November 30, 2012

GOP's Benghazi gambit neither practical nor plausible

Weeks before a Presidential election, a terrible tragedy occurred in Benghazi, Libya: a terrorist attack left four Americans dead, including the U.S. Ambassador. Politics is politics, so have at it. Since Americans went to the polls and re-elected President Obama to a second four-year term, however, treating Benghazi as Watergate 2.0 has become gratuitous.

There is a need to step out of the he-said-she-said moment. The entire premise that Susan Rice (our Ambassador to the United Nations) is under suspicion, or that any nominee to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State should be blocked until we get all the answers, is neither practical nor plausible.


What happened in Benghazi was horrible and tragic, and very possibly preventable. But it shouldn't have taken The Daily Show's Jon Stewart to point out the intrinsic hypocrisy -- that Condoleezza Rice sailed through confirmation for Secretary of State despite having knowingly lied about Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" while she was National Security Adviser -- and no one in the Bush administration was ever held to account for intelligence gaps in the lead-up to 9/11, when
nearly 3,000 people were murdered by Al Qaeda on U.S. soil. The United States continues to face foreign policy challenges around the world, and tying up key Administration assets and distracting public attention does our national interest little good. Any changes we need to make in our security deployments and intelligence vetting will not be facilitated by a process that has been antagonistic since a few hours after the attack. We need a strong and credible Secretary of State. And as has been noted, the fact that many Republicans would be happy to see John Kerry nominated instead of Susan Rice carries the unseemly scent of partisan angling for his Senate seat.


It makes little sense to argue that elements within the Obama administration would have opportunistically pushed the anti-U.S. protest angle in order to protect the President's anti-terrorism credentials ahead of the Presidential election. Even as a candidate four years ago, Barack Obama was being branded as naive for seeking to engage and win back the Arab and Islamic public. Mitt Romney consistently ridiculed Obama's foreign policy as the "apology tour", and blamed Obama's "appeasement" of radical Muslims even before the State Department had a chance to comment. With all this, if the Obama team were really looking to manipulate the information, it would have been far smarter to chalk up Benghazi to a one-off terrorist attack -- barely a blip amid the overall successful fight against Al-Qaeda. So, when Ambassador Rice went on all the Sunday morning shows and suggested the Consulate attack was connected to a current wave of popular protests across the Middle East, she was implicitly singing Romney's tune.

No one has been nominated yet to be the next Secretary of State, and it's not even clear how soon Secretary Clinton might choose to announce her own departure. The President won re-election with popular backing of his foreign policy performance, despite the early clamor over Benghazi. Republican Senators should settle down, and the Administration should follow the President's lead by not dignifying the attacks with anything beyond normal briefings and the investigation already underway.

Largely thanks to the Obama team's record of national security accomplishments, we again have real work to do, and the world is not waiting.

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