Thursday, May 01, 2014


The New York Times story on the latest Benghazi revelations, or non-revelations, is titled "Email Suggests White House Strategy on Benghazi." The Fox story is titled "'Smoking Gun' Benghazi Email Prompts Renewed Push for Select Committee." So the email is a "smoking gun," hunh? I guess it must be, because the entire right is saying so.

But if it's a smoking gun, it isn't a smoking gun revealing the mishandling of foreign policy; it's a smoking gun revealing (in the view of right-wingers) the mishandling of electoral politics.

Yes, the wingers do piously intone the phrase "four dead Americans" now and again. It's an effective way of scoring self-righteousness points. Yes, they cheer when someone is trotted out who says more should have been done to save those four Americans. (The latest such voice belongs to a retired general who was in Germany during the attack, and who has admitted that he doesn't actually think more could have been done.)

But for the most part, right-wingers keep sidestepping the incident itself and focusing on the preparation of talking points after the fact. The newly released email that's supposed to be the "smoking gun" shows that White adviser Ben Rhodes participated in the shaping of the early talking points (though as Dave Weigel notes, Rhodes's suggestion that the talking points should refer to the Innocence of Muslims video as the inspiration for the attack merely echoed what the CIA had already recommended saying about the situation; the CIA had already removed a reference to Al Qaeda from the talking points).

For the right, this isn't about the attack -- it's about how the White House talked about the attack. The alleged crime is a couple of weeks of bad messaging. Now, because we all have the Watergate template in our heads, we're supposed to think that "the cover-up is worse than the crime" -- but in the incident itself there's no crime. Call it a policy failure if you want, but the wingers and the congressional GOP have done a terrible job of finding anything worse than bad judgment in Benghazi, however awful the consequences -- bad judgment followed by messaging that didn't match what we now know to be the truth for a few weeks.

It matters to them because it happened during a presidential campaign that the president won. Omigod! A candidate running for reelection put the best possible spin on something he did in office -- temporarily!

I have to confess that I've never understood the reason why Team Obama would want to downplay Al Qaeda involvement and ascribe the violence to spontaneous Islamist rage. To people with a thorough grounding in the subject, those are very different things -- but to the average American, they're indistinguishable: a group of Muslims angry with America rise up and act, and Americans die. It all looks the same to Mr. and Mrs. Average American. And it's not a surprise. It doesn't make bin Laden less dead -- Obama got credit for the kill, and for (slowly) extricating troops from the region, but every American knows that there are people out there in that part of the world they find incomprehensible who want to kill U.S. citizens, and frequently do. (It wasn't until after the election that we had our first month without a troop death since 2001.)

The Obama team tried to finesse the explanation of what happened for a while, in a way that played on distinctions the Obamaites were too wonky to realize most Americans don't make. And since then the right has been beside itself less because of the deaths than because of the way this was messaged during the campaign.

I'm not bringing that up because I think "both sides do it." Republicans are using Benghazi as a tool to paralyze the government. They might try to impeach Obama over it -- though I think they're much more likely, especially if they regain control of the Senate this year, to try to conduct a two-year "preemptive impeachment" of Hillary Clinton. All of that is much, much worse for the country than anything the Obamaites have ever done.

Maybe a star-chamber pseudo-trial of Hillary will at least return the GOP Javerts to the subject of the actual event. But for now they just seem to care about the politics. The incident itself, right now at least, seems irrelevant to them.


trizzlor said...

I think they're just throwing out accusations now and hoping it sticks. It's clear now that there's no magic bullet that's going to make this look bad, so the focus has shifted to generating a cloud of deception to linger around everyone involved (particularly Hilary). It's sad given that there is a legitimate policy dilemma underneath all this - which is how embedded do we want our diplomats to be in volatile countries, and how much are we willing to pay to keep them safe - but that's a dilemma no one is interested in dealing with.

I agree with your gripes about focusing on the video, but if you read the trail of talking-points revisions it's clear that this was a departmental battle between the CIA and State. The CIA wanted to broadcast that they'd given advanced intel to the State Dep't and it was ignored; State argued that the situation was too complex to point fingers. My guess is that The White House decided that focusing on the video while telling everyone over and over again that an investigation was ongoing and we don't know anything would step on the fewest toes. Apparently that was a high-crime and/or misdemeanor.

In his e-mail, Rhodes also said "I think that people have come to trust that President Obama provides leadership that is steady and statesmanlike" even though that was just, like, his opinion man. So let's get the grand-jury together.

Victor said...

None of this circus act is at all about Benghazi.

President Obama would need 15 Benghazi's to tie the number of dead US Embassy and Consulate personnel under George W. Bush.

Bush - 60.

Obama - 4.

Maybe Rep. Issa could look to see what happened back then?

Oh, but this ain't about Benghazi is it?


It's all about tarnishing that Kenyan SocialiFasciCommuniHeatheAtheithiMuslim Usurper!

And hoping they find some, ANY, grounds to impeach him.

Oh, and also tarnishing Hillary Clinton - whom they fear, in 2016.

Joey Blau said...

" have to confess that I've never understood the reason why Team Obama would want to downplay Al Qaeda involvement and ascribe the violence to spontaneous Islamist rage"

well because AL-Q was on the ropes and the President said it was... so when this attack happened, and it seems from eyewitness reports that the stupid fake video did play a role in the demonstrations, the admin wanted to make sure you knew that Obama was RIGHT! AL-Q is NOT on a rebound..

because of course the first thought of the RW was to blame the prez, say that he was wrong, and claim that O was WEAK on terra and wanted his mooselmen friends to kill us with F&F weapons.

M. Bouffant said...

The alleged crime is a couple of weeks of bad messaging.
The very "criminalization of politics" the right is usually so agitated about.