U.S. Reports on Benghazi Attacks Are an Indictment of Bedlam in Washington

There is no sane planet in which the 2012 terrorist assault, tragic as it was, justifies more probing than 9/11, the Beirut bombings or Pearl Harbor.

Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks during a House Select Committee hearing on Benghazi in Washington, D.C., U.S., October 22, 2015.
Pete Marovich, Bloomberg

The bottom line is that it won’t make any difference. The Republicans will claim that the 800 pages produced by the GOP majority on the U.S. House Select Committee on Benghazi are a harsh indictment of Hillary Clinton in particular and the Obama administration in general. Democrats will cite the 340 pages written by their minority contingent as proof that the Committee conducted a spurious witch-hunt. Most Americans, one can safely assume, will shrug and go on with their business.

The harsh Republican report provides new impetus, if any was needed, for right wing attackers to portray the killing of Ambassador Christ Stevens and three other U.S. diplomats at the American Consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 as the very worst scandal in the history of the nation. It makes life a bit easier for Republicans who hate Clinton more than they detest Donald Trump. It may give very temporary aid and succor to the Trump campaign, which has been trying to focus the right wing’s attention on Clinton’s deficiencies in the past rather than Trump’s in the present.

At the same time, the minority report allows Democrats to cast Clinton as victim, both by virtue of her own candidacy and of her service under the perennially targeted U.S. President Obama. Their report paints the conduct of the Select Committee and its findings as a coordinated conspiracy that included questionable if not illegal procedures aimed at securing a conviction at any price. Kevin McCarthy, who spilled the beans last September when he admitted that the purpose of the hearings was to harm Clinton’s standings in the poll, will be trotted out by Democrats for a few more days before returning to his House race in California. It was this blooper, more than anything else, that kept him from succeeding John Boehner as Speaker of the House.

In the final analysis, the Committee did not uncover any single “smoking gun” that could rise above the tons of documents, hearings, witnesses and findings that have already buried the attack itself underneath. The Committee has already exacted its pint of blood from Clinton, when it inadvertently uncovered the existence of the private emails on which the then secretary of state conducted some of her official business. This email affair has also been expertly blown out of proportion by GOP propaganda, but it could still inflict greater harm on Clinton if the FBI decides to escalate its investigation before the elections in November. Even if it doesn’t, Trump is ready: It’s a big cover-up by the Obama administration, he has said, and someone ought to sit in jail for that as well.

Viewed from close up, the report details inadequate security arrangements at the Consulate, wrong assessments of the dangers facing the staff there, faulty rescue plans, which the Committee concedes wouldn’t have helped even if everyone in Washington was on the ball, and the effort, totally naive or stained by design, to shift public focus to the inflammatory video “Innocence of Islam” which stoked public fury in Cairo and elsewhere. Viewed from a distance, however, the report provides far clearer evidence of something else altogether: the complete chaos that reigns in Washington as a result of political polarization, the deep resentment and mutual suspicions between the two major parties that have brought Congress to a virtual halt and the self-destructive urges of the Republican Party that produce such extraordinary exaggerations as the Benghazi investigations and Donald Trump.

There is no possible rational justification for holding seven separate Congressional probes on Benghazi, plus a few more on the side, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, especially when they all reach more or less the same conclusions. The attacks in Benghazi were bad for America’s image and tragic for the families of the four victims, but there is no sane planet in which it requires longer, wider and dearer investigations that 9/11, the 1983 Beirut bombings, the 1979 hostage crisis in Tehran or, as some have pointed out, the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

More than anything else, the majority report and the minority report, taken together, reflect increasingly blurred distinctions between fact and fiction, between acceptable political behavior and total bedlam, between complex realities and complete fantasies. 

They are a sign that the center isn’t holding, even in cases of an enemy assault on Americans, and that national security has become a political wrecking ball, like all the rest. The reports provide another worrying symptom of cascading system failures across the board. From Brexit to Benghazi, en route to Donald Trump, the writing is on the wall: Western democracies, led by America, are in deep trouble.