Benghazi lessons reinforced
A bipartisan report released last week by the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence confirms that the terrorist attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, was all too predictable.
It also re-asserts the reality that the murderous assault was not a sudden overreaction to an obscure anti-Mohammed video.
As a news release that accompanied the panel's report put it: "The committee found the attacks were preventable, based on extensive intelligence reporting on the terrorist activity in Libya - to include prior threats and attacks against Western targets - and given the known security shortfalls at the U.S. Mission."
That preventable onslaught killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
The report - from a committee with a Democratic majority - cites ample evidence that the assault, involving rocket-propelled grenades and well-aimed small-arms fire, was a deliberate terrorist attack. Intelligence assessments have linked the attack to groups tied to al-Qaida.
The report also indirectly supports the view that politics were in play when then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice appeared on five news shows, five days after the attack, to give a flawed version of events. She said the violence was a spontaneous protest against that anti-Mohammed video. Administration officials stuck to that myth for two weeks after the attack before finally conceding that it was a well-planned terrorist assault.
But the new Senate report, signed by intelligence panel Chair Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., does not hold anyone in the State Department or Obama administration responsible for that extended fiction - or for the failure to provide repeatedly requested security for the Benghazi mission, or for the lack of a military rescue mission.
Sen. Feinstein even said that she hoped the report would "put to rest many of the conspiracy theories and political accusations about what happened at Benghazi."
However, you need not be a conspiracy theorist to be troubled by the Obama administration's Benghazi performance - before, during and after the terrorist attack.
The administration is still placing blame for its false account on faulty intelligence. But though the early CIA report did cite the anti-Muslim video, it also initially included this crucially accurate information: "We do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qaida participated in the attack."
That sentence was deleted at the request of State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who warned in an email to the White House that it "could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up on the State Department for not paying attention to warnings."
And now, in the new Senate report, high-ranking State Department officials again escape responsibility for their tragic failures on Benghazi.
Committee member Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, rightly deplored that missed opportunity, explaining:
"Sufficient time has elapsed for the State Department to demonstrate whether or not decision makers would be held accountable for poor judgments, refusal to tighten security, and misinformation."
And significant questions remain unanswered about the lack of a military response to the attack, which went on for several hours after the Pentagon and the White House were made aware it had begun.
The president and many of his Democratic allies, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, might have generally succeeded in branding this story "old news."
But the timeless lessons of Benghazi aren't just about the 2012 - or 2016 - presidential politics.
And despite its flaws, the Senate report does a useful service by making it clear that the Benghazi outcome was preventable - and that it was not the result of a spontaneous outburst by a street mob.
The report also serves notice on the perils of failing to heed warnings about insufficient security for U.S. diplomats abroad.
And it's a reminder that high-ranking officials should deliver facts, not politically motivated fiction, about outrages like the one that occurred in Benghazi.