The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

On the Benghazi talking points

Former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor gives a long explanation of the Benghazi talking points to Greg Sargent. It’s fascinating if you’re interested in how government works. As far as scandal, however, all you really need is this point:

The charge that there was an administration effort to “sell” a normalization narrative in Libya is nonsensical. There just isn’t a political angle here. No voter went to the polls thinking, I don’t like Obama, but boy we have a much better relationship with Tripoli now than we did a few years ago so he’s getting my vote. It’s just silly.

That’s exactly correct. The bottom line on the entire “talking points” portion of this “scandal” really comes down to one thing: there’s nothing there. The Obama administration either is or is not guilty of … very mild spin. That’s it. Nothing else is at stake.

You want to know what would have been a coverup? If the administration had maintained that Ambassador Chris Stevens slipped and hit his head on the sink on the way to a celebration of Libya’s love for the United States (and if it then paid off those on the scene to go along with the story). In other words, trying to pretend that no policy fiasco had happened. Or if it later emerges that Osama bin Laden, alive after all, was personally leading the attack. That really would have contradicted an important campaign story line.

That it was an act of terror, instead of terrorism? That it was extremists, instead of terrorists? That it was planned or spontaneous, a reaction to an immediate event or something coordinated in advance?  There’s not a single voter who would have cared at all. Not one. Nor is there any evidence that the Obama campaign was (even mistakenly) invested in a story that any of these possible spins could have undermined.

After all, the Obama message on terrorism was pretty simple … one could even say simplistic: Dead bin Laden! That was about it. It certainly wasn’t that terrorism had been defeated for good.

All the rest of this, the idea that something important was at stake in exactly what anyone was going to say publicly in mid-September, 2012, is just an obsession of Republican scandal-mongers. And so there’s really no reason for anyone to be carefully reconstructing the process by which the talking points were constructed. If the very “worst” accusations are true (rather than, as all the evidence points and as Kevin Drum has been terrific in arguing, normal interagency bureaucratic politics), it’s at best a very mild misdemeanor of overaggressive spin.

Benghazi was a policy disaster, no question about it, albeit one unlikely to have much effect on the election. It surely merited a careful investigation into how it happened. That’s about it though. However the talking points were drafted, however the administration chose to spin what happened, or what they thought at the time happened, it just doesn’t matter.