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Lesson from Benghazi: U.S. must protect its people overseas

A Libyan military guard stands in front of

A Libyan military guard stands in front of one of the U.S. consulate's burned-out buildings on Friday. Former New York State deputy secretary for public safety, Michael Balboni, writes "It appears that the attackers had inside information regarding the layout of the consulate and the existence and location of a safe house. That would imply pre-operational surveillance. And it raises serious questions about U.S. intelligence operations." Credit: AP Photo Mohammad Hannon

The nation’s crippling political polarization is best displayed by the competing narratives about the 2012 attack on the Benghazi Mission compound in Libya.

Polls show that a majority of Republicans believe that Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, knew the U.S. compound was vulnerable and did nothing to protect it. Among Democrats, more than 50 percent believe the opposite. That is unlikely to change with yesterday’s release of the ninth report on the tragedy.

A two-year probe by a House of Representatives special committee resulted in three versions of findings, one by the GOP majority, another by two dissenting GOP hardliners and one by the Democratic minority. The majority report adds details and context about what happened in Benghazi, but there is not much new. It blames the Obama administration for not fully understanding the deteriorating conditions in Libya after dictator Moammar Gadhafi was deposed and for not meeting additional security requests from diplomats on the ground. This $7 million investigation revealed Clinton had used a private email server during her tenure.

During the attack, there was a failure in the U.S. Marine chain of command, which debated whether rescuers should wear uniforms or civilian clothing. They did not reach the compound until the day after the attack. Whether deploying sooner would have made a difference is unknown, but the level of ineptitude is disturbing. The report does not specifically blame Clinton for the attack or for the death of four men, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

The politics of Bengazi may never be put to rest, but the facts about how the nation failed its representatives must be lessons the next administration learns. — The editorial board