Thursday, May 9, 2013

Benghazi: this is not your father's Oldsmobile

With the latest Benghazi hearings now a matter of public record, there is actually quite a bit of clarity with regard to the whole sordid affair. I say "sordid affair" as a literary device alone, as an editorial choice. Because the proper way to characterize the matter--the attacks in Benghazi--is as THE ASSASSINATION OF A SITTING U.S. AMBASSADOR. Why no one seems willing to call it what it really was--on either "side"--is beyond me: the purposeful killing of a high-ranking government official by enemies of that government is an assassination, period.

But I digress.

As I was saying, the storyline, following the testimony of Gregory Hicks, Eric Nordstrom, and Mark Thompson, is quite clear. It's the storyline everyone with a clue new would turn out to be the case months and months ago. Tom Bevan at RealClearPolitics does an excellent job summing up the facts that have been known (though publicly disputed as "facts" by the Administration until after the 2012 Election) for a while know and specifying the two key pieces of information gleaned from the testimonies on Wednesday:
We did learn at least two new, relevant facts from yesterday's testimony. One is that Beth Jones, an official in the State Department, sent an email on September 12 bluntly acknowledging terrorists participated in the attacks (“The group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al-Sharia, is affiliated with Islamic terrorists.”) The other is that Hicks said his “jaw dropped” when he heard Rice make her claims about spontaneous protests. Hicks testified that he later confronted her about the comments, and shortly thereafter he was demoted.
Bevan correctly and precisely expresses the only logical conclusion one can draw from all of this, with regard to the Administration's behavior:
So, while we may not have been treated to any “bombshell” revelations Wednesday, the testimony of Thompson, Hicks and Nordstrom and a fair reading of the record leads to an obvious conclusion: The president and his administration clearly misled the public about what happened on Sept. 11, 2012.
"Misled" is, of course, a nice way of saying "lied to." The President, the Secretary of State, and others lied every time they cited a nothing YouTube video as somehow related to the events in Benghazi. They lied by omission every time they failed to label the perpetrators "terrorists." And they lied yet again when they claimed they were waiting on information in order to properly characterize the attacks.

Hick's now-famous jaw-dropping moment--when Rice sought to blame the YouTube movie for the attacks--should speak volumes. But it's not having the impact it should have had simply because everyone who has been paying attention and who is not an Obama sycophant already knew Rice was lying about the movie. The movie played no role in what transpired. I personally noted this on September 14th, three days after the attack, before Rice had even opened her mouth:
The film's origin is a red herring, because this isn't really about the film, at all. It's about the ever-present anti-American sentiment that still grips the Muslim world, that lead to the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979, to the first WTC bombing in 1993, to 9-11 in 2001, and many other terrorist-type attacks against the U.S. and U.S. interests.
And I was far from alone in this regard. Even if there had been protests ostensibly about the film in Benghazi, the attacks still wouldn't have been about the film, really. The Administration's use of the film as a point of deflection was about serving a false narrative created by the Administration, with regard to the "war on terror" and its successes and supposed successes therein. And again, everyone with a clue knew this from the beginning.

So what we have here, in the final analysis, is an ugly and disgusting bit of political theater used to minimize the impact of an assassination of a U.S. diplomat on the reelection campaign of President Obama. And it worked. The question is, now that the election is over, what do we make of this?

Many people are trying--quite earnestly, I believe--to compare the Benghazi situation to the Watergate scandal. I understand the thinking: Watergate was a political scandal, an instance of the President and his minions lying to the American people for political advantage. And in a way, Benghazi is similar. Just barely. Most of the people making such comparisons are either too young to really remember the Watergate days or are simply remembering the events through a sort of magnifying lens.

Watergate was a huge scandal, this is true. But the constant need to compare every scandal since then to Watergate often does a disservice to reality. Watergate, as bad as it was, did not involve dead Americans killed by terrorists on American installations. And what really "made" Watergate were the secret tapes Nixon had been making, an action that seems quite silly in hindsight. But those tapes represented red meat for the media and Nixon's political adversaries. The scandal built in momentum because there was a far more limited media in those days; people eagerly waited for the next day's news report or newspaper to see what would happen, what new information had been uncovered, and this "building" as it were made all the difference.

In contrast, we now have near-instant access to every bit of information that comes out; and each bit is analyzed, dissected, and spun with equal speed. We--the American public--haven't been waiting for these hearings with baited breath. And the media hasn't been forced into ferreting out the truth: they've just been handed various versions of the supposed truth and then decided which version they want to report. For instance, look at this piece from the WaPo editorial board written just after the Benghazi attacks (I analyzed it previously). In it, the editors chastise Mitt Romney for supposedly making a series of "crude political attacks" on the basis of the tragedy that took Ambassador Stevens' life. And the piece takes it as a given that the attacks were related to the non-existent protest in Benghazi over the YouTube movie (my boldface):
Though reports were still sketchy, it appeared that a militant jihadist group, Ansar al-Sharia, took advantage of the Benghazi protest to stage an armed assault that overwhelmed the Libyan security force at the consulate.
This kind of reporting is so far removed from what was happening in the Watergate era as to be a joke. There is no effort made to verify the Administration's phony narrative; it is accepted out of hand.

And that is the real problem here. The ideological blinders of the media destroyed the Benghazi story before it ever had a chance to be a story. Those blinders, for all intents and purposes, poisoned the well. For good. Such ham-handed analysis should have never gone to print. Imagine how all of this would have gone down if the media hadn't accepted the narrative, had insisted on doing it's own fact-checking before saying things like the above, much less using such nonsense to attack a Presidential candidate.

Imagine--and I know this is hard--that the Benghazi events occurred in 1972, that Nixon's people came forward and blamed the attacks on a book, essay, cartoon, or the like. Lacking instantaneous access to information from half a world away, lacking "boots on the ground" in Benghazi and Libya, what would the major media outlets have done? They would have tried to find out if there was any truth to the Administration's assertion. And months later, when hearings where finally held and the narrative was proved false, they--the media--would have come down on Nixon like a truckload of bricks.

Imagine still more, that Nixon's secret tapes involved Benghazi, that they contained evidence of him instructing his people to play up the protest angle, or maybe even of him or of Kissinger telling U.S. forces to stand down in the midst of the attack.

I'm pretty sure that if Nixon was thought to be culpable in the assassination of a U.S. ambassador, rather than in the break-in of the DNC headquarters, things would have been exponentially worse for him and the rest of his administration. I doubt he would have survived another year, as he did in 1973. And I doubt Ford would have pardoned him later.

So don't compare Benghazi to Watergate. The two are not even in the same ballpark, Benghazi is a thousand times worse. It's just the nature of the current world that allows people in the media and in government to pretend Benghazi is not as bad as it really is; we're jaded from too much access to too much information, we are unable to separate the wheat from the chaff and our current media is no better, by and large.

Cheers, all.

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