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In the name of vengeance

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - Updated: 3:10 PM

No matter how often Republicans denounce them, the initial talking points used by the White House to describe the attack in Benghazi, Libya are not the real point. But they have become a major political issue in large part because of the White House's inept response to questions about how they were written.

In every administration, talking points -- officially sanctioned comments -- are massaged and fought over by any agency with a stake in the outcome. It is also true that the details of crises often take time to sort out; we now know the attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others were carried out by Al Qaeda-linked groups, though at least initially, that was unclear.

The Republicans recently pressed on against President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, citing e-mails to suggest the administration tried to cover up the link to terrorism. There is little doubt that the White House could have handled the talking points issue better. Press Secretary Jay Carney said that the CIA rewrote the talking points when, in fact, e-mails showed the State Department played a substantial role. But both Obama and Clinton have accepted responsibility for the security failures and a State Department inquiry board in November called for reforms to correct those problems.

That hasn't stopped the Republicans from seeking to name a special investigative commission. Republican-led committees in the House have already held numerous hearings on Benghazi, and produced no blockbuster revelations. And Clinton has testified before the Senate on this matter in January. Even so, Republicans are trying to justify having a new commission by discrediting the State Department inquiry. It was surprising that the board did not question Clinton or her two top deputies because, as Thomas Pickering, the former diplomat who co-chaired the inquiry explained, the board concluded mistakes were made by less senior officials.

There are serious issues that need follow-up, including the CIA's role in responding to the Benghazi attacks, stability in Libya, which is in disarray, and the status of diplomatic security reforms. But none of that seems to concern Republicans who are out for political vengeance.

-- The New York Times


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