Do failures and lies matter any longer? If you are a prominent Democratic politician, what exactly is the level of wrongdoing that will end your career?
Reading the long-awaited report from the House Select Committee on Benghazi and the associated media coverage, I was struck by the sheer scale of the failures and the deceptions surrounding the terror attack on the Benghazi compound, and by the mainstream media’s dismissiveness. Here’s the opening paragraph of the New York Times’s story on the report:
Ending one of the longest, costliest and most bitterly partisan congressional investigations in history, the House Select Committee on Benghazi issued its final report on Tuesday, finding no new evidence of culpability or wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton in the 2012 attacks in Libya that left four Americans dead.
And here’s the Washington Post on the report:
A final report issued by the Republican majority that investigated the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, found fault with virtually every element of the executive branch response to the attacks but provided no new evidence of specific wrongdoing by then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Clinton’s State Department failed to adequately protect its diplomats in Libya, with the Obama administration so intent on avoiding “boots on the ground” in the aftermath of its Libyan air war that it left Americans dangerously exposed even as the jihadist threat was plainly and clearly ramping up. The report details at least ten previous terror attacks in Benghazi, including two IED attacks on the American compound, yet the State Department had decreased its security there in the months before Ambassador Chris Stevens and four others were killed.
Obama’s Pentagon failed to mobilize assets to protect those same Americans even as they endured an hours-long assault on September 11, 2012. One of the most painful elements of the report is its description of exactly how difficult it was for the Pentagon to ramp up even the quick-strike elements of the most powerful military in the history of the world. Fighters were in one location, tankers in another. Ground assets were in one place, air transport in another. It took hours for clear commands from the White House and Pentagon to filter sufficiently far down the ranks to spur actual military activity.
Then, confronted with the damage afterward, the administration lied, repeatedly. Of that there can no longer be any reasonable doubt. The report lays out in excruciating detail the contrast between the administration’s private and public statements about the attack: The private statements consistently attributed the Benghazi attack to terrorists while the public statements either directly blamed an anti-Islamic YouTube video for causing the violence or conflated the Benghazi attack with a protest at the Egyptian embassy that did appear to be connected to the video.
While Clinton can’t be held responsible for the Pentagon’s failures, her own failures and deceptions can’t and shouldn’t be addressed by a mere apology.
The pattern is familiar: When news first breaks, say what needs to be said to escape the news cycle unscathed. Next, when the truth starts to emerge, deny wrongdoing and state that any comprehensive judgment should be withheld pending a full investigation. When the investigation commences, stonewall the investigators and accuse conservatives of being “obsessed” or on a “witch hunt.” By the time wrongdoing is finally confirmed beyond any reasonable doubt, the average voter will have forgotten why the scandal was a scandal to begin with, or, if he hasn’t forgotten — and actually did withhold judgment — the waters will have become so muddied he won’t know whom to believe.
To some in the media, the very act of stonewalling is heroic. Confronting congressional investigators makes you a “fighter.” Enduring inquiries and consolidating your base makes you a “survivor.” Bill Clinton used this playbook to escape political accountability for infidelity, perjury, and obstruction of justice. The Obama administration has used it to flush the IRS’s targeting of tea-party groups down the memory hole, transforming one of the most outrageous abuses of power in the modern history of the executive branch into old news in record time.It should be acknowledged that in their efforts to outrun their misdeeds, Obama and the Clintons always get an inadvertent assist from the conspiracy-mongering right. Obsessed with finding smoking guns personally connecting their targets to wrongdoing, they help the media define scandal down. They swing for the fences, and journalists are all too happy to treat doubles and triples as signs of failure. Can’t find any records proving Obama and Clinton specifically ordered administration officials to lie about Benghazi? Well then, they must not have done anything wrong. Can’t uncover e-mails directly tying Obama to IRS abuses? The story moves to the back page, and then out of the media entirely.
So here we are. The presumptive Democratic nominee for president is largely responsible for one of the great foreign-policy disasters of the last eight years and unquestionably responsible for helping mislead the public, yet in the media calculus of our time the Benghazi report is a “win,” because it merely confirms failures we already knew about. And everyone knows that old failures are no failures at all.
— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.