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Byron York: Benghazi is all about Obama

The conventional wisdom in much of the press is that Republicans are pursuing the Benghazi investigation because they want to damage Hillary Clinton’s chances of becoming president in 2016. Perhaps there are some Republicans who are motivated by that, but it appears most are simply trying, with great difficulty, to find out what happened in Libya on Sept. 11, 2012.

The bigger problem with the conventional wisdom, though, is that it assumes the former Secretary of State is the focal point in the Benghazi affair. She’s not. Benghazi is all about President Obama.

There are three issues in the Benghazi matter. The first is whether the administration reacted properly to the growing threat to American diplomats in Libya in the months leading up to Sept. 11. The second is whether the administration reacted properly during the attack itself. And the third is whether the administration covered up its actions in the days, weeks and months after the attack.

Many Republicans have been fixated on the cover-up, mostly because of the obvious falsehood of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s statements in the days after the attack. But by far the most consequential issue in the Benghazi matter is what the administration did during the attack itself. In those hours, American lives were at risk, and there are real questions about whether the U.S. military did everything it could to save them. That is the issue that cuts to the heart of American concerns in the Benghazi matter.

On Sept. 11, 2012, Hillary Clinton was not commander-in-chief. Barack Obama was. He met with the secretary of defense in the early stages of the attack, and he bears responsibility for everything the military did or did not do during the chaos in Benghazi. Was there really nothing the Pentagon could have done in the eight hours between the first and final attacks on the Benghazi facility? Could the U.S. military do nothing more than send an unarmed drone to watch Americans under attack? In light of diplomat Gregory Hicks’ testimony that a Special Forces team was refused permission to fly to Benghazi on a rescue mission, there could be no more important questions.

Perhaps Republicans have focused on the cover-up because they are captive to the Washington mind-set that the cover-up is always worse than the crime. But in this case, if the administration did not do everything it could to save American lives, the crime would be much worse than the cover-up. An issue of life and death is simply always more important than the talking points that follow.

So, finding out what happened before and after the Benghazi attack is important. But getting to the bottom of events during those critical eight hours in Libya — and in Washington — is critical.  That is why the Benghazi investigation is all about Obama.