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“Republicans’ Political Theater On Benghazi”: Nakedly Political Goal To Rouse The GOP Base For The Fall Election

Before asking a question at the coming show trial, each self-righteous congressional inquisitor should be required to correctly locate Benghazi on an unlabeled map.

That would shorten the farce. My guess is that some of the House Republicans screaming loudest in faux outrage would be hard-pressed to find Libya, much less pinpoint the city where four Americans were tragically killed.

No, Congressman, that’s Liberia you’re pointing to. Whole different country.

It’s impossible to take seriously a House select committee investigation designed not to unearth relevant new facts but to achieve nakedly political goals: rousing the GOP base for the fall election and sullying Hillary Clinton’s record in case she runs for president.

It is disgusting that the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, which claimed the life of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, would be used in this manner. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call this a new low, and the fact that the ploy will probably backfire on Republicans is scant consolation.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the chair of the select committee, tried Sunday to back away from his earlier reference to the proceedings as a “trial.” But his intent to prosecute rather than investigate remains clear.

Why were we still in Benghazi?” he asked on “Fox News Sunday.” “The British ambassador was almost assassinated. Our facility was attacked twice. There were multiple episodes of violence. We were the last flag flying in Benghazi, and I would like to know why.”

Of all the dumb questions, that may be the dumbest. U.S. diplomats and intelligence agents were in Benghazi because, as Clinton testified before a House committee last year, “we have become accustomed to operating in dangerous places.” It is in these chaotic, violent places where threats to our national interests take shape. Brave public servants volunteer to go into conflict zones to make it safe for partisans at home to question their valor.

Here are the answers to the only questions about Benghazi that matter:

Did the State Department provide adequate security for the consulate? Obviously not. The facility was overrun, sacked and burned; therefore, security was inadequate. It should be noted that Stevens, who was based in Tripoli, thought he could safely visit Benghazi. But ultimately the buck stops with Clinton, who has taken responsibility.

Could reinforcements have arrived in time to save lives? No, according to the Pentagon. The nearest fighter jets and other assets were too far away. They could not have made it to Benghazi in time to make a difference.

That’s it. You’ll notice that I did not mention the question on which Gowdy and his GOP colleagues will probably spend the most time, energy and hot air: “Who edited the talking points?”

Yes, talking points. Incredibly, unbelievably, disgracefully, Republicans are trying to make a full-blown scandal out of who did or did not change the wording in an internal memo — a memo meant to give the administration’s first, vaguest, most cautious, least definitive assessment of what had just happened in Benghazi.

We know, from all the investigations thus far, that CIA officials initially believed the attack was related to a rash of violent anti-American demonstrations in other cities, such as Cairo, over an anti-Islam video. We also know that U.S. personnel on the ground saw a much more organized, well-planned terrorist assault. This disconnect is commonly called the “fog of war.”

U.S. diplomatic, defense and intelligence officials spent the days following the attack in a scramble to make sure our people and facilities in other danger zones were secure. Even if they had focused on the issue of demonstration vs. planned attack, could they have determined the truth in time for Susan Rice’s appearances on the Sunday talk shows? Of course not. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who has ever tried to reconstruct the blow-by-blow of a combat engagement.

And furthermore, as Clinton memorably asked Congress in exasperation, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

What’s the point, exactly, that Republicans are trying to prove? That there are still Islamic terrorists who want to kill Americans? I think this is common knowledge. That deadly violence by a homicidal mob is somehow more benign than deadly violence by an organized group? Honestly, I fail to see the distinction.

The way to honor the Americans who died in Benghazi is to try to make sure nothing like this happens again. The way to dishonor them is to make their deaths the subject of partisan political theater.

Ladies and gentlemen, the curtain is about to rise.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 12, 2014

May 17, 2014 Posted by | GOP | , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

“Down Another Political Blind Alley”: Three Reasons Why Reviving ‘Benghazi’ Is Stupid For The GOP

House Speaker John Boehner has made what appears to be the remarkably stupid decision to set up a “select” committee of the House to once again “investigate” the 2012 Benghazi incident in which U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stephens was killed.

He apparently believes that another “investigation” of this tragedy will be politically advantageous to Republicans in the mid-term elections — and somehow tarnish the reputation of the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she prepares a potential run for the White House in 2016.

Already the GOP has bet heavily that its obsession with Obamacare will bolster its political position — a bet that increasingly looks like a loser. Now, in its never-ending attempts to mollify the tea party fringe, the GOP leadership has turned down another political blind alley.

There are at least three reasons why their renewed obsession with “Benghazi” is politically stupid for the GOP.

