Petraeus testimony: nothingburger with cheese

Benghazi conspiracy theorists were hoping that David Petraeus, now that he's been unshackled by stepping down as director of the CIA, would finally drop a bombshell in congressional hearings today and expose the Obama administration's massive coverup the Sept. 11 attack that killed four Americans, including Amb. Chris Stevens. Finally, he would reveal how the White House and Susan Rice concocted a false story connecting that assault to protests over an anti-Islam YouTube video when they knew all along that al Qaeda was behind the ambassador's death. And he would tell us at last how his affair with Paula Broadwell was used to blackmail him into silence.

Er, not so much.

Turns out that the CIA had, in fact, drafted talking points for an interagency review that more or less reflected what Rice said on all those Sunday talk shows. The AP reports:

Lawmakers said he did not discuss that scandal except to express regret about the circumstances of his departure and say that Benghazi had nothing to do with his decision to resign.

Petraeus testified that the CIA draft written in response to the raid referred to militant groups Ansar al-Shariah and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb but those names were replaced with the word "extremist" in the final draft, according to a congressional staffer. The staffer said Petraeus testified that he allowed other agencies to alter the talking points as they saw fit without asking for final review, to get them out quickly. [...]

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said Petraeus explained that the CIA's draft points were sent to other intelligence agencies and to some federal agencies for review. Udall said Petraeus told them the final document was put in front of all the senior agency leaders, including Petraeus, and everyone signed off on it.

"The assessment that was publicly shared in unclassified talking points went through a process of editing," Udall said. "The extremist description was put in because in an unclassified document you want to be careful who you identify as being involved."

So that's it, folks. I must admit that I find the mindless fixation on what Susan Rice said on Sept. 16 baffling. There are real questions about how the Obama administration took its eye off the ball in Libya, among them: Why did it entrust its consulate's external security to an Islamist militia with uncertain loyalties? Why didn't it beef up internal security when folks on the ground asked for it? Who made the decision to reject those request? Charlene Lamb? Patrick Kennedy? Or somebody higher up? Did the CIA and the State Department miscommunicate? Why did Petraeus change his story? Did the intelligence community miss brewing signs of danger? What were all those spooky types really doing at that annex?

More broadly: Does Congress want the United States to stay engaged in Libya? At what level? Does the State Department have all the resources it needs to keep its people safe? What level of risk do Americans want their diplomats to assume? And how comfortable are we with consulates in danger zones that seem to be mere fronts for the more covert stuff?

Unfortunately, you go to the hearing room with the Congress you have, not necessarily the Congress you want.

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