The campaign is over, but you wouldn’t know it from the way some leading Republicans and their media allies keep kicking the Benghazi political football around.
In what is usually a sign that someone is trying to twist a complicated set of facts into a scandal without bothering to identify anything scandalous, Republicans are comparing the September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi to Watergate.
There’s talk of cover-ups, a call for a select committee of Congress to investigate, even wistful suggestions of impeachment.
There are important questions that should be asked and answered, both to the public and, more critically, to the members of Congressional intelligence committees.
These include what happened on Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, and what, if anything, could have been done to prevent it? Who, besides the host country, was responsible for security at the consulate? Was extra help requested and why wasn’t it granted?
Some of the questions and answers must be classified: How many CIA agents, defense contractors and Special Ops forces were in the area, and what is their mission? What do the State Department and CIA think of the current Libyan transitional government, and other players in Libya: anti-Gadhafi militias, pro-Gadhafi loyalists and foreign jihadis, all of them heavily armed?
There are larger questions the public ought to care about: How safe are U.S. diplomats in other posts? How much have the taxpayers spent fortifying and replacing overseas missions since two East African embassies were bombed in 1998? How much more should be spent? Who should protect missions in dangerous places? What is the trade-off between diplomats’ safety and diplomatic effectiveness?
Instead of answering these questions, Washington seems to be focused on a sideshow: UN Ambassador Susan Rice’s appearance on network talk shows a few days after the attack.
Why did she downplay the chance that terrorists were responsible? Why didn’t she provide more information? Why did she talk about the movie Muslims in other countries were upset about, instead of pinning the Benghazi attack on Al Qaeda?
On that topic, it is worth recalling that the UN General Assembly was convening that week, a topic Rice is well-qualified to talk about, and that her mission that week — like that of the president in his UN speech a week later — was to explain the First Amendment to Muslims still upset by a film they saw on YouTube.
Rice could certainly have been more forthcoming about Benghazi, but some Republicans’ demand that she should have revealed more classified material sounds a bit strained.
So does the rest of the GOP rhetoric. If there’s been a cover-up, what’s the crime? Where is it written that a president can be impeached because someone in his administration provides incomplete answers on the Sunday talk shows?
Now that the election is over, we ought to be able to get answers to serious questions the Benghazi attack raises about diplomatic security and the state of the war on terror.
Unfortunately, some people in Washington don’t seem to realize the election is over.