Obama likely to wriggle out of Benghazigate; Clinton less so

Team Obama has come up with its excuse for converting the Benghazi talking points into a false narrative. It was a purely bureaucratic matter, you see. The CIA and the State Department disagreed about what happened, and the White House simply wanted to make sure the talking points represented all viewpoints.

The White House has been suggesting this excuse for a few days. Today, the Washington Post’s “fact-checker,” Glenn Kessler, tries to inject it into the mainstream.

It’s not much of an excuse, of course. The White House’s proper role when it presents talking points to Congress, which had requested them, and to the public via appearances by its agents on talk shows, is to state the truth, not to make various bureaucracies happy. If the CIA and the State Department disagreed, the administration should not have included State’s spin merely because that’s what Hillary Clinton wanted.

This notion is so basic that it casts serious doubt on the White House’s “deference to the State Department made us do it” explanation — an excuse that, it should be noticed, won’t warm the heart of Hillary Clinton. In all likelihood, Team Obama endorsed State’s spin because it presented the version of events that best suited the president’s campaign purposes.

But the problem for those who want President Obama to take a major hit is twofold. First, it’s not clear that Obama himself was in the loop, and if he was, it will be difficult to prove.

Second, the CIA appears not to have put up much of a battle with the State Department. If State demanded changes and the CIA’s position was basically “whatever,” then it becomes more difficult to accuse the White House of insufficient regard for the truth in resolving the dispute, such as it was, between the two agencies.

If Obama is going to take a major hit over Benghazi, it will have to be for his response (or lack of one) to the attack while it took place. He can also be criticized for not having ordered that the military be prepared in advance to rapidly respond to events in this dangerous region, but this charge isn’t likely to resonate beyond conservative circles.

As for what Obama did or didn’t do during the attack, there is still more to be learned. As things stand now, though, it looks difficult to show that there was some action Obama could have ordered after the attack commenced that would have changed the outcome.

This isn’t to deny that Obama should have selected one or more of his military options. As I argued here, he should have; for no one knew when the Benghazi attack began how long it would last or whether it would spread to Tripoli.

However, I don’t see the administration taking a major hit for failing to employ measures that would have succeeded only in a counter-factual scenario. The way things look now, I expect Obama to skate past Benghazi.

As I have argued elsewhere, though, Hillary Clinton’s chances of skating are less promising. And unlike Obama, she may be running for high office in a few years.

Responses