(Alex Wong/Getty Images)
(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

From the tilted head, the pursed lips and the death-ray stare, you could tell President Obama didn’t like the Benghazi question at the joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron. Let me clarify: the president doesn’t like the ginned up controversy surrounding the terrorist attacks on U.S. personnel in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012. And I don’t blame him.

“The whole issue of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow,” an irked Obama said. “What we have been very clear about throughout was that immediately after this event happened, we were not clear who exactly had carried it out, how it had occurred, what the motivations were.”

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice went on the Sunday talk shows five days after the attacks, which killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, and said they “were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault . . .”

As my Post colleagues Jackson Diehl and Glenn “Fact Checker” Kessler pointed out in separate pieces, what Rice said about a “spontaneous” attack was the one thing that remained unaltered in all the contested revisions of the talking points. That assertion would later be found to be wrong.

The talking points were originally developed by the CIA at the request of a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Interestingly, all of the versions are consistent on one point — that the attacks were “spontaneously inspired by protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo,” a fact later deemed to be incorrect. Glenn Kessler

 

Meanwhile, by the ABC account, every draft of the talking points says that the attacks “were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault . . .” That’s what Rice said. It might have been wrong, but it was the intelligence assessment at the time. So what, exactly, is the scandal? Jackson Diehl

The scandal is not in what Rice said or in the bureaucratic knife-fight that led to erroneous information being given to the American people. No, the scandal is that all this congressional table-thumping doesn’t address the real issue of diplomatic security.

The report from the Accountability Review Board convened by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and chaired by Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering with Adm. Michael Mullen as vice chairman found “[s]ystemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” and a “grossly inadequate [security posture] to deal with the attack that took place.”

“The truth is that cuts [to the State Department] of that level will be detrimental to America’s national security,” warned Clinton in February 2011. The Post’s Dana Milbank wrote at the time, “House Republicans cut the administration’s request for embassy security funding by $128 million in fiscal 2011 and $331 million in fiscal 2012. (Negotiations with the Democrat-controlled Senate restored about $88 million of the administration’s request.)”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has been a chief Benghazi-talking-points critic. But a month after the Benghazi attacks, he was asked by CNN’s Soledad O’brien asked him if he had “voted to cut the funding of embassy security.” His answer?

Absolutely. Look we have to make priorities and choices in this country. We have…15,000 contractors in Iraq. We have more than 6,000 contractors, a private army there, for President Obama, in Baghdad. And we’re talking about can we get two dozen or so people into Libya to help protect our forces. When you’re in tough economic times, you have to make difficult choices. You have to prioritize things.

So, Congress “prioritize[s] things” by cutting diplomatic security because we’re in tough economic times but raises hell over the murder of four Americans at a lightly guarded facility in a known hotspot because the administration had to make do with what it had because of Congress? Only in Washington would that make sense, and it explains why the president is tired of a “sideshow.”

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Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.