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Truth & consequences for Benghazi

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By Jonah Goldberg
Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

The only real accountability for the Benghazi scandal will have to come in 2016.

Reading through the competing partisan reports and listening to the congressional testimony of various officials last week, it seems fair to say that no actual crimes were committed (though you never know what you don't know).

There were, in at least a figurative sense, criminal lapses in judgment by senior officials. Many of those lapses are recounted in the Accountability Review Board report. It found “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department” that “resulted in a special mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.”

Translation: U.S. officials were caught by surprise by a terrorist attack on 9/11 in a country where our ambassador had repeatedly warned his superiors — including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — that security was grossly inadequate. That ambassador, Christopher Stevens, was vindicated in a pyrrhic sense when he was murdered by well-organized terrorists.

Clinton picked four of the five members of the “independent” board. The ARB assigned all meaningful blame to some midlevel officials. ARB members declined to interview Clinton and none of the people who were interviewed was under oath.

For those following the still-unfolding scandal at the IRS, this might be significant. Initially, IRS official Lois Lerner tried to pin all of the blame on some low-level employees in Cincinnati. When employees were questioned by congressional investigators — away from their bosses and under oath — evidence was found to help prove Lerner's account a well-orchestrated lie.

Congressional Republicans would like to get relevant witnesses to testify under oath, but they claim that the State Department and CIA are blocking that. CNN has reported that many potential CIA witnesses have been subjected to “frequent, even monthly” lie detector tests to discourage them from leaking information. One insider told CNN: “You have no idea the amount of pressure being brought to bear on anyone with knowledge of this operation.”

That's all very ominous, and I'm at a loss as to why it's outrageous for Congress to try to get to the bottom of what happened. But we probably know what happened.

In the midst of a hard-fought presidential election, the administration, and specifically the president, was caught embarrassingly flat-footed by a terrorist attack. Even when the attack was still going on, it failed to send any help. The ARB establishes that much.

At the time, the Obama campaign had been touting its success in the war on terror. The last thing it wanted less than 60 days before the election was to lose that issue. So, afraid of the political fallout, the White House and the State Department circled the wagons.

Hillary Clinton is a master of the passive-aggressive art of dragging out investigations until the press and public lose interest and spinners can use abracadabra phrases like “it's all old news,” “let's just move on” and, most famously, “what difference does it make?”

The irony in this case is that it's precisely that tactic that has now turned a political problem for Obama into a political problem for Clinton. And unfortunately, the only real accountability we can hope for on Benghazi will come when she runs for president herself.

Jonah Goldberg is the author of “The Tyranny of Clichés,” now on sale in paperback.

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