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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

“Artificially Polarizing The Country”: Redistricting Reform Should Be Priority Number One

I became political aware at a young age and took a keen interest in the 1980 Republican primaries when I was only nine and ten years old. I still have cartoons I drew at the time that depicted Ronald Reagan as a warmonger intent on blowing up the world with nuclear weapons. This wasn’t something I learned from my parents. It was my own opinion. In retrospect, it was a little bit alarmist. I should have been worried about other things, like the long-term destruction of the middle class or a propensity to sell TOW missiles to Iran to pay a ransom for hostages held by Hizbollah in order to illegally transfer the proceeds to the Contras in Nicaragua. But, a nine year old’s capacity to imagine evil only goes so far.

When I see a book title like Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked, I want to claw my eyeballs out. Yet, I do understand what Chris Matthews is pining for, and it isn’t the fjords. However much Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan disagreed, they were civil to each other, and they knew how to strike a deal without threatening to default on the country’s debts. For Washington insiders of a certain age, there is a keen sense of nostalgia for the old days when politicians didn’t go home to their districts every weekend but stayed in town and socialized with each other.

Perhaps no one represents this group better than Cokie Roberts, who was almost literally raised in the Capitol Building. Her father, Hale Boggs, represented Louisiana’s 2nd District in 1941-43 and then from 1947 to 1972, when his plane disappeared in Alaska. By the time of his death, he had risen to be the Majority Leader, the same position held today by Eric Cantor. By that time, Cokie Roberts was an adult, but her mother, Liddy Boggs, went on to represent the New Orleans-based district until she retired to look after her dying daughter (Cokie’s sister) in 1990. I found a set of interviews that Ms. Roberts did with the Office of the Historian of the House of Representatives in 2007 and 2008, (you can read the interviews here in .pdf form) in which she describes her life growing up in the corridors of power and how things have changed.

In the following excerpt, she laments the use of the gerrymander, which she calls “picking your own voters.” In her opinion, the increasing efficiency with which the political parties draw the congressional maps is one of the main reasons why Congress is so deadlocked. Keep in mind that she said this in 2008, before things got even worse after the 2010 census and subsequent redrawing of district maps.

ROBERTS: I think that what this business of picking your voters—first of all, is so anti-democratic—it does a few very, very bad things. It creates a far more partisan chamber because you only worry about getting attacked from the true believers of your own party in a primary rather than a general election. Look what just happened to Chris [Christopher B.] Cannon as a perfect example of that.

You do only represent people who are just like you, so that your desire or even ability to compromise is far less than it used to be. I’ll give you an example. Bob Livingston used to represent a district that was 30- percent black. So he voted for fair housing, he voted for Martin Luther King holiday, he voted for a variety of things that were not the things that people whose representative in the state legislature was David Duke expected him to do. But he could explain to the yahoos in his district that he had to do it because of the black constituency when it was actually stuff that he wanted to do. Then it was redistricted to be lily-white conservative Republicans, and, you know, it’s almost impossible for that person—it was [David] Vitter, I don’t know who it is now—to do that. You just have to be fighting your constituency all the time to do something that would be a sort of national interest thing to do. And that’s true on both sides. It just makes legislating and governing much, much harder.

The President [George W. Bush], actually, was talking to me—I don’t often get to say, “The President was talking to me about it,” {laughter}—when I went with him to meet the Pope. We were talking about immigration, and he’s, you know, he’s basically just furious about immigration, about the failure of the bill, and he said, “It’s all about the way districts are drawn.” And it is fundamentally anti-democratic because the whole idea is you get to throw these people out. In 2006, I must say I was heartened, not for partisan reasons, but I thought they had drawn the districts so cleverly that you’d never be able to register that vote of no confidence, which an off-year election is—it’s either a vote of confidence or no confidence—I was afraid that that had been taken away from the voters, which would really be different from what the Founders had in mind. So the fact that even with that, you were able to change parties and register that vote was heartening, but it’s much harder than it should be.

There has been some debate recently about whether or not Justice Ginsburg should strategically retire from the Supreme Court to prevent a Republican president from appointing her successor. Ginsburg defends her continued presence of the Court by arguing that President Obama will be succeeded by a Democrat because “The Democrats do fine in presidential elections; their problem is they can’t get out the vote in the midterm elections.” She’s probably right in her prediction about Obama’s successor, but she is definitely correct that the Democrats have trouble getting out their vote in midterm elections. With the districts drawn the way there are, this threatens to prevent the people from expressing their vote of confidence or no confidence.

According to the Cook Political Report, the Democrats should have won the 2012 House elections.

By Cook’s calculations, House Democrats out-earned their Republican counterparts by 1.17 million votes. Read another way, Democrats won 50.59 percent of the two-party vote. Still, they won just 46.21 percent of seats, leaving the Republicans with 234 seats and Democrats with 201.

It was the second time in 70 years that a party won the majority of the vote but didn’t win a majority of the House seats, according to the analysis.

So, there are really two things here worthy of consideration. The first is that the gerrymander has the effect of artificially polarizing the country by creating districts that are only really contestable in primary, rather than general elections. Politicians are punished for cooperating more than they should be.

The second problem is a partisan one that only hurts the left. Democrats get less seats than they should have.

Yet, the first problem hurts the left, too, because it leads to dysfunctional government, which leads to a general disdain of government in the populace, which creates distrust about the government’s ability to do big things.

For these reasons, I believe that progressives should consider redistricting reform their top priority. Unless we can solve this problem, we will never be competing on a level playing field, and our ability to do great things will continue to erode.

Unlike Chris Matthews and Cokie Roberts, I don’t want to go back to some idyllic time of bipartisan cooperation that barely existed in reality, but I do want a fair shake and a government that works again.

 

By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 28, 2013

December 29, 2013 Posted by | Democracy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Romney Offers False Explanation Of Cross-Party Primary Vote In 1992

In 1992, Republican Mitt Romney voted in a Democratic primary, backing former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas for the Democratic presidential nomination. He said he did so because he wanted to “vote for the person who I thought would be the weakest opponentfor the Republican.”

Romney is now railing against the Santorum campaign for trying to get traditional Democratic voters to cross-over and vote in the Republican primary. Romney has called this a “terrible dirty trick” and an “attempt to kidnap the primary process.”

In a press conference in Livonia, Michigan, moments ago, Romney was asked how we squared this criticism with his earlier admission that his 1992 primary vote had been a “vote for the person who [he] thought would be the weakest opponent for the Republican.

Romney responded with a new explanation:

In my case, I was certainly voting against the Democrat who I thought was the person I thought would be the worst leader of our nation. In this case, as I recall, it was Bill Clinton. I wanted someone other than Bill Clinton. I voted against Ted Kennedy, Tip O’Neill, and Bill Clinton.  Seemed like a good group to be against.

Watch the video:

While to conservatives, that trio would indeed seem a “good group to be against,” there is no way Romney could have voted against all three that year.

While then-Governor Clinton was indeed on the primary ballot in 1992, Sen. Ted Kennedy was not up for re-election until 1994.  Romney should know that, given he ran against Kennedy that year and often brags about the fact that he forced the late Democrat to “take a mortgage out on his house.”

And House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr.?  His final campaign for the U.S. House had been eight years earlier, in 1984.

It’s odd that Romney claims to remember events that happened nine months before his birth, but cannot seem remember the 1990s.

 

By: Josh Israel, Think Progress, February 28, 2012

February 28, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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