Quote of the Day: The Bizarre Semiotics of Benghazi

| Fri Nov. 16, 2012 9:11 PM EST

From a "senior U.S. official," commenting on talking points from the intelligence community that blamed the Benghazi attacks on extremists:

The controversy this word choice caused came as a surprise.

That's a nicely understated way of putting it. In a normal world, of course, this word wouldn't cause any controversy. It's a perfectly good word. But in a world where, um, political extremists are desperate to gin up a scandal, it's taken on an almost surreal quality.

Today's Benghazi news revolves around David Petraeus's appearance before Congress this morning. Most of the descriptions of his testimony have come from Democratic members of Congress, and they've emphasized that Petraeus signed off on the talking points that were given to Susan Rice before she taped her TV interviews a few days after the attacks. Why haven't we heard more from Republicans about this? I assume it's because Petraeus didn't really help their coverup narrative much. However, Dave Weigel points out that Peter King has talked to reporters, and to his credit, was skeptical of Petraeus's testimony that he had called it a "terrorist" attack from the start:

King said Petraeus had briefed the House committee on Sept. 14, and he did not recall Petraeus being so positive at that time that it was a terrorist attack. "He thought all along that he made it clear there was terrorist involvement," King said. "That was not my recollection."

Later, King talked to CNN about the final interagency talking points that used the word extremist rather than al-Qaeda terrorist:

Q: Did [Petraeus] give you the impression that he was upset it was taken out?

KING: No.

Q: You said the CIA said “OK” to the revised report —

KING: No, well, they said in that, after it goes through the process, they OK’d it to go. Yeah, they said “Okay for it to go.”

King still insists, along with everyone in Fox-land, that we need to get to the bottom of who changed the word. This is stupefyingly dumb, since everyone knows this is exactly the kind of thing that happens when talking points go through a bureaucratic approval process. Still, if Congress wants to dig into this, I guess that's fine. In fact, I should make clear that although the scandal/coverup narrative is, if anything, getting even more ridiculous over time, there are plenty of legitimate questions for Congress to address. For example:

  • Why did the talking points end up referring to extremists rather than terrorists? (It's dumb, but if they want to interrogate the interagency process, I guess that's fine.)
  • Why did it take so long to figure out what happened in Benghazi?
  • Should the attacks have been anticipated?
  • Who was responsible for the response to the attacks? What went wrong? Were troops available that weren't used?
  • Was security in Benghazi inadequate based on what we knew before the attacks?

This is all perfectly reasonable stuff for Congress to investigate. It's not likely to uncover any kind of deep scandal, but if it's done seriously it might help us avert attacks like this in the future, or respond to them better when they do occur.

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