Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Tale Of Two Benghazis

Richard Cohen is having trouble understanding the Benghazi issue. He doesn't understand the passion around the conversation (by conservatives, of course). He isn't sure exactly why the Republicans are continuing to pursue this issue when, frankly, it hasn't been especially kind to them in the past. That’s okay, Richard: The Omnivore is going to explain to you why you’re confused.
It isn’t because Benghazi is especially confusing: the basic facts are not in dispute.
  1. There was an attack, 4 people (including an US Ambassador) died.
  2. The attack was initiated by Al Qaeda and used heavy weapons.
  3. The security on the base was way too low.
So, okay? What’s the issue? Is it just about the Sunday-morning talk-show circuit where Susan Rice blamed an anti-Muslim video for the violence when, allegedly, the CIA knew it was terrorists? Is that it? That maybe we can prove Obama knowingly lied to the American people to shore up a campaign position that AQ was on the ropes and on the run?

No. The confusion about Benghazi is not about, specifically, the lie (or “the lie” if you are liberal). The confusing part is that there are two Benghazi’s—one in the GOP Establishment’s mind and one in the Base’s. The GOP as a whole can’t disavow or completely claim either and so every move has to take into both versions into account. That leads anyone outside the dialog into confusion: at any give time they’ll go “What are they talking about!?”

Two Benghazis

The two Benghazis are like this:

The GOPe’s Benghazi

In this version base security was mishandled by the State Department which (probably) ignored warnings that there was going to be some kind of attack. Hillary herself (probably) was asked to improve security and denied it for no good reason. When the attack came, the Obama administration, viewing this disaster as an existential threat to the campaign, went into spin mode almost immediately (while the attack was underway?) and the result was catastrophe.

In the morning after, rather than planning a response or anything, instead they loaded up Susan Rice with lies and sent her out to pacify the voting populace that nothing could have been done (either before, during—which the military analysts agree with, or after) and that, really, it was no big deal.

The point now is to assign blame to Hillary for bad security leading up to the attack, to Obama for bad foreign policy, an uncaring response during the fight, and going to be during the conflict, and to show that the administration’s spin-control has amounted to outright, bold-faced lying to Congress and the American public.

NOTE: Ted Cruz's 10-Questions-On-Benghazi more or less lay this point of view out.

The Base’s Benghazi

In this version Obama was (probably) running guns illegally to AQ in Syria and the ambassador was there in order to facilitate weapons transfers or some other illegal operation. When the attack happened, the administration, rather than trying to spin the attack—or even salvage the situation—instead decided to let the attackers sterilize the area of operations. They denied military support (Valerie Jarrett, as Obama had probably gone to sleep, ordered a stand-down) and spun a story that was designed to shut down any actual scrutiny.

This story wasn’t intended to hold until the election—it was intended to keep the deadly secret indefinitely. The media, of course, complied as it always does but the GOP base can ferret out the lie.
When they do? Obama is done.

NOTE: Rand Paul's question during the hearings alludes to this version (Importantly: Cruz has an easier time with the base so he can be more moderate in which Benghazi he adopts).

Both Benghazis

The Base’s Benghazi The GOPe’s Benghazi
  1. There is an administration-killing secret buried under the lies.
  2. The administration’s actions are not simple campaign-spin but an actual criminal cover-up.
  3. Uncovering this is a direct threat to the administration and so backing down is unthinkable.
  1. The administration had demonstrable incompetence which, it can be proven (?) goes all the way to the top (Hillary).
  2. The campaign spin has reached the level of outright lies which will damage the reputations of everyone involved (Hillary) badly when they come out.
  3. There is probably a diminishing-returns point on this—but with Hillary in the pole-position for 2016 and beating most Republican candidates at this time, it’s a good chance to keep her in the news in a negative light.
Expected Outcome: Impeachment and the end of a criminal presidency. Expected Outcome: Damage to Hillary’s 2016 chances.
Worst Case Scenario: The GOPe loses their will or is too incompetent to make the charges stick allowing criminal treason in the highest office to go unpunished. Worst Case Scenario: Voter blow-back due to what looks like rampant opportunism by a radical-right congress.

