What is the Republican theory of the case on Benghazi?

Gregory Hicks, former Deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. Embassy in Libya. (Cliff Owen/AP)

Gregory Hicks, former Deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. Embassy in Libya. (Cliff Owen/AP)

This week’s House hearings on the Benghazi attack bolster the claim that Susan Rice was providing an account of the attacks as a spontaneous demonstration that the Obama Administration already knew to be unlikely. The star witness was Gregory Hicks, who was the ranking official under Ambassador Chris Stevens at the U.S. Embassy in Libya. Hicks testified that his immediate conclusion was that this was a terrorist attack, which was also the early conclusion of the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.

Glenn Kessler has a thorough rundown of how the understanding and reporting of the Benghazi attack evolved within the Administration and the media. There was genuine confusion early on about what happened, but the Administration did seem to be moving toward the conclusion that this was a terrorist attack when UN Ambassador Susan Rice went on the Sunday talk shows and famously called it a spontaneous demonstration.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee deserves credit for uncovering new information about an important issue. I mean that – this is good investigative work and Congressional oversight is critical to keeping the Executive Branch honest.

But here’s the question I keep coming back to when Republicans attack the Obama Administration with this: What is their theory of the case? Why would the Administration be so determined to call this a demonstration instead of a terrorist attack, to the point of engaging in a massive conspiracy to cover-up the truth from the American people?

Peter Wehner answers my question in Commentary Magazine:

“…the president and his administration wanted to advance a storyline that al-Qaeda was in retreat. The Benghazi attacks eviscerated that claim–and so the president and his team decided to disfigure the facts, to mislead the American people, to fit their story and advance their political interests. Barack Obama had an election to win–and so he had a scandal to hide.”

Really? Because that’s a pretty crappy plan. Well before the election, President Obama was calling Benghazi a terrorist attack, so this was the worst cover-up ever. Also, terrorism was never the dominant issue of the campaign. The story that terrorists attacked our Benghazi consulate would not have cost President Obama the election. Want proof? Well, by Election Day everyone knew this was a terrorist attack, and President Obama was reelected in a landslide.

Here’s my alternate theory: there was genuine confusion in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attack, and that confusion spread to the Administration’s public comments on it. Those public comments remained confused for longer than they should have as it became more clear that this was a terrorist attack – Susan Rice’s statements in particular. Some personnel with the State Department and Administration screwed up, and did not stay curent on the latest findings about what really happened.

The government officials who dropped the ball should be held accountable, and there have already been several resignations. Figuring out what went wrong, and how to fix things for the future, should be the priority. Not looking for a vast government conspiracy that doesn’t make sense in the first place.

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