The big problem with the Republicans’ critique of the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya – or, more specifically, their current attempt to exploit it for electoral purposes – is that the GOP has virtually no credibility on this kind of issue.
Yes, it’s absolutely beyond dispute that the Obama administration offered shifting explanations for Benghazi, especially in the earliest days when the real-time intelligence was incomplete. And, yes, the deaths of four Americans clearly warrant the current government scrutiny. But when Republican opportunists start ratcheting up the hyperbole – insisting that Benghazi is “more serious than Watergate” and demanding answers at super-pronto speed – the only rational reaction is to either (a) shake one’s head in disgust, or (b) dissolve into thigh-slapping laughter.
After all, this is the same party that dragged its feet for nearly two and a half years after 9/11. The Bush White House and its allies on Capitol Hill stubbornly opposed all demands for an investigation of the massive intelligence failures, the lack of domestic preparedness – and even possible administration culpability – that contributed to the deaths of 3000 Americans on American soil.
Right now, Republicans are thirsting for answers; as Mitt Romney says of Benghazi, “We need to understand exactly what happened.” But a decade ago, after a terrorist attack of far greater magnitude, they had no interest in finding out exactly what happened. Senate Republican leader Trent Lott said in 2002 that it was “despicable” to question whether President Bush had been insufficiently vigilant, pre-9/11. Lott said that exploring such issues in an investigation would be akin to “talking like our enemy.”
One of Lott’s colleagues, Kay Bailey Hutchison, concurred. She was outraged that anybody would want to investigate what happened: “I don’t think that anyone should start pointing fingers in a personal way, or suggest that people are trying to cover their political backsides. I just think that’s ridiculous.” She was seconded by Vice President Dick Cheney (natch), who said: “A public commission investigating American intelligence in a time of war is ill conceived and, frankly, irresponsible….We don’t need to hand the terrorists an after-action report.”
And remember Rudy Giuliani, one of the purported heroes of 9/11? Yesterday, the ex-New York mayor pounced on the Benghazi episode, calling it a “disaster,” a “scandal,” a “coverup,” and he told Fox News that Romney “should be exploiting it.” But Guiliani sure didn’t talk that way back in 2004, when a commission was finally probing 9/11. When investigators uncovered damning evidence about Giuliani – he had dragged his feet after the 1993 World Trade Center attack, failing to sufficiently upgrade his anti-terrorist command and control structure, and those failings may have contributed to the deaths of firefighters – Giuliani took umbrage. He told CNN: “This finger-pointing and name-calling – that isn’t appropriate.”
But why do Republicans now believe it’s “appropriate” to point fingers about Benghazi? Duh, there’s an election three weeks away. And it matters nary a whit that there isn’t a shred of paper suggesting that President Obama was warned in advance of a serious terrorist threat…
…Unlike what happened on August 6, 2001, when President Bush was handed an intelligence document entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” a document that warned of “patterns of suspicious activities in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings.” The president was duly briefed about it by an intel officer. Then he curtly dismissed the briefer, uttering my favorite quote of the Bush era:
“All right. You’ve covered your ass now.”
So here’s my question: If the Benghazi episode is “more serious than Watergate” (that’s from GOP congresswoman Marsha Blackburn), then how might we rationally describe the aforementioned Bush episode? And Republicans’ repeated defense of his behavior on that August day? And the Republicans’ systematic attempts to block an independent investigation of 9/11? And the House Republicans’ multi-year refusal to hold any substantive hearings?
I won’t bother to one-up Blackburn’s hyperbole. What matters is the hypocrisy.
Passions are high at the moment, so maybe we can cut the GOP some slack for losing perspective on Benhgazi, and for conveniently forgetting its own behavior after 9/11. But, fortunately for us, one guy who has things in perspective is Jan Stevens, the 77-year-old father of slain U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens. On the phone yesterday, he told a reporter: “It would really be abhorrent to make this a campaign issue.”
Maybe Mitt Romney, in the presidential debate tonight, will indulge the grieving father and zip his lip. We can only hope.
Be happy that I spared you the predictable pre-debate story, which is generally titled “What The Candidates Need To Do.” Although I’ll probably discuss those needs when I join tonight’s panel at WHYY.
I’ll also be live-tweeting the debate. Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1