Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on the Benghazi attack before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on the Benghazi attack before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

The Post reports, “A long-delayed Senate intelligence committee report released Wednesday spreads blame among the State Department and intelligence agencies for not preventing attacks on two outposts in Libya that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The bipartisan report lays out more than a dozen findings regarding the assaults on Sept. 11 and 12, 2012, on a diplomatic compound and a CIA annex in the Libyan city of Benghazi. It says the State Department failed to increase security at its diplomatic mission despite warnings and faults intelligence agencies for not sharing information about the existence of the CIA outpost with the U.S. military.”

It is a repudiation of nearly every White House talking point used at some point in the aftermath of the murder of four Americans in Libya. Contrary to White House and Hillary Clinton spin, this was from the outset known to be an al-Qaeda operation, one that could have been preventable. Especially egregious is the lack of preparation for the anniversary for Sept. 11 and the State Department’s repeated denials of requests for security. The Democratic talking point that the security failure was due to sequester cuts is false.

National security analyst Thomas Joscelyn tells me, “The report confirms that terrorists from multiple parts of al-Qaeda’s international network were directly involved in the attack. The report says that terrorists ‘affiliated’ with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Muhammad Jamal Network, and Ansar al Sharia all ‘participated’ in the attack.” He continues, ” AQIM and AQAP are official branches of al-Qaeda. Muhammad Jamal has been a subordinate to al-Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri since at least the 1990s, and was trained by al-Qaeda in the late 1980s. Ansar al Sharia in Derna is headed by a longtime al-Qaeda operative named Sufian Ben Qumu, and some of his men were involved in the attack.” In other words, White House spin conveyed with stenographic precision in a highly criticized New York Times piece is flat out wrong. As Joscelyn puts it, “The U.S. government has desperately tried to avoid saying that al-Qaeda was responsible.”

That is because it would have entirely wrecked President Obama’s pre-2012 election narrative that he had al-Qaeda on the run. It was false then and it is more so today as al-Qaeda threatens to bring down the Iraqi and Syrian regimes. To have told the truth then and to have taken necessary action in Syria meant Obama couldn’t play the role of “war ender.” And he could not have avoided his responsibilities as a war-time president. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute remarks, “As best I know, we still don’t have an idea of what the president himself was doing or not while his embassy was being attacked.  Stepping back, it seems obvious that the administration was  bound and determined not to move more security folks into Libya because to do so was to admit that they had not found some new, successful way of regime change that could avoid putting boots on the ground in the aftermath.”

The Senate report can be seen, then, as a bipartisan recognition of the administration’s negligence and lack of honesty. Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies emails, “The surprising thing is how long it took for Senate Intell to release amidst months of conflicting reports that have clouded Americans’ understanding of what happened.” (From my perspective, maybe not too surprising given the lengths the Democratic Senate will go to cover for this president.) ” That said,” he adds, “It’s refreshing to see an honest assessment.”

Nevertheless, it is an incomplete one. We  don’t know why the White House and Hillary Clinton’s State Department were caught napping and how it could have escaped their notice that Libya was being overrun by jihadis (just as they did in Syria while the administration did nothing). It is not lost on Republicans that this reintroduces numerous questions about Clinton’s competence, candor and attentiveness. In a written statement Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) states, “The committee should reexamine former Secretary of State Clinton’s failure to provide adequate security for our deployed personnel in Benghazi, as well as what actions she and others, including the President, took in the hours and days that followed the attack.” In his statement Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) points out, “The fact that the administration knew it was unprepared to protect those serving in Benghazi from terrorist attacks is highly disturbing. Unfortunately, we still don’t know why the administration failed to increase embassy security in the weeks leading up to the attack, even when it knew the situation on the ground was getting worse.”

There is something to be said for abject apology and quickly throwing the windows open to a full investigation of a scandal. Had the president and Clinton done this, there would not be a cloud hanging over both of them. (Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) remarks, “The committee’s report presents a wide range of declassified findings that will allow the public to more fully understand the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi leading up to the attacks, and the lack of State Department recognition of the danger to our personnel. . . .To the extent this report is incomplete, it is not due to the Committee’s unwillingness to investigate, but the State Department’s intransigence.”)

That is not the Obama/Clinton way, however, to come clean — at least not all at once or before an important election. Every tragedy is a PR problem for them, and the response to any problem is spin. That is why over a year after an ambassador and three others were murdered we still don’t know what responsibility the president has, where Clinton failed, and which White House staffers fell down on the job.

What we do know is that Clinton was running the State Department, which had primary responsibility for the safety of her people. And we do know Clinton has never fully explained herself let alone apologized directly to the family and loved ones of those murdered. (“I am sorry but I just had no system for spotting critical memos“? “I was so convinced Libya was a success story that I lost track of things there“?)  The media this week insisted one 2016 contender may be too hobbled to run for the White House. Right diagnosis, wrong candidate?

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.