Reason #1: There is no “there,” there. The Benghazi attack has been investigated over and over and there is simply no evidence that there is any scandal to be had at all.

The latest “revelation” is that Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes wrote an email aimed at helping former ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice frame her description of what happened in Benghazi before she went on various talk shows. Problem is that his suggestions were entirely in line with the talking points produced by the intelligence community — which believed early on that the attack was mainly the result of reaction to an anti-Muslim videotape and demonstrations that had erupted in Cairo in protest.

Of course, it turned out later that there was more to the story — though both The New York Times and the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation of the event did in fact confirm that the response to the video tape did play a role — and Al Qaeda did not.

David Corn of Mother Jones pointed out that The New York Times, after a comprehensive investigation, reached this conclusion:

Months of investigation…centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

The Times continued:

Benghazi was not infiltrated by Al Qaeda, but nonetheless contained grave local threats to American interests. The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs…

The violence, though, also had spontaneous elements. Anger 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. Looters and arsonists, without any sign of a plan, were the ones who ravaged the compound after the initial attack, according to more than a dozen Libyan witnesses as well as many American officials who have viewed the footage from security cameras.

The Senate intelligence committee report released in January concluded that the attack was, “not a highly coordinated plot, but was opportunistic.”

It went on to say:

It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attacks or whether extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. Some intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day’s violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video.

And is anyone really surprised that the actual circumstances surrounding the attack were unclear at the outset? The same was true of the circumstances surrounding the Boston bombing and the Newtown shootings that took place right here in the United States — events involving our own law enforcement. That is the nature of chaotic violent events.

The right wing has done everything in its power to turn “Benghazi” into a politically salient scandal without success. CBS’ Sixty Minutes even bought into the right wing narrative when correspondent Lara Logan based an entire story on a tale about Benghazi that turned out to be entirely fictional. The story was fabricated by contractor Dylan Davies in order to sell his book. Ultimately CBS suspended Logan as a result.

On its face, the loss of life at Benghazi demonstrated a breakdown in diplomatic security. That’s why the independent State Department Inspector General did a study of what went wrong and how to prevent a future loss of life. Procedures needed to be changed. But there was never a shred of evidence that any U.S. official did anything intentionally — or because of some political motivation — that caused this event.

And what did the Republicans who are so fixated on embassy security do in response? They actually cut the budget for State Department security.

If you were in the position of making it harder to prevent future attacks like the one at Benghazi would you really want to focus attention on the subject?

Reason #2: The “Benghazi scandal” does not resonate with most voters — except, of course, the extreme right wing.

Republicans counter that polls show a plurality of Americans disapprove of the way the Benghazi attack was handled. In fact, a Huffington Post/You.gov poll show showed 42 percent disapprove and 27 percent approve of the way “Benghazi” was handled by the administration. But of course people are dissatisfied with the way the event was handled — four people were killed.

The real question is whether “Benghazi” is an issue ordinary people care about. The fact is that the Benghazi issue has no political saliency. It never appears on the list of major concerns the voters express might affect their choices in the 2014 mid-terms. That is partially because there is no real “Benghazi scandal.” It is also because ordinary people have much more important questions on their minds like the need to increase their wages and standards of living.

The fact is that “Benghazi” does not have the elements that have made “scandals” of the past — like Watergate or the Monica Lewinski affair — relevant to the voters.

To be politically salient, a “scandal” must include two key elements that are not present in “Benghazi”:

  • Real “scandals” do not involve flawed procedures. They must involve actions taken — or not taken — for improper or immoral reasons. There is no indication whatsoever that the American ambassador or anyone in the administration short-changed security in Benghazi to advance their political fortunes or to make money. Instead you have a brave American Ambassador who was willing to risk harm to himself to accomplish his mission but with inadequate security procedures. The ambassador was President Obama’s personal emissary — the last thing he wanted to do was risk his death.
  • To have staying power, real “scandals” generally involve a cover-up. The Republicans argue that the administration’s taking points after the event somehow constituted a “cover-up.” But instead they reflected the best information from the intelligence community at the time. Instead of a “cover-up,” what followed was an independent State Department Inspector General report that was very critical of procedures and proposed changes — but found no “scandal” whatsoever.

By reaching out for “Benghazi” the GOP looks desperate for something to talk about. And that’s for good reason. On virtually every other major issue that is really of concern to ordinary Americans, the Democrats have the high political ground — e.g. the minimum wage, unemployment benefits, the power of big money in government, immigration reform, equal pay for equal work, voting rights, reproductive choice, contraception, gay and lesbian rights, and increasingly even Obamacare — which by Election Day could actually help Democrats (especially with turnout).

