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“The Great Benghazi Scandal Gets Sillier”: Potato, Potahto, Tomato, Tomahto; Well, You Know The Rest

You say potato and I say potahto,
You say tomato and I say tomahto,
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto:
Let’s call the whole thing off.

–George and Ira Gershwin

Here’s how unreal the Great Benghazi Scandal had already grown as of last year. Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler devoted an entire May 2013 column to the scholastic question of whether President Obama’s calling the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on a U.S. Consulate in Libya an “act of terror” was the same as calling it an “act of terrorism,” as he’d recently claimed.

Kessler pondered the deep semantic differences between the two phrases before awarding Obama a full four “Pinocchios,” signifying a “whopper.” Seriously. That’s the big cover-up House Republicans pretend they’re outraged about.

Obama’s exact words, from the White House Rose Garden on the day after the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his security team:

No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.

So who was Obama trying to deceive? People who hadn’t seen the smoking ruins on TV? And about what? Kessler doesn’t say. Only that the two phrases don’t signify precisely the same thing — a distinction without a difference in any realistic political context.

It will be recalled that GOP nominee Mitt Romney executed one of the clumsiest pratfalls in presidential debate history for mistakenly challenging Obama on this exact point. Had the president, or had he not, described the Benghazi disaster as an “act of terror?”

Obama cooly urged his rival to consult the transcript. In fact, he’d used the phrase several times. Had the Washington political press not had so much invested in a “cliffhanger” election narrative, Romney’s blunder would have been compared to President Gerald Ford’s denying Soviet influence in Poland during a 1976 debate with Jimmy Carter.

But then this is the great mystery confronting non-initiates in the great GOP Benghazi cult. What on earth are these people going on about? That if Obama had said “act of terrorism” instead of “act of terror,” Americans would have punished his failure to eliminate jihadists from the face of the earth by turning to Mitt “47 percent” Romney?

That everything would be different if UN Ambassador Susan Rice had cast aside White House “talking points” about inflammatory videos on the Sunday political chat shows and candidly confessed that “[w]hether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself…is one of the things we’ll have to determine?”

Because those were Rice’s exact words, block copied from the transcript of CBS’s Sept. 16, 2012 Face the Nation broadcast in response to a direct question from Bob Schieffer about al Qaeda involvement.

Everybody now pretends she named no terrorist groups, for the sake of keeping the make-believe scandal alive.

It follows that contrary to everything you hear from partisan mischief makers and their helpers among the Washington press, the Obama White House has never sought to deny the obvious: that the kinds of religious zealots who bring rocket-propelled grenade launchers to street demonstrations didn’t simply find them lying around in the bazaar.

The original CIA talking points released 11 months ago said pretty much what Ambassador Rice said: that outrage at a crude, American-made video mocking Islam sparked violent protests across much of the Middle East, and that militants took advantage of the resulting chaos for their own bloody purposes. The exact identity of those responsible isn’t yet known.

See, out there in the real world, it doesn’t always have to be either/or. Most often it’s both/and: armed terrorist groups and a provocative video. A Senate Intelligence Committee report released last January sharply criticized the State Department, but also concluded “that the attack was not a highly coordinated plot, but was opportunistic.”

David D. Kirkpatrick’s masterful reporting in The New York Times established that the anti-western Libyan militia Ansar Al-Sharia had long had the consulate under surveillance, although “[a]nger at the video motivated the initial attack. Dozens of people joined in, some of them provoked by the video and others responding to fast-spreading false rumors that guards inside the American compound had shot Libyan protesters….A Libyan journalist working for The New York Times was blocked from entering by the sentries outside, and he learned of the film from the fighters who stopped him.”

However, a 2012 White House email has recently emerged, re-stating CIA talking points in somewhat different language. So big deal.

They’ll be singing all summer: Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto.

Well, you know the rest.


