As the year draws to a close, the American people are no closer to getting the full story on the massacre in Benghazi than they were in the hours after it happened.
The attack by Islamic radicals on a U.S. consular office in Libya that led to the murder of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other men was followed, in short, by a seemingly disorganized response by an Obama administration more focused on discrediting GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney than on being candid with the American people.
Most outrageously, the administration, in the person of Susan Rice – who is now President Barack Obama's national security advisor – maintained that what happened in Libya and at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, was a spontaneous expression of outrage over an anti-Muslim video produced in America and posted on the YouTube website.
The whole issue was given new life over the weekend after David Kirkpatrick, the New York Times' man in Egypt, authored a story that in large part confirms the administration's story that the video did indeed provoke the embassy troubles.
Kirkpatrick is an excellent reporter with a reputation for caution and accuracy. That he reached such a conclusion on the basis of the evidence he was able to gather is reason enough to give weight to his story, despite the fact that it could be used in the future to inoculate former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton against charges she was derelict in her duties and failed to take appropriate action to protect Stevens and the others at the consulate.
Republicans critical of the way the Obama administration handled the Benghazi issue from start to finish were careful Sunday in the way they handled the revelations in Kirkpatrick's story. California Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the man who has taken point for the GOP on the issue, was careful to say on NBC's "Meet The Press" that, despite what Kirkpatrick wrote, the facts show the Sept. 11 assault on the Benghazi consulate involved a group of individuals tied to al-Qaida.
"It was accurate," Issa said on NBC. "There was a group that was involved that claims an affiliation with al-Qaida," adding that while Kirkpatrick did "very good work" that he had seen no evidence the video and the attack were linked in any provocative way.
Issa, who appears not to be backing down from his assessment that the administration knows more than it has thus far been willing to tell the Congress, went on to remind people that administration officials "went out on five stations and told the story that was at best a cover-up for the CIA or at worst something that cast away this idea that there was a real terrorist operation in Benghazi."
There are those who are going to suggest that Kirkpatrick's reporting is proof that the administration was right and its critics were wrong. In fact, it does no such thing, suggesting for example that there were numerous intelligence failures leading up to the attack. His piece, which does cast doubt on the idea it was an al Qaida-directed attack, depends on semantics, a point on which even he agrees. Furthermore, it does not settle the other questions that still must be answered, the most important being why no one went to the aid of the Americans under fire in the consulate while there was still time to rescue them.
The administration is clearly engaged in a cover-up. The White House, the State Department and the Pentagon have, since the start of the congressional investigation, walked right up to the line dividing cooperation from obstruction and stood on it. They have been unwilling to produce many of the people committee investigators would like to interview, including those evacuated from the consulate before and during the attack and some of the senior military people in the region, several of whom were relieved of their assignments in the aftermath of the events of 9/11/2012.
Whether or not it is time for a special committee to look into Benghazi, as some have called for from the beginning, is unclear. There are compelling and legitimate arguments both for and against the creation of such a body. What is crystal clear is that the Obama administration and maybe even the president himself have been markedly less than candid with Congress and with the American people. Nothing Kirkpatrick wrote and nothing the New York Times has published in any way suggests that they have.
Since coming into office President Obama, as much as he has embraced many of the policies of his immediate predecessor, has been busy trying to remake America's image on the world stage and its role in global affairs. Congress – to its discredit – has not spent enough time fulfilling its oversight function in this all too important area. The United States is still dealing with the consequences of the numerous foreign policy blunders of the Carter administration, even though the Georgia peanut farmer left office more than a quarter century ago. In the coming year, let us hope that congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle pay as much attention to international matters as they have been paying to health care and the budget. Problems at home are much easier to fix than problems we create for ourselves overseas.