Maureen Dowd is right about this much:
... in this hottest of hot spots, the State Department’s minimum security requirements were not met, requests for more security were rejected, and contingency plans were not drawn up, despite the portentous date of 9/11 and cascading warnings from the C.I.A., which had more personnel in Benghazi than State did and vetted the feckless Libyan Praetorian Guard. When the Pentagon called an elite Special Forces team three hours into the attack, it was training in Croatia — decidedly not a hot spot.
Hillary Clinton and Ambassador Chris Stevens were rushing to make the flimsy Benghazi post permanent as a sign of good faith with Libyans, even as it sat ringed by enemies.
The hierarchies at State and Defense had a plodding response, failing to make any superhuman effort as the siege waxed and waned over eight hours.
This isn't new or newsy. In December,
an outside accountability review board has released its report on the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.... Former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chaired the outside accountability review board.... Overall, the report found that, 'Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies resulted in a security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.' ...
In a letter that accompanied the full report, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it 'a clear-eyed look at serious, systemic challenges that we have already begun to fix.' She said she accepted all of the recommendations. The report didn't single out specific individuals, but three State Department officials ... resigned....
(The unclassified version of the report is here.)
Dowd goes on to theorize about the Benghazi talking points, and here too her suppositions may be partially right:
In the midst of a re-election campaign, Obama aides wanted to promote the mythology that the president who killed Osama was vanquishing terror. So they deemed it problematic to mention any possible Qaeda involvement in the Benghazi attack.
Looking ahead to 2016, Hillaryland needed to shore up the mythology that Clinton was a stellar secretary of state. Prepared talking points about the attack included mentions of Al Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia, a Libyan militant group, but the State Department got those references struck.
But Dowd undercuts her own hypothesis when she reveals that the State Department staff who "got those references struck" was "Victoria Nuland, a former Cheney aide." Raise your hand if you think a former Cheney aide was totally into bolstering Hillary Clinton's presidential creds. No, I don't think Nuland was a Cheney mole determined to undermine Hillary's future political career. But Nuland's first inclination, having worked on the dark side, would certainly be toward more opacity, not less.
However, since we're looking for motivations, we should acknowledge that the talking points are a subject of discussion whose sole purpose is political. They were first an issue Fox and Friends raised to undermine President Obama's chance for re-election in 2012. Mitt Romney's debate meltdown put an end to that. (And thanks again, Candy Crowley.) So now, the National Republicans Congressional Committee and Karl Rove are moving on dot org to 2016:
Francis Wilkinson of Bloomberg News explains, at least in part, why Darrell Issa, et al., have been so enamored of Susan Rice's talking points:
Unlike Whitewater, a convoluted, shady-sounding and quite possibly greasy real-estate investment deal, Benghazi consists of a discrete event, a brief aftermath and not much of a paper trail. After all, how much paper is produced in the course of a frantic night of violence in a faraway place?
So paper production is the first order of business. We will need lots and lots of documents citing multiple sources whose large and small discrepancies in memory, perspective and testimony can subsequently be magnified, scrutinized and exploded into controversies.
What's a scandal without a paper trail? A Congressional scandalmonger needs something to subpoena, preferably something that the executive branch can claim is privileged or too classified for the likes of Darrell Issa to view. Hooray! More wrangling with the administration. More facetime on Fox!
Forget all that. The real question goes back to the beginning: WTF was Ambassador Chris Stevens doing at an unsecured consulate in Benghazi -- "this hottest of hot spots" -- on September 11? It suits no one's political purpose to lay the blame where it belongs, so Stevens is portrayed, even in the Accountability Review Board (ARB) Report, as an heroic martyr to Libyan democracy and American values.
In fact, Chris Stevens was a hotdogger who put himself, his staff and his security personnel at undue risk. He is a tragic figure only in the classical sense: he was directly reponsible for his own death and -- the deaths of three others. The ARB obliquely acknowledges this: "Embassy Tripoli did not demonstrate strong and sustained advocacy with Washington for increased security for Special Mission Benghazi" and describes the facility as having an "insufficient ... security platform." The Benghazi staff consisted of
relatively inexperienced American personnel often on temporary assignments of 40 days or less.... Plans for the Ambassador's trip [to Benghazi] provided for minimal close protection security support and were not shared thoroughly with the Embassy's country team, who were not fully aware of planned movements off compound. The Ambassador did not see a direct threat of an attack of this nature....
Notice how the report employs the passive voice and substitutes "Embassy Tripoli" for "Stevens." What the Board means is that Stevens put inexperienced temps in a dangerous facility with an "insufficient security platform," then popped off to join them (or whatever) without a proper security detail and without even telling staff where he was going and what he was doing because, you know, he just didn't think anybody in an unstable Muslim country would want to kill an American ambassador on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The evidence is that Chris Stevens saw himself as a modern-day Lawrence of Arabia, with "his knowledge of Arabic, his ability to move in all sectors of the population, and his wide circle of friends, particularly in Benghazi." Well, maybe not "all sectors" and maybe his circle of friends was not quite as wide as he imagined. As the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Stevens had a primary responsibility to protect Americans in Libya. But that responsibility conflicted with his dream of a horde of enthusiastic Libyans shouting, "Ste-VENS! Ste-VENS! Ste-VENS!" He put his personal ambitions before the safety of those in his charge. Stevens -- and other Americans -- are dead only because Stevens himself was woefully irresponsible.
The real scandal is the one that dare not speak its name.
P.S. Please feel free to use the Comments section to vehemently disagree with me.