Thursday, November 15, 2012

My Benghazi rant

For days now, my frustration about the Benghazi thing has been growing. At first, I was more confused than anything. As I learned more, I became irritated. Gradually, that irritation turned to a slow, burning rage and today, that rage is exploding. I am beyond fed up with this nonsense.

Do I mean that I'm fed up with the supposed incompetence and alleged cover-up of the Obama administration? Sorry, but no, Fox News and John McCain, I am not buying what you're selling. I am fed up with you and your kind ranting and raving, claiming that this tragedy is the biggest scandal ever to hit the White House. Bigger even than Watergate.

Holy hell, people, have you lost all sense of perspective? Rational thought? Did you all really learn absolutely nothing from the election that happened just last week? Foolishly I, like others, hoped that maybe the Party of No, the members of Congress whose sole, acknowledged goal for the last 4 years was to make Obama a one-term president, would actually start acting like grown-ups. That they might put away the almost reflexive need to complain about every single thing this President has ever said or done. That they might stop just flat making stuff up.

But, clearly that is not the case. At least not this week. And, yes, it would appear that some Congressional Republicans really have gone so far down the rabbit hole of hating the President that they have no idea which side is up now.

Thursday, at a Congressional hearing on the Benghazi attack, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), suggested that Bengazi is worse than Watergate. Think about that for a minute. That a terrorist attack on a consulate in a war-torn nation is worse than the President conspiring to commit multiple felonies. Really? I mean, REALLY? You don't see anything, anything at all, wrong with comparing not having all the answers to what happened in a chaotic situation in the first days and weeks afterwards to knowingly and intentionally committing burglary? If you can't see what's ridiculous about that statement, you have no credibility. Although, if you can see it but make it anyway hoping to score some political points, you don't have any credibility, either. Basically, just making that statement is conclusive proof that you have no credibility.

Now can we take a minute to focus on Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham and their insane and completely baseless (otherwise known as untrue) attacks on UN Ambassador Susan Rice. They say she's not very bright, incompetent, and up to her eyeballs in Benghazi. (This from the man who nominated Sarah Palin for VP and from two men who confirmed Condoleeza Rice for Sec. of State after she presided over the massive intelligence failures that led to the Iraq war.) Because on the Sunday after the attack, she was a convenient representative for the administration to send on the morning show circuit. She repeatedly said it was an emerging situation and she was only relaying the best information available at present. And she also very clearly said not that it was a spontaneous attack, but that a spontaneous demonstration started and that quickly extremist militant types showed up with hardcore weaponry that clearly separated them from protesters. Sens. McCain and Graham should be ashamed of themselves for so outrageously lying about her level of involvement and her statements themselves. And then there's my favorite tidbit: while McCain was grandstanding Wednesday about how Susan Rice's possible nomination for Secretary of State will never go anywhere if he has anything to say about it because the Benghazi thing was just too outrageous and we had to get to the bottom of it, he was missing a briefing about the Benghazi thing. Which kinda lends support for the idea that getting to the bottom of Benghazi isn't really what McCain is in this for. He's just a bitter old man who still can't stand the fact that he lost the presidency to that one and is hell bent on opposing him, no matter what.

Fox News and the few Congressional Republicans who are going hog wild with this fairly minor incident need to stop. What happened in Benghazi was a tragedy. Obviously, the death of 4 Americans dedicated to foreign service is terrible. People are right to ask questions about what exactly happened and why. People are right to try to learn from this situation to figure out what lessons we can apply to try to improve the situation for our diplomats in the future. But we can't get to any of that with all of this fake noise and outrage that is completely overblown.

This was hardly the first ever attack on one of our embassies or consulates. The Iran hostage situation was a pretty big one. The bombing in Beirut that killed over 200 Americans. The 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Plus any number of lesser known incidents. These things happen and will always be a threat no matter what precautions we take.

Working in foreign service has always had the potential for danger. And yet there has always been the tension of providing security details in such a way that it doesn't interfere with the mission by creating a barrier between the diplomatic personnel and the country they're supposed to be forging relationships with. We have changed security standards since that 1983 Beirut bombing. Perhaps the Benghazi attack will yield more security standards. But perhaps, also, there is some point where we have to realize we really can't account for every risk, that some kind of trouble will always find its way through to our diplomats because it's just the nature of the beast. We can do our level best to keep them all safe, but we can't reasonably expect 100% success on that.

One question making the rounds now about Benghazi is why there wasn't more security in place. After all, Ambassador Stevens had raised alarms and asked for more security. It was a trouble spot and there had been lots of security issues throughout the year. It's a fair question and it should be addressed. But let's not pretend that requests for more resources don't occur at pretty much every level of government on a nearly daily basis. Some requests are granted; some are denied. There is never enough money or resources for everyone to get everything that they want or need. And sometimes it's awfully difficult to discern what is merely a want and what is a need. Sure, we can now see in hindsight that more security for our diplomatic personnel in Libya might have been a good idea. But that doesn't necessarily mean the decision not to increase security was a bad one or the wrong one.

And, of course, the State Department doesn't make security decisions all on its own. Congress has to provide the funding. So perhaps Congressmen who have voted more than once to cut spending for embassy security shouldn't now be so outraged that more security wasn't provided. You should hold hearings and consider whether more embassy security should be offered around the world. But you shouldn't pretend that you don't have something to do with those security decisions. Yes, I'm looking at you Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz.

Which brings me to another point. The CIA was heavily involved in Libya. One of the two compounds involved on the night of the actual attack might have been a CIA base of some kind. This might help explain why some intelligence personnel were not in a hurry to give firm answers, or were even ok with focusing on the video theory, in the initial days after the attack. Because there might have been real security issues with divulging too much information to the American public. (Like Issa and Chaffetz did when they outed CIA operatives.)

In a criminal case, it is hardly unusual for police to withhold information from the public, even sometimes put out deliberately false information, if they think it will help them nab their suspect or keep their informants safe. No one blinks at this. Mightn't the President, the State Department, and/or the CIA want to do the same thing in particular situations? But people throughout the administration were as soon as the morning of September 12 stating that the weaponry involved made it clear that the attack was perpetrated by someone other than, or at least in addition to, spontaneous mobsters. (Despite the insistence by Fox News that the administration blamed it on a protest for up to two weeks after the attack.) Not being able to say definitively within days or even weeks if it was premeditated, a planned attack, whether it was a terrorist organization or militants isn't a sign of incompetence or a cover-up. It's either the completely normal uncertainty in the immediate aftermath of a chaotic situation. Or it might also be indicative of an unwillingness to say too much that might compromise security. Perhaps the American public isn't actually entitled to all the answers if those answers will endanger covert operatives.

So, yeah, maybe there were some wrong initial assessments or some hesitant ones. And maybe not everyone was on the same page or had the same information. So the hell what? That's normal. It's not the first time that has happened and it won't be the last. It's not some epic failure that should end careers and lead to impeachments. It's not even a debacle. It's not something people should try to elevate to the level of one of the biggest scandals ever to hit the White House. It's not a scandal at all. It's a tragic incident. Maybe it could have been avoided. Maybe different decisions could have been made. We should definitely investigate it to see if things could have been done differently. Just like other reasonable organizations study their mistakes and failures so they can learn for the next time. But can we please stop for the love of pete pretending like it's this big, huge, unprecedented, unparalleled thing of epic proportions? It just isn't.

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