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Why do Obama critics tend to focus so much on Benghazi?

Republicans worry that Barack Obama administration’s terrorism policy was weak and encouraged attacks on Americans.

US President Barack Obama speaks to a crowd at TechShop Pittsburgh in 2014. The President also made comments regarding the recent capture of one of those responsible for the attack in Benghazi.
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Critics of the administration’s response to the Benghazi incident tend to see it as emblematic of two deeper problems, which helps give this story its staying power. These reasons explain why a House Republican special select committee is still investigating Benghazi.

First, Republicans worry that the Obama administration’s terrorism policy is so weak as to encourage attacks on Americans. Critics often point to evidence that a former Guantanamo inmate participated in the Benghazi attack and that the State Department was insufficiently prepared — both of which may well be true. These two facts, they argue, undermine Obama’s claim that his administration has put core al-Qaeda on a path to defeat.

Second, they often argue that the Obama administration is plagued by scandals that, like Benghazi, go under-covered and at times covered-up. The IRS purportedly targeting Tea Party groups, stimulus-backed Solyndra going bankrupt, and the Fast and Furious gun-running initiative are all, to these critics, evidence of a fundamentally incompetent and corrupt White House. In this thinking, Benghazi is merely the latest in a long line of administration abuses of power — one that also might indict Hillary Clinton’s presidential run.

The April 30th reveal that the White House hadn’t released all of its Benghazi-related internal emails supercharged these GOP suspicions. The emails, which some conservatives questionably read as a “smoking gun” proving a Benghazi coverup, feed the narrative of a corrupt, policy-weak but politically-Machiavellian White House. As an aide to Speaker John Boehner put it: “The Speaker was furious to learn that the administration withheld relevant documents from a congressional subpoena. He’s sick and tired of this evasion and obstruction.”

One last thing about Clinton. Benghazi allegations often center on her, as she was Secretary of State at the time. She’s also announced a run for president in 2016. If you think the allegations have significant merit, then emphasizing Clinton’s role is important for understanding the character of someone who wants to be president. If you’re more skeptical of the Benghazi allegations, then all this may look more like a Republican attempt to sully the next Democratic presidential nominee.

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