The New Yorker is not generally known as a right-wing rag—it is very much an Obamaphile publication, in fact—but even it can’t deny that there was something very wrong with the Obama administration’s response to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi:
On Friday, ABC News’s Jonathan Karl revealed the details of the editing process for the C.I.A.’s talking points about the attack, including the edits themselves and some of the reasons a State Department spokeswoman gave for requesting those edits. It’s striking to see the twelve different iterations that the talking points went through before they were released to Congress and to United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, who used them in Sunday show appearances that became a central focus of Republicans’ criticism of the Administration’s public response to the attacks. Over the course of about twenty-four hours, the remarks evolved from something specific and fairly detailed into a bland, vague mush.
From the very beginning of the editing process, the talking points contained the erroneous assertion that the attack was “spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved.” That’s an important fact, because the right has always criticized the Administration based on the suggestion that the C.I.A. and the State Department, contrary to what they said, knew that the attack was not spontaneous and not an outgrowth of a demonstration. But everything else about the changes that were made is problematic. The initial draft revealed by Karl mentions “at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi” before the one in which four Americans were killed. That’s not in the final version. Nor is this: “[W]e do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qa’ida participated in the attack.” That was replaced by the more tepid “There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.” (Even if we accept the argument that State wanted to be sure that extremists were involved, and that they could be linked to Al Qaeda, before saying so with any level of certainty—which is reasonable and supported by evidence from Karl’s reporting—that doesn’t fully explain these changes away.)
Democrats will argue that the editing process wasn’t motivated by a desire to protect Obama’s record on fighting Al Qaeda in the run-up to the 2012 election. They have a point; based on what we’ve seen from Karl’s report, the process that went into creating and then changing the talking points seems to have been driven in large measure by two parts of the government—C.I.A. and State—trying to make sure the blame for the attacks and the failure to protect American personnel in Benghazi fell on the other guy.
But the mere existence of the edits—whatever the motivation for them—seriously undermines the White House’s credibility on this issue. This past November (after Election Day), White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that “The White House and the State Department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of those two institutions were changing the word ‘consulate’ to ‘diplomatic facility’ because ‘consulate’ was inaccurate.”
Remarkably, Carney is sticking with that line even now… .
Read the whole thing. And recall that from the very outset, Obamaphiles have assured us that criticism of the administration on this issue was misguided and partisan, without any real credibility. So much for that claim. (The talking points are linked in the excerpt, but I am going to provide another link to them here.)
Ron Fournier sums up matters rather well:
“These changes don’t resolve all of my issues or those of my building’s leadership.” With that sentence, one in a series of emails and draft “talking points” leaked to Jonathan Karl of ABC News, the Obama administration was caught playing politics with Benghazi.
Summaries of White House and State Department emails — some of which were first published by Stephen F. Hayes of the Weekly Standard — also contradict the White House version of events that led to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice misleading the public about the cause of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. installation in Libya.
Where does this all lead?
Politics: It would be naïve to expect any White House to ignore the political implications of a foreign policy crisis occurring two months before a presidential election. But there is a reason why no White House admits to finessing a tragedy: It’s unseemly. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland injected politics into the U.S. response to Benghazi when she raised objections to draft “talking points” being prepared for Rice’s television appearances.
One paragraph, drafted by the CIA, referenced the agency’s warnings about terrorist threats in Benghazi in the months prior to the attack, as well as extremists linked to the al-Qaida affiliate Ansar al-Sharia. In an email to officials at the White House and intelligence agencies, Nuland said the information “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 …”
The paragraph was deleted. The truth was scrubbed.
How much more has to be revealed before the administration’s response to the Benghazi attack gets seriously investigated?