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“Ronald Reagan’s Benghazi”: The Single Deadliest Attack On American Marines Since The Battle Of Iwo Jima

Late Saturday night, at the Vanity Fair party celebrating the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, Darrell Issa, the Republican congressman from San Diego, California, was chatting amiably with Governor Chris Christie, of New Jersey, leaning in to swap gossip and looking very much at ease in his tuxedo. Issa, who has been the lead inquisitor into what, in shorthand, has come to be known as “Benghazi,” was having a busy weekend. House Speaker John Boehner had just announced a plan for a new special select investigative committee, and, on Friday, Issa had announced that he had issued a subpoena to Secretary of State John Kerry for a new round of hearings devoted to searching, against diminishing odds, for some dirty, dark secret about what really happened in Benghazi.

Ever since militant jihadists killed four Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador, in an attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in that remote Libyan town two years ago, House Republicans have kept up a drumbeat of insinuation. They have already devoted thirteen hearings, twenty-five thousand pages of documents, and fifty briefings to the topic, which have turned up nothing unexpected. Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton, has already accepted responsibility for the tragedy, and the State Department has issued a critical independent report on diplomatic security, resulting in the dismissal of four employees. If the hearings accomplish nothing else, it seems that they promise to keep the subject on life support at least through the midterm congressional elections, and possibly on through any potential Hillary Clinton Presidential campaign. The word “impeachment” has even been trotted out by Obama opponents in connection with this non-scandal.

Watching Issa silhouetted against the Belle Époque windows of the Italian Ambassador’s residence, which were wide open to a garden bathed in colored spotlights, I found myself thinking about another tragedy, thirty years ago, that played out very differently.

Around dawn on October 23, 1983, I was in Beirut, Lebanon, when a suicide bomber drove a truck laden with the equivalent of twenty-one thousand pounds of TNT into the heart of a U.S. Marine compound, killing two hundred and forty-one servicemen. The U.S. military command, which regarded the Marines’ presence as a non-combative, “peace-keeping mission,” had left a vehicle gate wide open, and ordered the sentries to keep their weapons unloaded. The only real resistance the suicide bomber had encountered was a scrim of concertina wire. When I arrived on the scene a short while later to report on it for the Wall Street Journal, the Marine barracks were flattened. From beneath the dusty, smoking slabs of collapsed concrete, piteous American voices could be heard, begging for help. Thirteen more American servicemen later died from injuries, making it the single deadliest attack on American Marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Six months earlier, militants had bombed the U.S. embassy in Beirut, too, killing sixty-three more people, including seventeen Americans. Among the dead were seven C.I.A. officers, including the agency’s top analyst in the Middle East, an immensely valuable intelligence asset, and the Beirut station chief.

There were more than enough opportunities to lay blame for the horrific losses at high U.S. officials’ feet. But unlike today’s Congress, congressmen did not talk of impeaching Ronald Reagan, who was then President, nor were any subpoenas sent to cabinet members. This was true even though then, as now, the opposition party controlled the majority in the House. Tip O’Neill, the Democratic Speaker of the House, was no pushover. He, like today’s opposition leaders in the House, demanded an investigation—but a real one, and only one. Instead of playing it for political points, a House committee undertook a serious investigation into what went wrong at the barracks in Beirut. 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.

In other words, Congress actually undertook a useful investigation and made helpful recommendations. The report’s findings, by the way, were bipartisan. (The Pentagon, too, launched an investigation, issuing a report that was widely accepted by both parties.)

In March of 1984, three months after Congress issued its report, militants struck American officials in Beirut again, this time kidnapping the C.I.A.’s station chief, Bill Buckley. Buckley was tortured and, eventually, murdered. Reagan, who was tormented by a tape of Buckley being tortured, blamed himself. Congress held no public hearings, and pointed fingers at the perpetrators, not at political rivals.

If you compare the costs of the Reagan Administration’s serial security lapses in Beirut to the costs of Benghazi, it’s clear what has really deteriorated in the intervening three decades. It’s not the security of American government personnel working abroad. It’s the behavior of American congressmen at home.

The story in Beirut wasn’t over. In September of 1984, for the third time in eighteen months, jihadists bombed a U.S. government outpost in Beirut yet again. President Reagan acknowledged that the new security precautions that had been advocated by Congress hadn’t yet been implemented at the U.S. embassy annex that had been hit. The problem, the President admitted, was that the repairs hadn’t quite been completed on time. As he put it, “Anyone who’s ever had their kitchen done over knows that it never gets done as soon as you wish it would.” Imagine how Congressman Issa and Fox News would react to a similar explanation from President Obama today.

