Let me outline what we know so far about the attacks on US embassy staff last September that led to the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
First, it’s a big deal. There are strong indications — and the US State Department’s own internal review concludes as much — that security for US personnel in Libya was lax and requests for additional protection were bungled.
“Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department (the “Department”)resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place,” that report concluded.
We also know conclusively that in the hours and days after the attack, the Obama administration worked aggressively to contain political fall-out from the attack, which occurred in the final months of the 2012 presidential campaign.
A former State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, sent an email arguing for changes to official talking points, arguing that the original language would “be abused by members of Congress to beat the State Department for not paying attention to agency warnings so why would we want to seed the Hill.”
It also appears that probes of the Benghazi attacks carried out so far left some significant questions unanswered. There is a strong and reasonable argument to be made for further investigation, despite protestations from some on the left.
We absolutely need to know who was responsible for that lax security and, if the military response following the attacks was less robust and aggressive than it might have been, why that happened.
At the same time, we very much need congressional leaders — who are serving a vital oversight role — to place enormous daylight between themselves and the crazy anti-Obama fringe that exists on the right. So far that hasn’t occurred.
Senior Republican officials and lawmakers have compared what happened in the days following Benghazi to Watergate and to the Iran-Contra Scandal, and suggested that it might be grounds for impeachment of Barack Obama.
They’ve begun fundraising on the issue, launched political advertisements and dialed Fox News’ 24/7 agitprop machine up to 11.
This isn’t just AM talk radio nonsense.
It’s a dangerous distraction from Congress’s constitutional duty to provide a check on and a degree of transparency into the workings of the executive branch.
It may well be that the Obama administration deserves some significant level of condemnation for what happened in Libya. But if this devolves into another Whitewater-style-stained-blue-dress political witch hunt, it will be disastrous.
Fortunately, there are indications that House Speaker John Boehner is taking a personal leadership role in this matter. That’s a good thing.
He should make it clear that this isn’t a fundraising opportunity, or a chance to give Mr. Obama a black eye. It’s not an opening to establish solidarity with far-right tea-partiers, as Politico suggested.
It’s certainly not a way to distract the public’s attention from the GOP’s own struggles and shortcomings.
Unfortunately, the Republican Party entered this moment in history with a major credibility problem. There have been too many crazy conspiracy theories and end-times exaggerations.
Conservatives have shouted fire in our national movie theater so many times since Mr. Obama came to office — and been factually wrong so many times — that they have a serious task ahead establishing their own gravitas.
If the nation hopes to reach any kind of meaningful outcome, the rhetoric needs to be dialed down and a great deal more objective, factual evidence is needed.
Republicans like to claim that where foreign policy is concerned, they’re the grownups in the room. This is an opportunity for them to prove it by providing a clear-eyed, sober assessment of what happened and why.