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, May 7, 2014

May 10, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, GOP, Terrorism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Friends Don’t Let Friends Run For President”: A Muddled Indictment Of GOP Senators By GOP Senators

Today’s most decidedly peculiar article is one by The Hill‘s Alexander Burns reporting that Republican senators really hate the idea of Republican senators running for president in 2016.

Fearful of a third successive Democratic triumph, concerned Senate Republicans are turning against 2016 presidential bids by upstart hopefuls within their own ranks.

In forceful comments to The Hill, GOP senators made it plain that they would much prefer their party nominate a current or former governor over Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Marco Rubio (Fla.) or Rand Paul (Ky.).

Those senators have created a buzz among conservative activists, but their colleagues in the upper chamber are eager to support a nominee from outside Washington with a record of attracting independents and centrist Democrats.

They worry that Washington has become so toxic that it could poison the chances of any nominee from Congress in 2016.

Now there are obviously multiple thoughts at play in this muddled indictment of senators by senators. Is the problem the particular “upstart” senators who are thinking about running (and is Establishment darling Rubio really an “upstart”?)? Are governors generally a better idea, or only those with “a record of attracting independents and centrist Democrats”? After all, senators run statewide just like governors do, and if you think about the GOP governors who may run in 2016, several (Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal) aren’t exactly famous for “attracting independents and centrist Democrats,” are they?

Interestingly, the most forceful senator on the record in this piece as deploring his peers as presidential candidates is Chuck Grassley, from a state that will have more than a bit of influence in culling the GOP field. Dean Heller is from another early state. But from reading Bolton’s piece, you’d think these worthies are speaking strictly from an abstract point of view.

Bolton offers the obligatory history lesson: Warren Harding was the last Republican to go straight from the Senate to the White House; the last three senators to win the GOP nomination (Goldwater, Dole and McCain) all got waxed. To read this account, you’d think maybe the GOP might have won in 2008 if the governor on the ticket had been the presidential nominee. Nor does the article’s “executives inherently do better” line tested against the reality that the 2012 cycle’s most spectacular flame-outs–Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry–were both governors.

In any event, the senators-say-don’t-run-a-senator meme strikes me as just a data point for opposing candidates you don’t like for other reasons. The way contemporary politics works, all the handicaps senators used to face–particularly the inability to stand out in a body of 100 bloviators–have pretty much been obliterated by different standards of media access, which is how Ted Cruz became presidential timber so very fast. So don’t tell me about Warren Harding or even Bob Dole: once a pol has been elevated by party and media elites and public opinion into someone being Seriously Mentioned for a presidential run, it’s not that clear his or her day job matters all that crucially, except as a scheduling problem.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 6, 2014

May 10, 2014 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Still Championing Lost Causes”: Michele Bachmann’s Crazy War On Women’s History

It looks as though Michele Bachmann has chosen to spend her final year in Congress as she spent so much of her tenure: ranting about issues in a manner so overwrought that not even her own party can stomach her.

Yesterday, Bachmann generated a fresh round of no-she-didn’t buzz when she took to the House floor to beg colleagues to shoot down legislation creating a bipartisan commission to explore construction of a National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) on the National Mall. Many Republicans, including the bill’s co-sponsor Rep. Marsha Blackburn, presumably saw greenlighting the commission as a relatively painless, if largely meaningless, way to say, “See, we love the ladies!” (Cue Tom Cruise bouncing on Oprah’s sofa.)

But not Bachmann. The soon-to-be-ex-lawmaker expressed her grave concerns that “ultimately this museum that will be built on the National Mall, on federal land, will enshrine the radical feminist movement that stands against the pro-life movement, the pro-family movement, and pro-traditional-marriage movement.”

Bachmann allowed that there is much to celebrate about women. But based on her “cursory review” of the museum’s online exhibits, she had sadly concluded that any worthy offerings would be overshadowed by the feminist propaganda of the left. Singled out for opprobrium was the planned exhibit on Margaret Sanger, birth-control crusader and godmother of Planned Parenthood.

