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Calculations

Dec 20, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

The Benghazi investigation will put the president's skills on display again

The sacrificial lambs are being served up as the dust settles on the Libyan consulate attack in Benghazi that left four Americans dead, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.

Chief among them was Susan Rice, the former United Nations ambassador who was known to be President Obama's choice to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State once the former first lady steps down from her post early next year.

Pressure on the Obama administration mounted between the time of the attack in September and election day in November as political opponents looked to generate a scandal out of Benghazi of sufficient force to derail Obama's re-election.

Mission not accomplished on that front. In a way, however, it still isn't all bad for the Benghazi examiners. With the immediate political pressure off the table, a more-reasoned, more-thorough, more-fair analysis of what happened -- and what didn't -- is possible.

Rice, for her part, has done the right thing. There was handwriting on the wall, and she can read. Had Obama nominated Rice for Secretary of State, there would have been a confirmation stink the likes of which hadn't been smelled since Clarence Thomas was up for a Supreme Court vacancy. Rest assured, Republicans such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham in the Senate wanted -- yes, wanted -- Obama to nominate Rice so that the three-ring circus could begin at the Capitol, with McCain and Graham as the Ringling Brothers, and New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte cracking the whip as ringmaster.

Now Obama appears set to nominate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, a conventional choice the Senate will have no choice but to confirm without fanfare. There will be no brouhaha because Kerry doesn't provide the basis for one.

Whatever else history might record of Barack Obama, this much is true: He consistently has disarmed his opponents -- not by fighting them, but by shifting the battlefield. A fight on Susan Rice? No thanks. A blood battle on the deficit? Obama calculated that he could take his lumps before the election, but after that the heat would be on the Republicans as we near the "fiscal cliff." Check.

Gun control? Obama made not one move toward it for the first four years. Now the pictures from Newtown, Conn., will do the politicking for him. And there are numerous other examples from Obama's first term.

The calculations are still at work as the Benghazi probe continues. A high-ranking State Department official "resigned" on Wednesday, and some underlings were fired outright.

And the report a few days ago criticizing security measures at the consulate wasn't generated by a clench-jawed Obama hater but by Obama's own former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen. He's one of the people pictured in the famous photograph showing the president and top administration officials watching the Osama bin Laden raid in 2011.

Having Gen. Mullen lead the investigation -- and deliver its harsh conclusions -- gives more authenticity to the probe than, say, Rick Santorum would. Mullen is beyond reproach at least publicly. Again, calculations.

That there was a "security failure" in Benghazi is no great revelation. There was a security failure at the Beirut Marine barracks in 1983, and at U.S. airports on Sept. 11, 2011, and in the cities of Iraq when thousands of U.S. troops were killed by remote-controlled bombs on roadsides. The investigation will need to expose more than that if it is to have any legs.

How deeply President Obama will be cut by Benghazi will be seen shortly. Given past performance, however, it probably won't be nearly so damaging as his opponents are hoping for.

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