On Benghazi, most conservatives have behaved like a dog on a bone. Ever since the September 2012 tragedy, the right sensed that it had hit gold: a stain on Obama and a stain on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. All the while managing to eschew the bigger questions (Why were we there in the first place? What does this say about the folly of American hyper-interventionism?), my fellow conservatives demanded “justice!” and “answers!” There are slogans such as “Hillary lied, people died!”, Benghazi ribbons on Twitter avatars, B-E-N-G-H-A-Z-I spelled out in all caps on far too many tweets, and so on and so forth. When answers were ultimately provided, following Congressional investigations, hearings, and countless news reports, none has ever been sufficient to let the story die a dignified death. And so the latest round of the Benghazi circus emerged this week, to wild applause.
First, a background recap: A few days after the tragedy, National Security Advisor Susan Rice appeared on the September 16, 2012 Sunday talk show circuit, in which she posited the idea that an anti-Islamic YouTube video prompted a spontaneous attack on the embassy. A questionable theory, to be sure, though not altogether crazy considering that such protests did spring up elsewhere across the Muslim world, and were ongoing at the time. A bipartisan report released early this year noted the anti-video protests in Cairo as possibly related to the Benghazi attack, and the CIA chief of station there considered the video one of the potential causes.
Following nearly two years of investigations and hearings, we will never know for certain: Was it a “terrorist” act in its traditional form? Was it a terrorist attack emboldened by the video? Was it simply a spontaneous mob fueled by the video? The possibilities are endless and the truth is likely a complex hybrid of all of the above. And even while the nation shows little interest in continuing to beat this story, many on the right bite down harder.
Now, a new e-mail emerged, uncovered by conservative watchdog Judicial Watch via a FOIA request. Written on September 14, 2012 by Ben Rhodes (Deputy NSA Advisor), Rhodes preps his boss for her upcoming network appearances, laying out talking points. One of the lines reminds Rice “(t)o underscore that these protests are rooted in an internet video and not a broader failure of policy.” Worth noting: the points in Rhodes’s e-mail are similar to the CIA theories at the time.
This e-mail is, as they say, a nothin’ burger.
But some on the right have pounced, shrieking that they have in their trembling hands a smoking gun, at long last. Had the email read: “Contrary to what the CIA informs us, let’s stick to the video story,” or anything along those lines, that would certainly be a smoking gun. But it seems to be an almost benign recap of current intel by a subordinate prepping his boss, and it’s quite clear Rhodes was working off the CIA talking points.
At this point, a Benghazi-brigader will then resort to the when-all-else-fails line: “Well, the Obama administration spun the Benghazi deaths for political gain and we have a right to know the truth!” Sure, it’s perfectly plausible (likely, in fact) that the administration pressed the video issue above other theories in order to avoid the stain of a terrorist attack happening on Obama’s watch, and avoid such affecting his re-election chances. As for spinning a death’s cause for political gain, unfortunately that is something all administrations do. Take for example the death of Pat Tillman, which for a significant time was distorted away from the less-picturesque truth: Tillman, though still heroically, died from friendly fire. The truth was swept under the rug to avoid a black eye for the War on Terror. Republicans at the time rolled their eyes at Tillman’s mother’s quest for answers, yet many of the same folks are now all too happy to embrace Pat Smith’s similar quest (Smith tragically lost her own son in Benghazi).
Politicizing death for political gain is OK for me, but not for thee, in other words. The difference? It’s Obama and Hillary in the hot seat—not George W. Bush. Why is consistency—and integrity—brushed under the rug depending on the officeholder? When conservatives accuse the Obama administration of politicizing the deaths of Americans in Benghazi for political gain, are we not doing the same, politicizing the tragedy in the hopes of hurting Hillary’s 2016 chances? Anyone who claims the right would be as interested in truth and justice on Benghazi had a Republican administration been in office is either a hack or a liar.
The scandal in both, in fact, should be our penchant for interventionism. But why have those necessary conversations when we can instead discuss a worthless email. The Benghazi story will never gain traction, nor should it. Yet the right, thinking of 2016 and Hillary, hysterically refuses to let go of a meatless bone, to its own detriment.