Republicans Confuse Benghazi With Area 51

James Gibney writes editorials on international affairs for Bloomberg View. He was features editor at the Atlantic, deputy editor at the New York Times op-ed page and executive editor at Foreign Policy magazine. He was a foreign service officer and a speechwriter for Secretary of State Warren Christopher, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and President Bill Clinton.
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Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has reiterated his determination to put a hold on PresidentBarack Obama' s nominees for Federal Reserve chairman and Homeland Security secretary until the administration allowed survivors of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, to testify before Congress. He first delivered this threat following the Oct. 27 broadcast of a "60 Minutes" feature on the Benghazi attack. CBS has now retracted that report, based on the unreliability of its primary source.

No matter. Like General Petain at Verdun, or perhaps like a Republican senator facing several challengers in a primary, Graham has said the administration's nominees shall not pass. He wants answers to a series of questions: Did survivors of the attack report a protest? Was there inadequate security? Did they tell anybody earlier about a threat from al-Qaeda?

It's rare when an ordinary citizen can help out a mighty senator, but let me try: Senator Graham, you can lift your hold, because those questions have already been answered.

Start with the 100 pages of e-mails that the administration released last May, which make clear that the original intelligence reports, rightly or wrongly, included references to a protest against an anti-Islamic film trailer. They also make clear that there had been earlier reports of activity by al-Qaeda affiliates, which were also identified as being involved in the attacks. Moreover, the Accountability Review Board convened last fall after the attacks has already made clear that security in Benghazi was "grossly inadequate."

So far, Republicans have yet to unearth a grand political conspiracy or cover-up by the Obama administration involving Benghazi. This week, they'll interrogate Central Intelligence Agency security officers who were on site. That will shine more light on some decisions that, absent the fog of war, might have been made differently. Yet if something truly damaging was likely to surface, it surely would have done so by now. Put another way, could the architects of the current health-care debacle really engineer a cover-up capable of withstanding the frantic digging of five congressional committees?

The Republican hunt for snarks and bandersnatches isn't making anyone safer. In fact, Graham's holds on nominees having nothing to do with Benghazi will only hurt the country -- unless, that is, you prefer the Federal Reserve not to have a chairman, and the Department of Homeland Security not to have a secretary. Instead, Congress should be making sure the State Department actually implements the review board's recommendations, which cover knotty areas from language training and building security to threat analysis. Past experience suggests compliance will be spotty at best. If Graham means it when he says, "I want to perform oversight," that's where to focus.

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