The capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, one of the suspected ringleaders of the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, has reopened a debate over what exactly happened that night and whether the Obama administration has handled the situation appropriately.
In the immediate aftermath of the news of Khattala's capture — news broken by The Washington Post — Democrats seized on it as an affirmation of their belief that the Obama administration did exactly what it should have done both during and after the attack. Here's former White House senior adviser David Plouffe summing up that sentiment on Twitter:
Once again our Special Forces execute flawlessly. And once again a President keeps his commitment.
— David Plouffe (@davidplouffe) June 17, 2014
Republicans praised the capture but quickly turned to how and where Khattala should be tried — Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Marco Rubio insisted it should be Guantanamo Bay — and to making the point that his capture does not change their desire for more answers about the events of Sept. 11, 2012.
"The Obama Administration has an obligation to share whatever information he offers with Chairman Gowdy and the Select Committee about events before and during the Benghazi attack," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, in a statement.
For today's Match/Point — our semi-regular feature in which we set up a matchup and then declare a winner — let's duke it out between the idea that the capture of Khattala effectively ends (again) Republicans' posturing on Benghazi and the belief that it changes virtually nothing in Republicans' search for a honest accounting of the events of that day. (For our last Match/Point on Hillary Clinton's "houses" click here.)
Let's start with this fact: Khattala's capture gives President Obama -- and Democrats in Congress -- a very nice retort to the Republican rhetoric that the administration has mishandled the incident from start to finish. Even the most ardent critics of Obama on Benghazi -- and foreign policy more broadly -- were forced to admit, at least, that this was good news for the country.
Very pleased our Special Forces have detained Ahmed Abu Khattala. #Benghazi
— Lindsey Graham (@GrahamBlog) June 17, 2014
But, a look at the available polling data prior to the capture -- and there's lot of it -- would suggest that Republicans are on very solid ground to continue their pursuit of a more detailed accounting of the events surrounding the Benghazi attacks. In Washington Post-ABC News polling conducted this month, just one in three people (32 percent) said the administration had "honestly disclosed" what it knew about the Benghazi attacks while 58 percent said the White House has "tried to cover up the facts." The numbers are even more stark when you break the question down by party; just 11 percent of Republicans said the administration was being honest about Benghazi while one in four independents said the same. (Fifty-six percent of Democrats said the administration was being honest.)
And, in Gallup data from earlier this month, nearly 6 in 10 Americans said conducting further investigations into what happened in Benghazi was an important issue for Obama and Congress to address in the coming year. That puts the issue in the same territory as raising the minimum wage (57 percent say it is important) and reforming the nation's immigration laws (58 percent important).
It is of course possible that the capture of Khattala moves those numbers in a meaningful way as the public sees a very public sign of what Obama is doing to address the issue. But it's hard to imagine the Republican base -- only one in ten(!) of which think the administration is being forthright about what it knows -- moving much on Benghazi at this point. And, because it is important -- and animating -- to the Republican base, the capture of Khattala seems unlikely to close the books on the Benghazi debate.
Is today a good chapter in the story for Obama? Yes. But, there's almost certainly more to the political story.
"This changes nothing" wins today's Match/Point.