Friday, January 25, 2013

Hazing Hillary: The Benghazi Hearings

Who's Driving?
Hillary finally took the hot-seat to answer questions about Benghazi. What'd we learn? We learned that:

What I Learned
  1. Rand Paul thinks he might want to run for president in 2016
  2. A lot of Democrats would really like Hillary to run for president in 2016
What CNN Thinks We Learned?
Here are the five things that CNN thinks we learned:
  1. During the day of the attack there were a lot of protests going on all over the place because of the video.
  2. There are 20 diplomatic posts under threat in other countries.
  3. Clinton is ready to bring it!
  4. Arms are leaking out of Libya
  5. Republicans aren't buying it (duh)
Things Republicans Should Have Asked But Didn't
Several watchers think Republicans blew it (reminiscent of Romney's Benghazi assaults during the campaign, eh?). Here are some interesting points:
  1. They should have followed up on why Hillary wasn't concerned about the one suspect caught being released.
  2. Yes, they get millions of cables "to the Secretary" but then each cable is specifically addressed and can be sent to her 'eyes only' or some such. Did such a cable ever get sent? Good question.
What Does It Matter?
The big event was Hillary asking "What does it matter" to the 'Why?' question about why the attacks happened in the first place. 
“The fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?
Let's look at some answers to that question. From Victor Davis Hanson:
Did it matter, for example, whether Hezbollah pre-planned the Marine barracks bombing or the Khobar Towers attacks, or the American deaths were just the results of angry youths who spontaneously coalesced to commit violence? Do such circumstances matter to the families of the deceased, to national-security officials responsible to prevent further occurrences, to a public that demands honesty and transparency from its officials?
From No Quarter:
If it was a spontaneous attack with no warning then who can be faulted. Who is to blame when a meteor blazes thru the atmosphere and it smashes you car, that is an unfortunate event and there is no one to blame. But when you send diplomats into a dangerous area, and you know from prior written intelligence that the threat is high, you have a personal and professional responsibility to protect them. You, Hillary, failed on that point.
  1. If it didn’t matter, what was Susan Rice doing when she tried pushing that meme, which the White House had to abandon within days as leaks within State and CIA made plain that there was no demonstration?
  2. It also matters because Barack Obama at the time had been bragging about crippling al-Qaeda while on the campaign trail. 
  3. [ Obama's handling of Libya allowed terrorists to rise up in the power vacuum that US/NATO left by their intervention. ]
Contra Clinton, it makes a great deal of difference because understanding how this all happened is the first step to making sure it doesn't happen over and over and over again.
So let's see ... It matters because:
  • People care / have a right to know. 
  • It allows us to assign blame. 
  • It seems like pro-campaign spin. 
  • It could help us stop this from happening again. 
On the face of it, these are pretty valid questions with one problem: At the time they were being asked and, indeed, for months, they were mostly already well answered.

People Care And Have A Right To Know
This is true--but today does anyone not know? If you think that's because the fearless right-wing media got the real story you, you're wrong. It was CBS and CNN. Here is CBS with the cables:
It was six weeks ago on Tuesday that terrorists attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Now, CBS News has obtained email alerts that were put out by the State Department as the attack unfolded. Four Americans were killed in the attack, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

These emails contain the earliest description so far of what happened at Benghazi the night of the attack.
A source familiar with Stevens' thinking told CNN earlier this week that, in the months leading up to his death, the late ambassador worried about what he called the security threats in Benghazi and a rise in Islamic extremism.
It's a misconception that the media was covering this up--in fact, they were breaking the most salient facts of the case. The people do have a right to know--and they do. The idea that a facile  lie on the part of the administration would keep everything under wraps is naive. Clinton and Obama and so on may be many things--but they are not naive. Neither are the Republicans asking these questions.

It Allows Us To Assign Blame
This would make sense if there weren't an actual mechanism by which blame gets assigned: an investigation committee. There was one. Here's what it found: management and data-sharing failures (three people resigned).
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.
The Republicans apparently were a little unclear as to whether someone could actually be tried for incompetence--the answer was No.

It Was Pro-Campaign Spin
At least this one has the advantage of not being irrelevant by the time the hearing happened. Again, the idea that the 'cover up' was cooked up to protect the Al-Queada-is-on-the-run narrative is naive (no one would be shocked that A-Q could manage to kill 4 people in Libya--a dangerous war-zone). The idea that it was cooked up to protect against revelations of incompetence is somewhat less naive--but, again, given the time frames involved you'd have to think that the Obama machine was grossly incompetent to try to shield themselves with an obviously false story. The Obama machine might be many things--they are not stupid.

It Could Help Us Stop This From Happening Again
True--if you believe that the truth would never come out--but, again, by the time of the hearing it already has. We already know everything we need to that could help stop this from happening again and Susan Rice's talking points don't change that. No one is accusing the administration of lying to congress--just lying to the American people. This talking point doesn't hold up.

My Take
Benghazi has always been a bad hill to die on for the Republicans. From Romney's tin-eared press release to his blowing the attack line in the 2nd debate it simply has not generated anything but more froth from the base. It's a fund-raiser and positioning for 2016 but after that? Not much. Don't take my word for it, take Erick Ericksons'*:
Conservatives, frankly, have become purveyors of outrage instead of preachers for a cause. Instead of showing how increasing government harms people, how free markets help people, and how conservative policies benefit all Americans, we scream “Benghazi” and “Fast & Furious.”
We’re off key and off message. We’ve become professional victims dialed up to 10 on the outrage meter. Who the hell wants to listen to conservatives whining and moaning all the time about the outrage du jour? Seriously? Mitt Romney ran a campaign on just how bad things are, but he was rejected by a majority of Americans who felt like he really did not care about them and really had no plans to improve their lives.
Bitching about Benghazi doesn’t do that either.

* Yes, this is the second time I've posted this quote. I'm in awe of Ericksons' clarity to say it and, even moreso, his guts to write it.

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