There was a time in the not-so-distant past when attacks on our embassies and foreign installations elicited from our elected leaders, a call for unity and actions that would prevent the same sort of thing from happening again. There was no politicizing of the events and certainly no attempt to raise money over the deaths of those Americans who had lost their lives. Arguably perhaps, the best example of this proactive pulling together involved the terrorist bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon during the Reagan presidency that took the lives of 251 of our men. But, that was then. Now, how things have changed which brings us to the September 2012 terrorist attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya and the deaths of four of our citizens, including Ambassador Stevens. Here is an account of the events that preceded, coincided with and followed. (1)
Before: When Republicans took control of the House as a result of the 2010 election, they embarked on a program of cost-cutting that ranged across several aspects of the federal budget. Though it received scant attention at the time, one item that had funding reduced was embassy security. A subsequent request for their reinstatement was denied. These two facts might never have surfaced had it not been for the Benghazi attack. But, about a month after their occurrence, House Republicans went public defending what they had done. Prominent among them was Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) who announced without equivocation that he had “absolutely voted” to support the cuts. There were no regrets and certainly no acknowledgement that the situation in Benghazi might have turned out differently if funding for better security had been provided.
In the weeks preceding the attack, several other countries had pulled up stakes and left Libya, believing that the general situation there was too unstable and dangerous. We had remained behind because of Ambassador Stevens’ volunteered willingness to do so, based on his sense that he could support and be of some help to the country’s fledgling government. Acceding to his wish, the State Department asked Stevens twice if he wanted reinforcements. Twice, the Ambassador declined the offer, a fact that will be re-visited later in this blog.
Time-wise, we are now just a few days from the actual attack. In that period, an anti-Islam video produced in the US had caught the attention of Muslims across the world. Across the Middle East, in cities like Cairo, rage over its contents boiled over into destructive demonstrations. It is accepted as fact that the inflammatory video and demonstrations outside of Benghazi preceded the attack there. Was it also a reaction to the video or something else; something altogether different? That question was later to become the focal point of intense debate in the States.
During: The attack itself has been well-chronicled in both words and pictures. Our consulate and an adjacent building were laid siege so that its occupants could not escape. The two buildings and virtually everything in sight were torched. Whether Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues died of smoke inhalation or were savagely killed hardly seems to matter. They were surely murdered.
After: Less than a day after the attack, our Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, appeared on national tv with the explanation that the attack was provoked by the aforementioned anti-Islam video. It was supposedly, a “copy-cat” of what had happened in Cairo and elsewhere. Rice was not the author of this judgment; it was the product of our intelligence community’s best first impression. A few days later, Pres. Obama went further and labeled the attack an “act of terror”, presumably on the basis of better and more up-to-date intelligence. It was at this point that Republicans had a choice; i.e. either follow precedents, call for unity and proactively seek remedies that would prevent the same sort of thing from happening again (see the blog’s introductory paragraph), or politicize what had happened. They opted for the latter.
The politicizing took the former of a number of accusatory questions that ignored established facts and/or information gather subsequently. For example, why weren’t resources on hand to defend and rescue the four embattled Americans? Answer – because funding for embassy security had been cut and because Ambassador Stevens had earlier declined such help. Both these facts were set forth in the “Before” section of this blog. Along this same line of inquiry, if help was not at hand, why was it not dispatched from elsewhere? Answer – testimony from commanders in the field given at Congressional hearings revealed that both a lack of preparedness and logistic difficulties made that impossible.
Most recently, an e-mail, obtained by a watch-dog group (2) gave Republicans yet another line of attack. According to their interpretation of the communique’s contents, Ambassador Rice was instructed to cover up the Benghazi attack as an act of terrorism. This was supposedly done to allow no real events to undercut the president’s claim that he had Al Qaida “on the run” and was strong on national defense. In turn, left with this impression, voters who might have otherwise voted for Mitt Romney, cast their ballots for Obama instead, thus assuring his re-election (3).
The Republicans’ interpretation of the e-mail in question is not the only one available. A far more benign view of the same document holds that it advised Rice that care should be taken so that any characterization of the Benghazi attack took into account what different members of our intelligence community had to say about that event. In other words, rather than advocating for a cover-up, the e-mail promoted thoroughness in representing what we had learned or thought we knew. There is nothing in the communique about protecting the president, skewing the election or any thing even remotely close to same. Those are all inferential extensions of Republicans’ discovery of what is, on its face, no worse than an ambiguous document. There is no “smoking gun” here, much as the anti-Obama crowd would like there to be.
Where matters now stand: As of the date of this blog, there have been eight separate congressional hearings/investigations (4) of what happened in Benghazi. Over 25,000 pages of documents have been examined and the testimony of dozens of witnesses have been collected. Out of their hearings, a bipartisan group of senators concluded that the deaths of the four Americans, while tragic and potentially avoidable, did not result from criminal wrong-doing or willful negligence on the parts of Pres. Obama and/or Sec. State Hillary Clinton. Given that conclusion and the ambiguous nature of the aforementioned e-mail, sane people would have put an end to this inquisition and finally returned to precedent and issued a call for unity. But, in the GOP-controlled House there is a ramping up for yet another investigation, this one to be conducted by a “select committee” that supposedly will do a better job of getting at the truth which has eluded the previous eight committees, including the ones that issued their bipartisan report. And even before this new body springs into action, we have conservative groups and the Republican National Campaign Committee soliciting donations to support its work; in effect using the deaths of our people in Benghazi for partisan political purposes. Now there’s a precedent for you, and a grotesque, repulsive one at that.
1. The mainstream media have not given wide publicity to much of what is contained in this blog.
2. The group goes by the name “Judicial Watch”.
3. There isn’t a shred of evidence to support this extended line of speculating. However, it is compatible with conservatives’ belief that Obama is an illegitimate president and even his re-election is tainted.
4. Of the eight hearings/investigations, six were conducted in the House and two in the Senate.