Reason #3: Do the Republicans really want to turn the conversation to foreign policy?

The GOP launched the Iraq War — the most disastrous foreign policy catastrophe in the last half-century — and they want to talk about competency and honesty in foreign policy?

In fact, some of the same people who regularly go on Fox News to rail on about the “Benghazi conspiracy” helped promote the notion that we were invading Iraq because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction — the most pernicious lie ever used in recent American politics.

The War in Iraq was an unmitigated disaster — killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, costing thousands of American lives, costing our economy trillions of dollars, and spoiling America’s reputation throughout the world.

Frankly, no self-respecting media outlet should allow any of the people who intentionally lied to the American people about Iraq on the air ever again.

If you were the political party that presided over such a horrific foreign policy disaster would you really want to turn the political conversation to the question of who is best equipped to conduct America’s foreign policy?

Apparently so. It appears possible that the Republican leaders are just as inept at formulating their own political strategy as they were at conducting America’s foreign policy.

 

By: Robert Creamer, The Huffington Post Blog, May 5, 2014

May 7, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Foreign Policy, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Ignorant Inquisitors”: Capitol Hill’s Angry Little Men Keep Making Hillary Clinton Bigger

Anyone truly concerned about the safety of U.S. diplomatic personnel abroad – and that should include every American – has fresh reason for fury over last September’s disaster in Benghazi and its aftermath. But the target of public anger should not be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose conduct has been exemplary ever since the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three of his brave colleagues lost their lives last September. Far more deserving of scorn are the likes of Rand Paul (R-KY), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and all the other grandstanding, conspiracy-mongering, ill-informed politicians who questioned her Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

Four months after the tragedy occurred, Republicans on both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee still seem to be obsessed with the talking points provided to UN Ambassador Susan Rice before she appeared on television to discuss the incident. According to Republican folklore, unsupported by facts, the Obama White House engaged in a conspiracy to conceal the true nature of the terrorist attack by mischaracterizing it as a “demonstration.” The continuing focus on that trivial issue – long since explained by Rice herself, as well as retired General David Petraeus and others, under oath – understandably provoked an exasperated Clinton to scold Johnson, one of the dimmer idols of the Tea Party.

When the Wisconsin Republican began to harp on this topic yet again – interrupting her answer, after stupidly asserting that Clinton could have resolved any questions about the attack with “a very simple phone call” to the burned-out Benghazi compound – she responded sharply:

With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because there was a protest or was it because there were guys who went out for a walk one night who decided they would kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and to do everything we can to make sure it never happens again.

No doubt Clinton’s utterly sane retort will undergo dishonest editing, in the style of James O’Keefe, to make her sound cavalier or arrogant. But it is the Republicans in Congress whose attitude toward the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his fallen comrades has seemed cynical and false, ever since they first sought to exploit the incident politically during the presidential campaign. Meanwhile, having historically supported reductions in federal spending on diplomatic security, they have done nothing useful so far to enhance the safety of Americans serving abroad. Worse still, their questions to Clinton indicate that very few of them, even at this late date, have bothered to learn the basic facts surrounding the Benghazi incident.

By contrast, Clinton has assumed responsibility in a meaningful way ever since September 11 – which is to say that she has taken action to ensure a serious response. As required by law, she empowered an independent investigation, which resulted in dozens of recommendations for improved security and held several high-ranking State Department officials to account for the lapses in Libya. It is worth noting that Thomas Pickering, the distinguished former diplomat who led the probe, fixed culpability for the security flaws at Benghazi at “the assistant secretary level,” rather than with Clinton herself. Nobody in Washington understands the workings of the U.S. foreign service better than Pickering, who served in top positions under both presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Certainly not Johnson or Paul, who rather comically asserted that “if [he] were president,” he would have fired Clinton. Always hard to imagine, a Paul presidency seemed even more remote when he quizzed her about obscure right-wing conspiracy theories involving Syria, Turkey, and Libya.

As Joan Walsh observed in Salon, those irate and ignorant inquisitors on Capitol Hill appeared small and peevish in their confrontation with Clinton, a woman whose serious, diligent, tireless approach to public service has armed her with an enduring popularity at least three times greater than her Republican adversaries in Congress. Their feeble attempts to cut her down, echoed by the usual loudmouths on radio and cable television, only make her bigger.

If they persist, she probably will be president someday.

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, January 24, 2013

January 25, 2013 Posted by | State Department | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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