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May 21, 2013 11:14 AM Benghazi and Abbottabad

By Ed Kilgore

In case you don’t really want to spend a lot of time following the Benghazi! investigation by House Republicans, but want to get an idea where it is headed, here’s the word from someone who passionately cares about Benghazi!, conservative journalist Byron York of the Washington Examiner:

Until now, most press coverage of the Benghazi matter has focused on the administration’s misleading talking points explaining the attack on the U.S. facility in Libya. But just beneath the surface is the investigation into a potentially more explosive part of the Benghazi story: Whether the U.S. government did everything it could to save Americans whose lives were at risk in the chaotic hours of Sept. 11, 2012.

Translation: the “talking points” saga turned out to be a dry hole (embarassing, indeed, to Republicans once it became clear doctored quotes from emails were at the source of the “press coverage” York is talking about). So it’s time to look elsewhere for Benghazi! oxygen.

York then goes on to discuss today’s House Armed Services Committee meeting (closed to the media) with Pentagon officials aimed, it is clear, at finding holes in the administration’s claim that nothing much could have been done to prevent the killings in Benghazi. Since it’s “whistleblower” Gregory Hicks who’s kept the “scandal” alive, his obvious feeling that a rescue mission could have been launched—or could have been launched if the appropriate security precautions had been in place—is now driving the investigations.

But York’s explanation contains a line of inquiry that shows the underpinnings of this stage of the long-running Benghazi! show even more clearly:

“The people in Benghazi had been fighting all night,” Hicks testified. “They were tired. They were exhausted.” And then the would-be relief mission came to a premature end before it began. “As Col. Gibson and his three personnel were getting in the cars,” Hicks said, “he stopped, and he called them off and said — told me that he had not been authorized to go.”
Congress is still trying to learn who gave that order.
And then there are questions about what the commander in chief was doing while all that was under way. On “Fox News Sunday,” White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer had little to say when asked what President Obama did as the attacks unfolded.
“He was in constant touch that night with his national security team and kept up to date with the events as they were happening,” Pfeiffer said.
But with whom was he talking? asked host Chris Wallace. The president spoke once with the secretary of defense and once, hours later, with the secretary of state. What was he doing in between those talks?
“He was talking to his national security staff,” Pfeiffer answered.
“Was he in the Situation Room?”
“He was kept up to date throughout the day.”
It wasn’t exactly an in-depth portrait of an engaged commander in chief.

York doesn’t completely connect the dots for us, but it’s obvious the idea here is to contrast Obama’s allegedly indifferent behavior during Benghazi! with his high level of personal engagement during the operation to kill Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad, Pakistan. And so the grainy details of the Benghazi! investigation are beginning to converge with its political aim: to neutralize the perceptions of Barack Obama as a tough commander-in-chief who can be trusted to protect our national security, and return to the pre-Abbotabad conservative portrait of the 44th president as a weak and ignorant Muslim-lover who plays politics while Americans are threatened and killed.

And so “The Vetting” of Barack Obama, well into its fifth year, continues.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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