 

By: Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, May 6, 2014

May 12, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Ronald Reagan | , , , , , , , , , | 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

“Don’t Call Yourself Reagan Republicans”: Whatever You Think GOP, “Reagan” Is Not An Action Word

In all likelihood, it’s probably too late to think the political world will remember any of the details of Ronald Reagan’s actual presidency. Indeed, the mythologizing will almost certainly get worse – I half-expect “Reagan” to become a verb, to mean “to stop all foes through force of will and stern looks.”

But the Republican preoccupation with doing whatever they think Reagan might have done in any given situation occasionally gets a little silly.

A proposed U.S. aid package for Ukraine’s fledgling pro-Western government stalled Thursday amid festering Republican Party feuds over foreign policy.

Tensions erupted on the Senate floor late in the day after the chamber did not advance the measure, with Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) berating the dozen or so of his Republican colleagues who, for various reasons, objected to the legislation.

“You can call yourself Republicans. That’s fine, because that’s your voter registration. Don’t call yourself Reagan Republicans,” McCain said on the Senate floor. “Ronald Reagan would never – would never let this kind of aggression go unresponded to by the American people.”

Look, the 1980s were a while ago and the political world has a notoriously short memory, but Reagan wasn’t a comic-book character. He was a president whose record is readily available to anyone who bothers to look.

And the notion that Reagan “never let this kind of aggression go unresponded to” is wholly at odds with how the Republican icon actually governed.

Kevin Drum flagged some helpful tweets from Dan Drezner, himself a center-right scholar on international affairs, who offered a quick history lesson for those who don’t remember the Reagan era quite as well as they should.

 * When Soviet-backed Polish leaders cracked down on Solidarity activists, Reagan didn’t do much of anything.

 * When the Soviets shot down KAL 007, killing 269 people – including a member of the U.S. Congress – Reagan went to the United Nations, but not much else.

 * When terrorists hijacked TWA Flight 847, the Reagan administration had no qualms about negotiating with them.

 * When terrorists killed 241 Americans in Beirut in 1983, Reagan didn’t do much of anything except run away.

I’d just add that this terrific chart from Adam Serwer shows the number of attacks on U.S. diplomatic outposts abroad soared during Reagan’s presidency.

How is this possible? Didn’t these people realize that the U.S. president at the time could Reagan them with his Reaganness?

Russia’s moves in and around Ukraine represent a crisis, but let’s not assume Reagan had some magical leadership powers that could stop these provocative acts or prevent these kinds of developments from happening in the first place.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 15, 2014

March 16, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Ukraine | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Old Failed Gang Is Back Together”: After Spectacular Failures And Unprecedented Abuses, Pretending To Have Credibility

Several prominent officials from the Bush/Cheney era have been in the news lately, largely as a result of ongoing controversies, but many of them — Robert Gates, retired Adm. Mike Mullen, retired Gen. David Petraeus — are under fire from the right for not toeing the party’s anti-Obama line.

There are, however, plenty of loyal Bushies stepping up to launch rhetorical attacks. Indeed, they seem happy to pretend they still have credibility and are compelling messengers to express their party’s contempt for the president.

Former Attorney General Mike Mukasey was on Fox News this morning accusing Obama of abusing the power of the executive branch (no, seriously); former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is making the rounds on conservative talk radio; and former Vice President Dick Cheney is, well, doing what Dick Cheney does.

“They lied. They claimed it was because of a demonstration video, that they wouldn’t have to admit it was really all about their incompetence,” Cheney told Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Monday. “They ignored repeated warnings from the CIA about the threat. They ignored messages from their own people on the ground that they needed more security.”

“I think it’s one of the worst incidences, frankly, that I can recall in my career … if they told the truth about Benghazi, that it was a terrorist attack by an Al Qaeda-led group, it would destroy the confidence that was the basis of his campaign for reelection,” Cheney added. “They tried to cover it up by constructing a false story.”

As a substantive matter, much of what Cheney said is ridiculous and wrong, as is often the case. If the failed former V.P. has proof of White House lies and a cover-up, he’s welcome to share it, but the fact that preliminary intelligence out of Benghazi was wrong isn’t evidence of either.

But more to the point, does Dick Cheney, of all people, really want to have a conversation about national security lies, ignored warnings about terrorist threats, and covering things up by constructing false stories? Because that’s largely a summary of his eight years of spectacular failures and unprecedented abuses in office. Indeed, I’m not sure whether to find it funny or sad that he, Rumsfeld, and Mukasey feel comfortable showing their faces in public again.

As for Cheney seeing Benghazi as “one of the worst incidences” that he “can recall,” I’m not going to play a game of ranking the seriousness of terrorist attacks, but I’m curious if Cheney recalls 9/11. If he doesn’t think that counts — and there’s some evidence to suggest he doesn’t — and he only wants to focus on attacks on American outposts abroad, I wonder if Cheney might also recall the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut that left 241 American servicemen dead, right before Reagan cut and ran.

Any of this ring a bell, Dick?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 14, 2013

May 15, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Neo-Cons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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