Now that Republicans have legitimate and troubling scandals on which to criticize the Obama administration—the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups and the Justice Department’s broad seizure of the Associated Press’s phone records—hopefully they will forget their inane focus on the “cover up” involving the attack on the Benghazi diplomatic compound in Libya. But because the Benghazi kerfuffle really is an attempt to undermine then-Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, don’t bet on it.
Strangely, the “liberal media,” perhaps desperate for sensational news to cover in the political and foreign policy fields, have teamed with conservatives to hype the Benghazi story. The Washington Post recently devoted its entire fact-checking column to parsing whether President Obama, the day after the Benghazi attacks, called them an “act of terror” instead of an “act of terrorism.”
Even in the worst case–that the Obama administration was downplaying the terrorism aspect of the attacks to maintain its election-year narrative that Obama’s killing of Osama bin Laden had al Qaeda on the run—woopty doo. First, the administration had never said that all Islamist terrorism had been eradicated. Second, the average voter would not have discerned the difference between Obama’s admission of an “act of terror,” in contrast to “an act of terrorism.” The Post’s column even mentioned that the Obama White House pointed out that then-President George W. Bush after 9/11, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) all have used the phrase “act of terror” in referring to acts of terrorism. And no one ever accused President Bush of undermining the significance of the 9/11 attacks. Third, any Obama administration obfuscation on Benghazi pales in comparison to other war-related lying in American history.
For example, Franklin D. Roosevelt has been celebrated for dragging an “isolationist” American nation into the war with the evil Nazis and Imperial Japanese. Yet, in complete contravention of the U.S. Constitution, he was attempting to do that by running a secret war in the Atlantic in mid-1941 long before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor—helping the British attack German U-boats, hoping to provoke a German attack on a U.S. vessel that would justify American entry into the war.
In 1965, Lyndon Johnson secretly escalated American involvement in Vietnam—eventually leading to the deployment of more than 500,000 U.S. troops in that country—on the basis of a vaguely worded congressional resolution in 1964– dishonestly obtained by focusing on doubtful North Vietnamese attacks on threatening U.S. warships and by omitting U.S. provocation by involvement in secret raids on the North Vietnamese coast.
In 1991, the George H.W. Bush administration justified sending hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops to defend Saudi Arabia, after Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had invaded neighboring Kuwait, on the basis of an alleged Iraqi troop build up on the Kuwait-Saudi border. Russian and French satellite photos strangely detected no such Iraqi build up.
After the 9/11 attacks, the George W. Bush administration exploited the crisis by forgetting about al Qaeda, the perpetrators of the attacks, and pulling one of American history’s greatest bait and switch scams to invade Iraq and take out Saddam Hussein. To do so, Bush had to lie about a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks, when there was none, and grossly exaggerate the intelligence on Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. This episode pales in comparison to any playing down by Obama of an attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Libya, but is similar in that the media tends to focus on what administrations or their critics say, rather than on the most important issues.
Surrounding the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the media intensely focused on the absence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction rather than on the Bush administration’s lying about a false conspiracy between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Also, even if Saddam had had weapons of mass destruction, as others besides the administration believed before the invasion, the U.S. intelligence community had publicly discounted the threat that Saddam would use them or give them to terrorist groups, unless he was backed into a corner. This was only a two-day media story but severely undercut Bush’s rationale for the invasion.
Similarly, in Libya, the media has gotten side tracked on a potentially sensational Obama administration cover up—no matter how minor—instead of asking the more important questions: “Would U.S. diplomats have been killed if the United States had not overthrown Muammar Gaddafi and destabilized Libya?” or “Did the U.S. military intervention destabilize the entire region by unleashing Gaddafi’s huge weapon stocks and fighters into places like Mali?” Bloodthirsty Republicans, such as John McCain and Lindsay Graham, don’t want to ask these questions, because it would undermine the rationale for their zealous advocacy of an ill-advised American intervention in Libya and compare unfavorably even with Obama’s more cautious, but equally tragic, “leading from behind” U.S. allies.
Nevertheless, Republicans who really want to help the country, instead of merely trying to foil Hillary’s possible 2016 presidential bid, should focus on the two aforementioned Obama administration scandals involving serious violations of treasured American civil liberties and on exploring the consequential inadvertent downsides to profligate U.S. military interventions overseas. Even less scrupulous Republicans, such as McCain and Graham, should realize that their line of attack on Benghazi is not strong–Americans don’t usually vote on foreign policy unless a huge catastrophe has occurred (although tragic, Benghazi does not rise to that level), even the worst case is not much of a cover up by historical standards, 2016 is a long way off, and the American public doesn’t even care about the issue now. By 2016, voters even will have forgotten where Benghazi is or what happened there.