for his crass politicization of the tragedy, and lashing out at the Obama administration for "sympathizing" with the attackers before the facts were known. That didn't stop Republicans from obsessing about the matter through most of the rest of the election season. As part of his post-election recap, political reporter Eli Stokols at FOX 31 wrote that "viewers and listeners so wrapped up inside [the FOX News/Rush Limbaugh] bubble with obsessive coverage of Benghazi didn’t realize how out of line they were with the rest of the country."
The underlying attack from conservatives is that the administration didn't want to publicly acknowledge the attack as an Al Qaeda operation for, you know, various reasons. Among other things, this reflects the way that foreign policy is used politically in American politics post-9/11: when useful, opportunists lead with speculation about "terrorism" with the goal of profiting from the fearful public reaction. Others do not see political benefit in fomenting public fear about terrorism.
This isn't actually new.
As CNN reported, the new twist in this story that has Republicans up in arms concerns talking points from the Obama administration, and their role in "editing the talking points" in the immediate aftermath to remove references to the possibility of Al Qaeda involvement in the attack. The administration responds, as you can read above, that they were trying to be careful in their choice of words before the facts were fully understood.
Looked at objectively, the attack on the consulate in Benghazi was a tragedy, and there are lessons for everyone involved–including decisions made by the ambassador who was killed. What the facts of the incident don't explain is the over-the-top reaction from the GOP and conservative media like FOX News, which has now attached the suffix "-gate" to the controversy. For that, we turn to the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza:
Amid the ongoing uncertainty swirling in Washington about who knew what when in regards to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on Benghazi, Libya that left four Americans dead, one thing has become crystal clear: Benghazi isn’t going away as a political issue any time soon.
Why? Because, wherever you come down on the policy debate surrounding the attack, the politics of demanding more information and answers about what happened are an absolute slam dunk for Republicans seeking to show their base a willingness to hold President Obama accountable… [Pols emphasis]
The simple fact is that Republican base voters not only dislike President Obama but have a deep distrust of how his Administration handles virtually all of its business. Not only is Benghazi a confluence of both of those realities but it also involved Clinton, who is widely regarded as the frontrunner to be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016 if she decides to run.
If nothing else, a bunch of Republicans who were genuinely running short of political fodder have something to jawbone. The convergence of Al Qaeda, Democratic "softness on terror," and possible 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, is too fertile ground for them not to exploit to the maximum extent possible. In the end, though, we doubt this will be any more politically useful than it was to Romney.