Darrell Issa’s Putting the Politics Cart Before the Facts Horse
The Obama administration may have royally screwed up by not foreseeing the attack on our Consulate in Benghazi on September 11 and in the handling of its aftermath.
Knowing the genuine interest of the American people to find out what went wrong in order to take the right steps to prevent a recurrence and, yes, to see the heads roll of those who may have been derelict in handling their responsibilities, a thorough nonpartisan investigation is called for, as has been the case after so many similar events in the past.
But please spare me the theatrics, the hand wringing and the rush both in Congress and on Romney’s campaign trail so blatantly intended to score cheap political points — to embarrass Obama less than 30 days before the November elections.
We already saw Romney’s and his Party’s rush to use the attacks on our diplomatic facilities, before having any details — literally without even waiting till the clock struck midnight on the day of the attack — to bash Obama as events were still unfolding, as attacks were still directed at our diplomatic personnel and facilities, as Americans were still at risk and while some had already died.
We now see a repeat of this hand wringing and rush to judgment in the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform hearings orchestrated by the committee’s Republican chairman Darrell Issa in the middle of Congress’ long recess.
The alleged purpose of Wednesday’s hearing of the Committee was to examine security lapses that led to the killing in Benghazi of our ambassador to Libya and three Americans.
But Rep. Elijah Cummings, the panel’s top Democrat, already in his opening statement unmasked the purpose of Issa’s hearings, “This should not be about the business of drawing conclusions and then looking for the facts,” and correctly and pointedly noted the timing of the hearing: 27 days before a presidential election.
Over the course of a grueling day, [the Republicans’] questioning suggested that the Obama Administration had recklessly ignored warning signs of terrorist activity in Libya, repeatedly refused requests for additional security and lied in the wake of the attack, claiming the violence was part of a protest over a California-made video insulting the Prophet Mohammed.
True, in the fog and confusion in the immediate aftermath of the attack, administration officials issued inconsistent and at times contradictory and inaccurate statements. The responsible officials have already been raked over the coals for this and Romney and his fan club have already had their fun with it. After all the facts are known, some heads may roll — as they should.
And true, some intelligence and warning signs may have been missed — as happened before the Sept. 11 attacks on our country — but to determine if such intelligence and security lapses indeed occurred — and to take corrective actions — we generally rely on exhaustive, nonpartisan investigations such as we had after 9/11 and after the devastating attacks on the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon.
But in this instance and in my opinion, Issa’s Committee is putting the cart before the horse: the cart being embarrassing Obama before the November elections and the horse being finding out the facts.
By the way, in a September 2001 interview with FRONTLINE, 18 years after those attacks, Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration at the time said that the U.S. still lacked “actual knowledge of who did the bombing” of the Beirut Marine barracks, an attack that killed 241 of our Marines.
Regardless of what mistakes the Administration may have made in the run-up to the attacks, there seems to be plenty of blame to go around as pointed out by Representative Cummings after Issa derided Charlene Lamb, a State Department deputy assistant secretary for international programs, for allegedly not having the correct number of assets in Benghazi at the time of the attack.
“My goal is to put this partisanship behind us and focus on the security of our personnel,” Cummings said. “If that is our goal we have to examine the funding. The fact is since 2011 the House has cut diplomatic security by hundreds of millions of dollars. The House has done that. The Senate has restored some of it. But the House has done that.” In 2009, House Republicans voted to slash $1.2 billion from State Department operations. In 2011 they cut the Administration’s request for embassy security by $331 million and in 2012 by another $331 million, though Senate Democrats restore $88 million of that. In 2013, they are seeking to cut another $172 million, a move that Hillary Clinton on Tuesday told House Speaker John Boehner “deeply” concerned her. But no one wants to admit any complicity, especially in the thick of an election season.
After initially claiming that his requests for additional security resources for Benghazi were turned down by the State Department, regional security officer Eric Nordstrom said, “The ferocity and intensity of the attack was nothing that we had seen in Libya, or that I had seen in my time in the Diplomatic Security Service…Having an extra foot of wall, or an extra-half dozen guards or agents would not have enabled us to respond to that kind of assault.”
USA TODAY perhaps has the best assessment of these hearings:
It seems fair to conclude that the State Department underrated the threat, but the evidence still falls far short of proving Republicans’ claims that the Obama administration could have prevented the first killing of an ambassador in three decades.
Whether it could have stopped the terrorist attack that claimed the life of Ambassador Chris Stevens, as Republican committee members tried to establish, is a far more dubious conclusion. But it certainly missed signs of escalating violence against Westerners, and a plea from within its own ranks to beef up security.
Even if the warnings had been heeded, and the requested security personnel added, and if they’d been assigned to Benghazi, it’s still a reach to assume that they could have fought off such a lethal attack.
And that’s even allowing for the benefit of hindsight. In real time, Stevens himself thought Benghazi safe enough to visit on the anniversary of 9/11, and he opposed turning U.S. diplomatic posts into armed camps.
What’s needed is a fast, cool-headed review that leads to appropriate security at American facilities abroad.
Instead, the Republicans are sniping and the administration is stonewalling. What’s left is a blame game lacking much value.