WASHINGTON -- The debate over the attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya that briefly enlivened the 2012 presidential campaign will be revived today (Wednesday) in a hearing before a House committee exploring allegations that the Obama administration was derelict in failing to respond.
Gregory Hicks, the chief deputy to U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, slain in the assault, is scheduled to repeat what he told committee investigators -- that a call for military help that might have averted further damage was denied on grounds there wasn't enough time to be effective.
Republicans jumped on America's UN ambassador, Susan Rice, for at first incorrectly attributing the attack to mere street protests against an anti-Islamic video. They claimed or hinted that, in order to cover up an administration national security failure, she had said there was no evidence it was a terrorist exercise.
President Obama, in debate with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, subsequently insisted that from the start he had characterized the attack as an act of terrorism. The issue remained in dispute through the remaining weeks of the presidential campaign, and even thereafter.
It came into play again Sunday when the chairman of the House Oversight Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, a leader in the claim of administration neglect, appeared Sunday on CBS News' "Face the Nation." He promised further testimony from Hicks and two other State Department diplomatic officers that they had asked in vain for military assistance at the time.
For weeks after the incident, the Romney campaign and Republican supporters on the Internet sought to keep the issue alive, including allegations that then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bore responsibility. The Obama administration defenders meanwhile strove to put it behind them.
The episode remains an embarrassment at the least for the Democratic administration. Such testimony gives weight to the contention of political opponents that dismissing the attack as a mere civilian street protest rather than terrorism was a way to shield a major national security lapse.
Obama rode out the storm during the presidential campaign. But a rerun of the Benghazi fiasco risks another diversion, at least temporarily, from his attempts to pivot to his second-term agenda of stronger economic recovery, immigration reform and a possible return to the lost gun-control fight.
History indicates that while such partisan squabbles often hang on, they eventually lose their punch. An example is former President George W. Bush's claim that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction poised to attack the United States and its allies. They failed to materialize after the swift toppling of the Iraqi dictator.
When Diane Sawyer subsequently asked Bush in an ABC News interview for his reaction of the non-existence of the WMDs with which he justified his invasion, he blandly replied: "What's the difference?" The main point, he went on, was that Saddam Hussein was a bad man and had been removed. As callously as that remark seemed at the time, particularly to the surviving families of Americans killed in Iraq, the hue and cry against his war of choice also seems to be fading now.
When Bush's presidential library and museum were dedicated recently in Dallas, two Democratic former presidents and Obama set aside harsh words for polite platitudes. At the same time, public opinion polls indicated a steady diminution of the honoree's unpopularity since his departure from the White House in 2009.
In American politics, as in life generally, strongly held arguments and disputes die hard, but eventually they do die. The political flap over the attacks in Benghazi, and who was to blame, will simmer for a while longer and then will be forgotten -- like who "lost" China and Vietnam. For good or ill, it's the American way.
(Jules Witcover's latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). You can respond to this column at email@example.com.)