The House responded to Bachmann’s clarion call by passing the bill 383-33.

Now, I understand that the gentlewoman from Minnesota wishes (and sometimes, late at night snuggled up with Marcus, maybe even likes to pretend) that she lived in a right-thinking theocracy with an Old Testament approach to dealing with gays and loose women. But the history of the United States is what it is, and any museum celebrating the ladies and exploring their hard-won fight for equal rights will include a few figures that rub Bachmann the wrong way. Most museums feature exhibits that are controversial, if not downright objectionable, to plenty of visitors. (One can only imagine what Bachmann thinks of the Museum of Natural History’s representations of evolution.)

Come to think of it, some gals might object to the NWHM’s decision to create an online exhibit about Michele Bachmann (an irony that Bachmann had the good graces to mention in her floor speech). After all, the four-term Congresswoman is hardly dripping with historical, or even political, import. As a lawmaker, she has always been more of a show pony than a workhorse. Sure, she became a political celebrity as “Queen of the Tea Party,” and in 2011 she won the why-won’t-someone-euthanize-it-already Ames straw poll. But demagogues are a dime a dozen these days, and Bachmann never displayed any talent for transforming her raving into either legislative achievement or higher office. As Politico noted during her 2011 campaign:

Now in her third House term, Bachmann has never had a bill or resolution she’s sponsored signed into law, and she’s never wielded a committee gavel, either at the full or subcommittee level. Bachmann’s amendments and bills have rarely been considered by any committee, even with the House under GOP control. In a chamber that rewards substantive policy work and insider maneuvering, Bachmann has shunned the inside game, choosing to be more of a bomb thrower than a legislator.

But! If Bachmann has been a mediocre public servant (not to mention an appalling influence on political discourse) she was, back in the day, a phenomenal foster mom, which is what the NWHM exhibit is all about. In its “Profiles in Motherhood” section, the museum has Q&As with a number of women in various categories: “Working Mom,” “Stay at Home Mom,” “Military Mom,” “Adoptive Mom,” and so on. As the featured “Foster Mom,” Bachmann talks about the motivations, challenges, and joys of fostering nearly two dozen teens over the years. No matter how toxic many—many—people find the congresswoman, her willingness to embrace so many children in need is beyond controversy. In this one area, at least, Bachmann found a way to walk the walk and accomplish some lasting good.

The folks at NWHM deserve props for finding a way to spotlight this inspiring aspect of Bachmann’s story—despite how loudly she’s tried to stop them.


By: Michelle Cottle, The Daily Beast, May 9, 2014

May 10, 2014 Posted by | Mchele Bachmann | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Nuttier Corners Of The Right”: Is A Drive To Impeach Barack Obama On Its Way?

If you’re looking for some beach reading this summer, you might pick up a copy of this soon-to-be-released book: “Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment,” by National Review writer Andrew McCarthy. It’s hitting bookstores at the perfect time, just as John Boehner has appointed a select committee to investigate Benghazi, and will no doubt be required reading on Capitol Hill and at the Fox News studios.

Is it reasonable to surmise that a move to impeach Barack Obama is a realistic possibility?

It isn’t that no one has talked about impeaching Obama before, because they have. But for the last five years, impeachment has been the purview of the nuttier corners of the right — the conspiracist web sites, the chain emails, the ranting radio hosts. For much of that time, the complaints weren’t so much about specific alleged misdeeds as Obama’s fundamental illegitimacy. Impeach him because he isn’t American. Impeach him because ACORN and the New Black Panthers stole the election for him. Impeach him because while other presidents hired people known as “White House staff,” when this president does it they’re “czars” wielding unconstitutional powers. They could certainly give you a list of particulars if you asked, but what it came down to was that Barack Obama was, well, Barack Obama.

