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The Benghazi Charade

A look at how the attack on Benghazi has become a conservative rallying cry. In this photo, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP File)
A look at how the attack on Benghazi has become a conservative rallying cry. In this photo, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP File)
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On July 9, 2001, a remarkable meeting took place involving the Central Intelligence Agency’s counterterrorism team. A little context is necessary to understand the significance of the meeting.

For months, intelligence officials had been warning the Bush administration of the dangers posed by an Islamic terrorist named Osama bin Laden. Richard Clarke, a former Clinton advisor on counterterrorism, repeatedly sounded an alarm to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice about the “immediate and serious threat” posed by bin Laden.

On May 1, CIA officials had briefed the president about an attack being assembled by “a group presently in the United States.” On June 22, the president’s daily briefing included another warning of an “imminent” attack by al-Qaida. A week later, Bush’s daily briefing included a third alert, this one stressing “dramatic consequences … including major casualties.” A few days later, a third daily briefing includes mention of an imminent attack that “will occur soon.” Bush and his administration showed little interest in these admonitions. They were more focused on the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq.

Republicans are hoping to fan the flames of innuendo against not just Obama, but Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state during the attack, and the leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

And thus, at the July 9 meeting of the CIA’s counterterrorism group, a radical proposal was put forward. According to reporter Kurt Eichenwald, one CIA official suggested that the entire counterterrorism group request a transfer. Why? So they would not be blamed when the attack transpired.

Rather than abandon ship, though, these intelligence officers continued to caution the president, using more and more explicit language, in a series of memos that culminated with the infamous August 6 Presidential Daily Briefing. The one with the title “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” Bush was on vacation — in every sense of the word — when he received this briefing.

A month later, in an attack coordinated by Osama bin Laden, terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners and killed 2,977 people on American soil.

As many of you may recall, President Bush was not, in fact, impeached for gross negligence.

Just the opposite. His approval ratings shot up to 92 percent, popularity he leveraged to launch wars in Afghanistan and then Iraq, despite presenting no credible evidence of any link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks.

Keeping all this mind, let us now turn our attention to the super-serious-just-the-facts-ma’am Special Select House Committee just convened, after much rabble rousing from concerned patriots, to investigate the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed on Sept. 11, 2012.

In this Friday, Sept. 14, 2012 photo, Libyan military guards check one of the U.S. Consulate's burnt out buildings during a visit by Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif, not shown, to the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya to express sympathy for the death of the American ambassador, Chris Stevens and his colleagues in the deadly Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the consulate. (Mohammad Hannon/AP File)
In this Friday, Sept. 14, 2012 photo, Libyan military guards check one of the U.S. Consulate's burnt out buildings during a visit by Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif, not shown, to the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya to express sympathy for the death of the American ambassador, Chris Stevens and his colleagues in the deadly Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the consulate. (Mohammad Hannon/AP File)

The House already has convened half a dozen panels on this matter, in an attempt to prove that the Obama administration failed to protect the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, and misled the public afterwards.

Despite a lot of huffing and puffing, these panels have done little more than reveal the chaotic nature of the attack and the chaotic response of the administration, as officials attempted to understand what had happened and why. That has not stopped the conservative movement’s for-profit demagogues and their pets in the House of Representatives from shouting Benghazi over and over again. And so the circus lurches on.

Republicans are hoping to fan the flames of innuendo against not just Obama, but Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state during the attack, and the leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

Let us try to imagine what would have happened if we changed one single letter in these two tragic attacks. Let’s the change the “R” (as in Republican) to a “D” (as in Democrat) in the case of 9/11, and vice versa in the case of Benghazi.

Would anyone care to speculate as to how right-wing pundits and politicians would have reacted if Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton had been the president who ignored those repeated warnings about bin Laden? Would they have called for impeachment before, or after, the fires were put out at Ground Zero?

The latest Benghazi witch-hunt will do nothing to make Americans any safer in dangerous parts of the world.

And what if Bush had been president during the killings in Benghazi? Would those events have been warped into a “scandal” or would they have been received as yet another tragic reminder of the dangers posed by Islamofascists?

In fact, during Bush’s eight years in office, more than a dozen attacks were launched on American embassies and consulates, resulting in the death of three Americans. Oddly, I don’t remember multiple congressional committees being convened to investigate any of them.

The latest Benghazi witch-hunt will do nothing to make Americans any safer in dangerous parts of the world. It will bring us no closer to the truth of those tragic events. It’s a deeply cynical form of kabuki theater. Any reporter or pundit or citizen who treats it as anything more is misguided.

The only truth it will affirm is one we know well enough from the Bush years: you don’t need a smoking gun if you can manufacture a fog of unreasonable doubt.


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Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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