Following The Money

The real problem, as many people have noted, is that Benghazi, occupying a place of paramount importance to the base, is a key fundraiser. To a very real extent, millions (?) of dollars have been paid by the base to get this investigation underway. Reluctance on the part of the GOP Establishment is not seen as a belief that there may be more harm than good in pursuing what was, essentially, a blunder—but rather a lack of principal,spine, and, possibly, criminal collusion.

As Vox notes: no GOP candidate can be sure his or her opponent won’t raise money off Benghazi so they all have to (the Prisoner’s Dilemma). When people are literally paying for something, you kind of have to give it to them. When people are willing to pay you and you need money, you have to take take the position they have in mind.

So long as the $$ are flowing Benghazi cannot go away—and so long as the Base has their version of it, it will not.

A Few Points

Before we go …

They Might Find Something

We shouldn’t lose sight of the possibility that, even if the GOP Base version is false, the investigation may well find something. Examples are:
  1. There was a CIA operation related to the embassy. The problem is that this could be completely legal (and people in Congress know about it).
  2. There is evidence of Hillary-related incompetence: if she was sent an “eyes-only” cable it would have appeared on her desk. If she got a request like that and ignored it? That’s on her.
  3. What if they find evidence that the nature of the attack was completely clear to the CIA at the time and the president did indeed knowingly and for-sure lie (as opposed to spinning murky intelligence which is how it looks now to most people).
In any of these events what is uncovered may or may not meet the public’s standard of reasonable given what has transpired. The Omnivore suspects that the investigation will not uncover the kind of smoking-gun that the public will require—but will produce evidence that the GOP Base will find compelling. In this case, the GOPe’s endgame is to ride it out to 2016 without a major gaffe and hope that the base doesn’t decide they’re being toyed with.

Benghazi vs. Truthers

The belief that there was an illegal weapons smuggling operation (kinda like Iran-Contra, no?) is comparable to some on the Left’s belief that Bush somehow engineered 9/11. Sure, there’s no evidence but it kinda seems like something he’d do—and, hey, there’s weirdness that I don’t have easy answers for! It must have been Bush! Whatever you think of this comparison (9/11 Truthers think I am ignoring mountains of concrete evidence) the key distinction here is the same left-right split we saw between the Tea Party and #OWS: Money and results.

True, when Benghazi happened, the Tea Party already had political power in place (Tea Party congress-people)—and fund raising organizations (some might say that’s primarily what they had). But it’s not like 9/11 Truthers aren’t often middle-aged and educated: They have money too. They certainly have organizations that could have raised money … fielded candidates. They didn’t. So far as The Omnivore knows, they didn’t even really try.

Maybe it’s because 9/11 Trutherism is just too far out there—but both Trutherism and Benghazi gets mocked in the mainstream press. Most people consider both a settled issue.

The difference, The Omnivore thinks, is in the underlying emotional drivers behind Benghazi-as-conspiracy and 9/11-as-conspiracy. In both cases there is a strong drive by the believer to feel victimized. Being victimized, ironically, feels good: it’s someone else’s fault things suck. In the case of Benghazi the victimization is strongly personal—it’s Obama (not Hillary—the GOP Base version will bring down Obama). Worse, the victimization is theft. The subject may have lost their job, seen their home depreciate, or feel they are losing constitutional rights and their country itself.

The Benghazi believer is angry and wronged: They want their stuff back.

In the case of 9/11 Trutherism the victimization is that the Truther is ignored—Cassandra’d, if you will. It’s their fate to speak truth to power and never be heard. That’s the whole dynamic. The more they’re ignored, the more it feeds into their desire to keep going (hence, a decade later with everyone involved out of power, it still continues). These emotional drivers create very, very different results.


  1. This is an excellent post. I clearly need to spend more time 'round here.

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  2. "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking."

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