But now we have the Benghazi select committee, and a select committee is what you form when there may be crimes and misdemeanors to uncover. It has no other business to distract it, and it will be led by Trey Gowdy, a former prosecutor who excels at channeling conservatives’ outrage.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that Boehner or the party establishment he represents want impeachment, not by any means. They realize what a political disaster it was when they did it in 1998, and they understand that the effects would likely be similar if it happened again. But there are multiple Republican members of Congress who have at least toyed with the idea, and the committee’s hearings could build pressure in the Republican base for it.

How would that play out? The select committee hearings will provide an institutional pathway and the requisite media attention necessary to air all sorts of dramatic allegations against the administration (supported by evidence or not). They’ll get non-stop coverage on Fox News, where some personalities are already calling for impeachment. Conservative radio hosts will talk of little else for months. Spurred on by their media, base Republicans will begin pressuring their representatives, in phone calls and emails and town meetings and wherever those members of Congress go. And remember that your average Republican member comes from a safe Republican district, where the only political threat is from the right. While it may be too late for the 2014 election, potential primary candidates for 2016 will start popping up, saying, “Congressman X didn’t have the guts to impeach Barack Obama, and he won’t have the guts to go after Hillary Clinton. Elect me, and I will.”

All that would make many in the House conclude that coming out in favor of impeachment is the safest political play to make. And isn’t in the logical extension of everything they’ve been saying for the last five years about this socialist anti-American liberty-destroying president?

In all seriousness, an impeachment drive would be, in many ways, another iteration of the central conflict of this period of our political history, the one between a Tea Party pushing the GOP to ever more radical tactics and a party establishment warning of political catastrophe if they go too far. The GOP establishment didn’t want to shut down the government or cause a debt ceiling crisis, but they got pushed into them and didn’t get out until the political costs became undeniable. They’ll warn that impeachment would be a terrible mistake, and they might persuade their brethren to hold back. But it won’t be easy.

The biggest problem the pro-impeachment forces would face is that the Benghazi committee is unlikely to produce any particular action by Obama that they could point to and say, this is the crime for which he must be impeached. The real threat is that it may well produce something that’s good enough for them, even if the rest of the country is unconvinced. After all, even before anyone heard the name Monica Lewinsky, Republicans in the House were preparing to impeach Bill Clinton. All they needed was the controversy that took it from a fringe idea to a mainstream Republican idea, and then the momentum made it unstoppable.


By: Paul Waldman, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 9, 2014

May 10, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Beirut Barracks Vs Benghazi”: GOP Partisans In Heat

One of the most maddening things about this Benghazi nonsense is the way Republicans have gotten a lot of Americans to go along with the idea that 10 investigations of something is normal; that as long as there’s one unanswered question, one area where the administration’s position is ambiguous or where its cooperation has been anything other than the immediate handing over of any conceivably related document, we still need to get to the bottom of matters.

People believe this because—first of all, partisans in heat believe it because they want to pin some kind of blame on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. But even some people who aren’t diehard partisans believe it because, well, it seems to make sense. That’s what we do. We get to the bottom of things.

That’s what we do, that is, when it comes to the law. When there’s a question of legal guilt or innocence, of course we want all the facts needed to make the proper legal determination. But what about when there is no question of legal guilt or innocence, and it’s just a political matter? Of course we still want to know what happened, but in these cases it’s not chiefly to determine guilt or innocence, since there is none; it’s to get an honest accounting of what happened to try to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

I’m trying to explain as calmly as I can here, to readers with no allegiance to either party, why what the Republicans are doing with Benghazi is so out of bounds. They are turning a political situation into a legal case. They’re trying to impose the standards of the courtroom onto a place where they clearly don’t belong. It’s an awful, poisonous precedent, especially given that the incident in question was a tragedy. Using a national tragedy, the kind of event that used to unite Americans, to turn a political matter into a legal one is just a shocking thing to do, wholly outside the American tradition.

