My most vivid impression, from the days after 9/11/12, was the State Department official testifying to Congress, blandly mouthing the repeated mantra that Benghazi security arrangements followed proper procedures. As if that’s all her responsibility entailed; as if following procedures is all that matters. (Not the odd corpse or two.)
Then we had Gregory Hicks, our second ranking diplomat in Libya in September, testifying recently about his frantic phone calls trying to get armed help to Ambassador Stevens and colleagues besieged in Benghazi. Hicks got a run-around; the military, and State Department, were either unprepared, or uncaring, or just too timorous. Hicks also said he personally briefed Secretary of State Hillary “What Difference Does it Make” Clinton about what really happened, so he was “stunned” and “embarrassed” when UN Ambassador Susan Rice later went public with a different story. And after Hicks agreed to talk to congressional investigators, he was demoted.
Then there was the testimony of Hillary “What Difference Does it Make” Clinton herself. Her famous rhetorical question referred to the “spontaneous protest” narrative versus a calculated terrorist attack. But apparently the Administration itself thought it made a big difference, because it worked hard to massage that difference, with the “talking points” being revised repeatedly. That, we’re told, was just a bureaucratic tug-of-war between the State Department and CIA. In truth it reflected an effort in political spin. The Administration knew straightaway that this was a planned terrorist attack, with no evidence for the “spontaneous protest” fable. Yet, under the guise of being cautious about the facts, the CIA’s factually detailed information about its being a terrorist attack was completely removed from the talking points (it wasn’t merely editing a single word, as White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted). And so hapless Susan Rice was sent out to tell a story the Administration already knew was false.
And what, to the Administration, was the difference? President Obama, running for re-election, wanted us to imagine that killing bin Laden killed Al Qaeda and terrorism. But now here was Al Qaeda, alive and well, brazenly murdering a U.S. Ambassador. That didn’t fit the party line. So better just lie, and put out this hokey story about a spontaneous protest over some You-tube video, that never happened. (To be clear, I’m not saying the President himself lied. His minions did the dirty work. But it is egregious for him to dismiss the whole thing as a “political sideshow.”)
So: what difference does it really make? It’s to understand what happened, to learn from it, and prevent recurrence. And it also makes a difference whether the Administration is honest with us, or deliberately lies for political advantage. Yes, I know, “politicians lie.” But it’s not politics as usual when it’s a matter of national security, and the murders of U.S. diplomats. In that context, mendacity is absolutely intolerable.
That’s what difference it makes, Mrs. Clinton.