By Kathleen Parker
WASHINGTON — Mistakes were made.
This, we are supposed to accept, is the conclusion to be drawn about the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, despite congressional testimony Wednesday suggesting that significant efforts were made to camouflage those mistakes.
As Democrats and Republicans alike know all too well: It’s always the cover-up.
Yet in this case, where so clearly the State Department and others in the Obama administration took extra steps to mischaracterize what happened the night Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed, Democrats roll their eyes at any suggestion of such.
More or less, most seem to agree with Hillary Clinton’s exasperated assessment during her own congressional testimony in January: “What difference at this point does it make?”
I get her meaning. Why people decided to attack the American consulate and CIA annex in Benghazi is far less important than preventing another such attack in the future. Clinton, who at that point in the hearing may have felt badgered, was understandably weary. Four years on the road had taken their toll and she was recently out of the hospital for treatment of a blood clot inside her skull. This tedious review of history put her over the edge.
Her interrogators, apparently intimidated by the sight of an angry woman — or afraid of looking like bullies — immediately assumed the position of a dog whose master is fiddling with his belt buckle.
Before moving along, let’s clear some brush:
Is the Obama administration culpable for what transpired in Libya? No. It isn’t possible to prevent all eventualities, though in retrospect, it obviously would have been prudent to provide more security in such a volatile place.
Is Clinton to blame for the deaths of four Americans? Of course not. Bad things happen in bad places.
Should we have sent military assistance? If only life were a movie, we could have saved the day. But our military commanders say we couldn’t have gotten there in time. Civilians can speculate that they are wrong, but on what basis?
Still, there is much that should give pause to anyone, regardless of political affiliation. Three essential questions have been answered: (1) Was there advance warning of possible terrorist activities in Libya? Yes. (2) Was a request for more security denied? Yes. (3) Did the Obama administration edit the truth? Yes.
Faced with these answers, Democrats are more willing to give their president the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he was trying to avoid further inflaming a dangerous situation by refusing to repeat his predecessor’s incendiary proclamations against Islamist terrorists.
Or, just as likely, he was too close to re-election to risk contradictions to his campaign narrative: He had killed Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida was as good as dead.
What we now know from testimony and other reporting is that Americans on the ground knew the Benghazi attacks were coordinated terrorist assaults and not a street protest over an anti-Muslim video that escalated. Nevertheless, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was sent on a tour of five Sunday morning news shows to reiterate the CIA-approved talking points.
On Friday, ABC’s Jonathan Karl reported that a review of emails shows that those talking points were the result of 12 different revisions, orchestrated by the State Department, resulting in removal of any reference to warnings or the al-Qaida-affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia.
In one email to White House officials, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed concerns that inclusion of such 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?”
These emails directly contradict White House press secretary Jay Carney’s remarks in a Nov. 28, 2012, news briefing that the “single adjustment” made to the talking points by the administration was “changing the word ‘consulate’ to ‘diplomatic facility.’”
In another email, Nuland expressed dissatisfaction with some of the tweaks, writing, “These changes don’t resolve all of my issues or those of my buildings leadership.”
Therein lies a telling clue.
When a “building’s leadership” is cited as directing an official narrative, you can be sure that someone is trying to avoid responsibility for something. Otherwise known as CYA (covering your anatomical-posterior).
It is easy to believe that real-time mistakes in Benghazi were honestly made. No one thinks that any president or secretary of state would do less than everything possible to save American lives. But the mistakes made afterward, whether out of embarrassment or political survival, are less easily rationalized. They were, factually and knowingly, dishonest.
And that, Madame Secretary, is what difference it makes.
Kathleen Parker is a Washington Post columnist. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.