Which brings me to Beirut. If you read only one Benghazi piece this week (aside from mine of course!), read this one by Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, which she called “Ronald Reagan’s Benghazi.” It was October 1983, and Mayer was a young Wall Street Journal reporter based in Beirut. Early on the morning of October 23, a blast went off in the U.S. Marine barracks compound. By the time Mayer arrived on the scene, “the Marine barracks were flattened. From beneath the dusty, smoking slabs of collapsed concrete, piteous American voices could be heard, begging for help.” The U.S. death toll was 241 that day.

A few contextual facts for you. The gate at the barracks through which the terrorist drove his truck was open. He drove through some barbed wire, but that was it. The guards were unarmed. Additionally, this happened a mere six months after militants had bombed the embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people, 17 of them Americans.

There’s more. At the time, the Iran-Iraq War was going on. In addition to that, Iran had just created Hezbollah in Lebanon, giving the Islamic Republic a base of operations in that country. The United States was backing Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War. Iran warned that if America continued to back Iraq, it would suffer consequences. On September 26, the National Security Agency intercepted an Iranian communication that spoke of the need to “take spectacular action against the American Marines.” But the NSA didn’t pass that communication along to the Marines, according to Col. Timothy Geraghty, the commanding officer of the decimated unit, until later: “Word of the intercept,” he wrote, “stuck in the intelligence pipeline until days after the attack.”

Review with me the facts of those last two paragraphs. Open gates. Unarmed guards. Six months on the heels of 17 earlier American deaths. A month after a specific and dramatic warning. Which the NSA, in 28 long days, failed to pass on.

You know where I’m going here. Imagine that all that had happened somewhere in the world in the last three or four years. Just close your eyes and conjure in your mind’s ear all the bloviating bombast about the weak president who secretly wants to destroy America and so on. Obama would have been impeached immediately. Hillary Clinton would have been, too, or forced to resign in disgrace. Hell, I don’t think even Joe Biden would have survived it (which means John Boehner would be president). Neither would the NSA adviser, not the secretary of defense, nor probably a score of administration officials. Letting terrorists kill not four people, as happened in Benghazi, but 241—of our fighting men, no less—after missing a clear warning, and with gates flung open? The Obama era would have been over, simple as that.

Here, in contrast, is what happened in 1983: not much of anything. Then, as now, the opposition party ran the House of Representatives. Speaker Tip O’Neill did call for an investigation. But just one, not 10. And no one from the Reagan administration was subpoenaed. The committee charged with investigating the matter was designed not to prosecute, but to find out what went wrong. Mayer: “Two months later, it issued a report finding ‘very serious errors in judgment’ by officers on the ground, as well as responsibility up through the military chain of command, and called for better security measures against terrorism in U.S. government installations throughout the world.”

That was appropriate. It wouldn’t have occurred to anybody in those days to politicize or criminalize a tragedy like the Republicans have now. And it really hasn’t happened since either. Things have become more partisan, but there was no string of multiple investigations, no drawing matters out for months or years after the Black Hawk Down episode. Even Democratic oversight around the Iraq War wasn’t like this. Henry Waxman did subpoena Condoleezza Rice, and she appeared once, in the fall of 2007. Democrats could have held high-profile hearings on war profiteering or the pre-war intelligence failures until the last day the Bush administration was in office if they’d wanted to. Or later. God knows their base wanted them to. There’s always something to “get to the bottom of.”

The idea here, though, isn’t to get to the bottom of anything. It’s to try to make a criminal case out of a tragedy. Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the new select committee, even saved us the trouble of having to do the usual decoding the other day when he said: “If an administration is slow-walking document production, I can’t end a trial simply because the defense won’t cooperate.”

Interesting. A “trial.” The “defense.” And we’re supposed to believe that we’re all just Americans looking for justice for Chris Stevens and the three others? This is sickening. We’ve had nine investigations and reports. They’re not going to learn anything new, and they’re not trying to. Democrats, do the American thing and have nothing to do with this charade.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 9, 2014




May 10, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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