ON THE night of Sept. 11 and morning of Sept. 12, 2012, U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers in Benghazi, Libya, came under attack by terrorists armed with automatic weapons, mortars and fuel to start fires. By the next morning, four brave Americans lay dead — Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens; his aide, Sean Smith; and two former Navy SEALs providing security, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty. It was a horrific crime whose perpetrators remain for the most part unidentified and unpunished — and a setback for U.S. foreign policy in the wider Middle East.
As if all of that weren’t bad enough, the Benghazi attacks mutated into yet another of the partisan dramas that U.S. politicians — in this case Republican politicians — generate in lieu of constructive policymaking. Unable to turn the events to their advantage when they occurred, during the 2012 election campaign, Republicans have persisted in attempting to milk the “scandal” for the past four years. They have done so even though repeated previous investigations — including by a GOP-led House intelligence panel — found nothing to contradict the Obama administration’s basic account. Diplomatic security, intelligence and other preparation were inadequate in hindsight; but the violence in Benghazi was over before any effective U.S. military intervention could have been organized. Government failures before, during and after the attacks, such as they were, resulted from a combination of understandable confusion and good-faith mistakes — not conspiracy, coverup, politics or deliberate “abandonment” of U.S. personnel, as the Republican right has so often and so feverishly insinuated.
And now, after two years and $7 million, comes Tuesday’s final report of a Republican-led House select committee, which adds exactly nothing substantial to the story. It’s true that the panel’s investigation did, along the way, help trigger the revelation of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server, which is a real issue. On the most sensitive point, however — Ms. Clinton’s personal culpability for what happened in Benghazi — the committee came up empty. Its report contains dozens of pages on the now-famous early statements from the administration implying the attacks were motivated by Arab-world reaction to an anti-Islamic video on the Internet. But even this exhaustive review produces no proof that this messaging resulted from a politically motivated attempt to play down terrorism, as opposed to a genuine factual dispute among State Department and CIA officials, compounded by faulty verbal formulations by then-Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and other hastily briefed administration spokesmen.
There’s much to be learned from the fiasco in Benghazi and from the wider breakdown in Libya that followed the U.S.-aided overthrow of Moammar Gaddafi in 2011. President Obama did contribute to this mess by his refusal to support the new postGaddafi government’s attempt to build security; he and his administration, Ms. Clinton included, can rightly be held accountable for this mistaken policy. Yet for reasons best known only to themselves, Republicans have insisted on pursuing their own more inflammatory and conspiratorial version of events. Maybe someone should investigate that.