Republicans Missing the Point on Benghazi

The real scandal is that America involved itself in another country’s war and left it worse off.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington DC, May 18, 2010
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington DC, May 18, 2010 (DoD/Chad J. McNeeley)

Opposition Republicans interrogated former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for eleven hours last week about the September 11, 2012 attack on the American CIA and diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

Nothing new emerged from the marathon hearing.

The reason, argues Michael Brendan Dougherty at The Week, is that Republicans keep missing the point.

They keep dragging Clinton — who is likely to nominated as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate later this year — before Congress trying to prove an imagined conspiracy in which she and the president, Barack Obama, deliberately kept the facts of the Benghazi attack from the public so as not to hurt their party’s chances in the November 2012 election.

The administration did misinform the public about the nature of the Libya attack, claiming at first — without concrete proof — that it was triggered by an American-made anti-Islam video that also inspired violent demonstrations in neighboring Egypt.

The actual motivations of the attack — beyond “terrorists” wanting to kill Americans — remain unclear, though, in no small part because Republican investigators aren’t doing their jobs.

As Dougherty puts it, “A real oversight panel would have asked questions about the nature of the CIA operation in Benghazi.” But that might reveal that Clinton and Obama, far from being feckless, were presiding over a secret operations in which Libyan arms were being funneled to rebels in Syria fighting the regime of President Bashar Assad.

The CIA operation in Benghazi was most likely a gun-running operation to Syrian rebels, part of Obama’s proxy war with Iran, the covert project he could ratchet down as part of negotiations on nuclear weapons. To investigate that would be to admit that Obama wasn’t impotent in the Middle East but reckless.

Republicans have maintained for years that Obama is projecting weakness in the Middle East. They are especially critical of his refusal to involve the United States more thoroughly in the Syrian Civil War, now in its fifth year, even though the president has done virtually everything but deploy American soldiers to try to tilt the war against Assad.

This points to a real failure of the Clinton-Obama foreign policy. When the former incredulously claimed on Thursday that the American-led intervention in Libya was a demonstration of “smart power at its best,” all Republicans had to do was point out that the country remains at war. Four years after American airpower helped topple Muammar Gaddafi, Libya still doesn’t have a stable, central government — nor peace.

But Republicans can’t take Clinton and Obama to task for that because, as Daniel Larison writes for The American Conservative, that would undermine their argument that the Democrats are insufficiently activist and meddlesome around the world and discredit that conviction that the United States need to be even more activist and meddlesome.

This is the ideological blinder that most Republican candidates in 2012 and in the current cycle have: they can’t connect American actions to their harmful effects because that would be to admit that “action” (and especially military action) is often the wrong response. If they admit that, they not only lose their ability to attack Obama for “weakness” but they have to throw out one of their basic, faulty assumptions about the American role in the world. This is why they have to whine about “leading from behind” when the real error was in taking sides in a foreign conflict where no American interests were threatened.

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