The above video (sadly dead as of 2014) serves as a recap of the events surrounding the five-hour attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Criticisms surrounding the attack included the claimed lack of sufficient security at the compound, as well as why additional Army forces were nowhere to be found when the consulate needed help most.* Some claimed that not only did the White House delay their response to the attack, officials also seemed reluctant to immediately pin responsibility on the usual suspect in the region (Al Qaeda). Republicans attempted to parlay these criticisms into a scandal that would hopefully leave the Obama administration tarred and feathered.
This was supposed to be an impeachable moment for the president. In Benghazi, the GOP saw Barack Obama finally meeting his very own Watergate or better still, Iran Hostage Crisis. So far, that seems about as likely as New Coke being reintroduced on the soft drink market. So Republicans simply changed targets - instead of striking at a lame duck with a seemingly unimpeachable image, they're focused on scuttling Hillary Clinton's possible 2016 presidential candidacy, notably by returning a favor:
The brief period of bipartisan peace initiated by 9/11 ended for good in May 2002. CBS News reported that the president had received an intelligence briefing in early Aug. 2001 that "specifically alerted him of a possible airliner attack in the US."
Th CBS report left much open to question, but that mattered little to Democratic leaders in Congress. They saw an opportunity to attack the president's strong suit--his leadership in the war on terrorism.
The Democrat who most aroused the ire of the White House was Hillary Clinton. She declared, "Bush had been informed last year, before 9/11, of a possible al Qaeda plot to hijack a US airliner." She held up a newspaper headline, "BUSH KNEW." "The president knew what?" Clinton asked.
To the White House, Clinton's remarks seemed calculated to manipulate the narrative concerning who should be blamed for 9/11, trying to shield the legacy of her husband's presidency by shifting blame for overlooking available intelligence away from him & onto his successor.
GOP talking heads suggest that the president had prior knowledge of an impending attack and, for whatever reason, decided to sit on that intel and let the chips fall where they did. Of course, few people asked the magic question: exactly how would the Obama administration profit by allowing such an attack to happen? Even the talking heads over at Fox & Friends are backing away from the conspiratorial mayhem surrounding Benghazi:
On Monday, the morning show hosted cable news all-star Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), for his latest in a long string of attempts to prove that the U.S. government engaged in a massive cover-up of the September 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya. Although hosts Gretchen Carlson, Steve Doocy, and Brian Kilmeade are normally happy to promote a good conspiracy theory — for example, they recently seriously questioned whether or not NBC is replacing Jay Leno on The Tonight Show because he made a joke about President Obama — even they’re fed up with Chaffetz’s unsupported claims that “we were certainly misled every step of the way.”
“Are you saying that admirals Pickering and Mullen are complicit because they did the review board?” Kilmeade asked of Chaffetz’s suggestion that the government manipulated the findings of the Accountability Review Board report on the attack. “Are you saying that the CIA is complicit because they allowed their talking points to be edited?”
“What were they trying to cover up?” Doocy asked.
“You had the former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta — who was revered by both sides of the fence — coming out and saying, ‘Hey, we couldn’t have gotten anybody there.’ So you have him on the line. You have former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, President Obama, Admiral Mullen. Would all of these people go to bat just to get President Obama re-elected?” Carlson asked.
If anyone's pondering the motives of the GOP, it isn't to get down to the bottom of whether the deaths of J. Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods could easily have been prevented. By hitching the current Secretary of State's wagon to the Benghazi conspiracy hobby horse, Republicans like Representative Darrell Issa hope to at least neutralize a potential problem before the 2016 primaries. If Hillary becomes the chosen front-runner for 2016, GOP candidates the likes of Paul Ryan go from expecting a lazy cruise down the boulevard of guaranteed electoral victory to dreading a much-harder slog down a muddy road.
No, it's not about the memories of the four men who died in honorable service to their country. If it were, you wouldn't have Mike Huckabee salivating at the prospect of an impeachment-worthy scandal, nor would you have other GOPers having flashbacks to former president Bill Clinton's impeachment, along with pains of regret at how it didn't result in his resignation or removal from office:
“I believe that before it’s all over, this president will not fill out his full term. I know that puts me on a limb,” the former Arkansas governor said on “The Mike Huckabee Show.” “But this is not minor. It wasn’t minor when Richard Nixon lied to the American people and worked with those in his administration to cover-up what really happened in Watergate. But, I remind you — as bad as Watergate was, because it broke the trust between the president and the people, no one died. This is more serious because four Americans did in fact die.”
Huckabee, however, said his predication about Obama “will not happen” if the Democrats seize control of the House and retain control of the Senate next year.
There's that tinge of bitter regret, that GOP efforts to return the favor for Watergate never panned out the way they wanted. It's also highly unlikely that President Obama will ever face impeachment for a GOP-manufactured scandal, regardless if the House and Senate fall under Republican control. It's the main reason why Benghazi was transformed into a campaign issue to raise Mitt Romney's falling star and a referendum on the administration's foreign policy and military capabilities, then reworked into an abortifacient for Hillary Clinton's possible 2016 presidential candidacy.
As long as the GOP figures it can keep pushing Benghazi as the ultimate trump card that finally flushes President Obama out of office and kneecaps one of the strongest names bandied about for 2016, you'll keep seeing and hearing the likes of Issa and Hucklebee fall over themselves to create something out of not much.
As an aside, attacks on U.S. consulates, embassies and other assets aren't as far-fetched as it appears to be. The U.S. does its best to head off such events in the first place and defend against them when they occur, but there's a measure of acceptable risk involved. The four men who died in Benghazi likely understood that clearly, while the same can't be said for the average American. According to Jeffrey Goldberg, Benghazi laid waste to an often-thought belief that complete and total security of U.S. assets was readily attainable in the ever-volatile Middle East:
Here’s the problem with Issa’s stunning insight: In his desire to cast the administration as incompetent, he does an enormous disservice to the cause of forward-leaning diplomacy and engagement. American embassies are already fortresses. Issa would dig a moat around them. After a point, there’s simply no reason to dispatch diplomats to hostile capitals if they can’t engage with actual citizens. Risk is inherent for U.S. diplomats posted to the Middle East.
The answer to the problem posed by the Benghazi attack isn’t to swaddle our overseas personnel in ever more elaborate layers of security. The answer is better intelligence and a willingness to talk straight about risk.
Our leaders -- of both parties -- have systematically infantilized Americans to believe that perfect security is attainable. This is one reason the White House reacts so defensively to any intimation that its conduct of the war on al-Qaeda is less than perfect. It’s one reason Republicans cynically argue that the administration is incompetent in its prosecution of the war, and in its mission to keep U.S. personnel alive. So long as both parties react so small-mindedly and opportunistically to the terrorist threat, we won’t be able to have a rational, adult conversation about the best ways to wage this war.
If that were possible, Afghanistan and Iraq would still be thought of in terms of "Soviet invasion" and "Desert Storm." After all, having a rational, adult conversation about waging war usually results in reasons not to wage war in the first place.
*CIA forces stationed on the compound, as well as forces sent from Tripoli, were instrumental in saving the lives of other consulate staff.