- - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Mystery continues to swirl around the Obama administration’s failure to respond to the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, but some questions are being answered.

The House Armed Services Committee on Monday released preliminary findings from its inquiry into the Sept. 11, 2012, murder of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The committee majority faults the State Department for leaving our diplomatic personnel unprotected, citing a blindness toward the “growing Islamic threat to American interests in the region.”

President Obama set the tone for downplaying Islamic radicalism early on when he went to Cairo to make a groveling apology for America.

Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, carried this tune, as did the military. There were no armed drones, no AC-130 gunships nor any F-16 fighter aircraft at the ready anywhere near Benghazi.

No help was sent during the siege, the committee found, because no help was available. “Administration decision makers were apparently reluctant to discuss publicly the deteriorating security situation in Libya or make changes in the U.S. diplomatic presence or military force posture that might have mitigated the dangers there,” the report found.

Instead of boosting security in Benghazi in advance of Sept. 11 date, the State Department did the opposite. In fact, “in the weeks before the attack there was a decrease in the modest U.S. military presence there,” the report noted.

With the U.S. security team cut from 16 to four members, the stage was set for disaster. In the committee’s opinion, given the state of play on that fateful day, there was nothing more the military could have done that would have made a difference.

There was no “stand down” order issued that kept forces from joining the seven-hour battle in Benghazi, contrary to earlier reports.

While the committee findings help bring clarity to events leading up to the attack, many questions remain about its aftermath. Why was the White House so reluctant to inform the American people that the assault on the compound was a preplanned terrorist attack?

Who deleted references to terrorism from the White House talking points? Who decided that an unknown video floating on YouTube would take the blame for what happened?

The report does not delve into these issues beyond noting that top military officials were well aware of the obvious, that this was a terrorist incident.

“General [Carter F. Ham] and others also reported to the committee that they readily believed the events in Benghazi to be an attack, not a protest against a YouTube video that had spun out of control,” the report noted.

Mrs. Clinton famously pushed back against congressional investigators trying to get to the bottom of a number of these questions. “What difference, at this point, does it make?” she asked.

Knowing exactly what happened makes a great deal of difference. The State Department has already boosted security in light of Benghazi. Thirty-five embassies that had no Marine units now have them, and other measures have been taken to boost the defensive capabilities for diplomatic facilities in “high risk” countries.

Until the outstanding questions are answered, we won’t know whether the administration understands the seriousness of the Islamic militant threat. The sooner the White House opens up and allows this investigation to conclude, the sooner this tragedy and scandal can be put behind us.

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