Most Americans have probably tuned out of the latest inside-the-beltway debate about the Benghazi attack. That's probably because it isn't about the 2012 assault on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi at all but, at this point, has descended into allegations of a cover-up of a cover-up — specifically, the failure to hand over a memo in an earlier Congressional investigation.
We'll grant the critics this: The email from White House adviser Ben Rhodes recommending that Susan E. Rice, who was then serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, use Sunday morning talk show appearances to underscore that protests in the Middle East are "rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy" should have been released earlier, if only because of the GOP fascination with how Ms. Rice was briefed that weekend.
But so what? These were talking points about Middle East protests, not specifically about Benghazi. And the notion that a White House adviser might have concerns about politics is not exactly a scandal, more like business as usual in any White House. And yes, there actually were Muslim protests about the video in question taking place around that time elsewhere in that region of the world, so the possibility of a connection with Benghazi wasn't exactly made up from whole cloth — it actually originated in the intelligence community.
Republican fascination with how Ms. Rice was coached is surely one of the more bizarre attacks on the Obama administration. The general public may be rightfully outraged about the death of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and several others. It was also fair to question the State Department's security procedures before the attack. But all that has been done already in four previous Congressional investigations. The administration took their lumps, and Republicans even got to grill former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on TV.
Now, House Speaker John Boehner is moving forward with yet another Benghazi-related investigation by forming a select committee to look into the Benghazi response. Whether it will have any more authority — or much new ground to cover — then did the House Oversight Committee is not yet clear. Small wonder that Democrats are talking about not participating at all, lest they be seen as giving some appearance of approval to this strictly political exercise. The original 9/11 didn't get this kind of treatment in Congress; it received a serious bipartisan policy-oriented review.
Still, we think the Democrats should participate in this latest exercise of tail chasing because someone needs to be on hand to point out the absurdity. That was what Baltimore's own Rep. Elijah E. Cummings has found himself doing frequently as ranking member on the oversight panel during the last two years — at least when Chairman Darrell Issa wasn't turning off his microphone — and it has clearly infuriated Mr. Issa and his brethren who are far more comfortable dishing out criticism than taking it, even when it's so richly deserved.
Republican fascination with Benghazi talking points is the foreign policy counterpart to the party's domestic priority of repealing Obamacare. Its appeal is not just in possibly embarrassing President Barack Obama and his party before the midterm elections (or perhaps leading to another grilling of Ms. Clinton, the Democrats' leading possible presidential candidate in 2016) but that it doesn't require the critics to commit to any policy position of substance. Just as Republicans can be against Obamacare but offer no viable alternative, they can be against the Benghazi response (whatever that means at this point) without having to propose anything that approaches foreign policy.
Actual foreign policy is difficult and controversial. Pitching a solution for Ukraine or Libya that either amounts to the Obama administration's approach wrapped in more aggressive language or offering a global outlook that veers into the outrageously hawkish, as when Sen. Marco Rubio recently suggested that U.S. security depends on the "security of small hamlets in Afghanistan," would alienate primary voters just as offering a real alternative to the Affordable Care Act might. At least for now, blasting the administration on how it responded to Benghazi is like blasting it on health insurance coverage, it's too easy and too popular in the right-wing media's echo chamber to be resisted.
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