The Latest Benghazi Committee and the Trial of Hillary Clinton

By all accounts I’ve seen or read, except for Fox News who continued to beat on her Friday morning, Hillary Clinton did more than hold her own under about eight hours of pommelling by congressional Republicans at their committee hearing on Benghazi yesterday.  The news reports say 11 hours, but that includes a number of breaks.   I know because I watched most of it, for which I deserve a medal or should seek professional help.  Perhaps both.

Hillary did get bouts of breathing room when Democrats on the committee took turns praising the former Secretary of State, adding information supportive of her or slamming the partisan nature of the committee.   Except to those intent on defaming her, she appeared more impressive in handling the often disrespectful questions than those who asked them.  She appeared, dare I say, presidential. I was reminded why I liked her prior to her personal server fiasco:  her brains, her knowledge of foreign policy and her toughness.  Reuters proclaimed the hearings made her “a new reality star.”  Move over Donald.

Republican Chair Trey Gowdy began the session by saying the purpose of the committee was to seek the truth about what happened before, during and after the Benghazi attack.  From what I saw the hearing was actually a trial of  Hillary on the unstated charges of bad judgement, insufficient caring and dishonesty.  There was certainly much more of that than the discovery of new truths.

The attack began with a line of questioning I found curious.   The Republican questioner basically made the case that it was Hillary who largely led us into Syria by developing an international coalition and convincing President Obama to act, a complex endeavor when you think about it.  I give her achievement points for that even though the enterprise went sour over time, a subject that actually deserves examination and has never received it because it wouldn’t  make either party look good.

That Clinton actually achieved something here helps refute Carlie Fiorina’s criticism that Mrs. Clinton’s many travel miles does not equate with achievement.  Though an odd tact, the questioning does fit the theme of blaming Hillary for as much as possible.  We got involved in this Libyan mess because of her and later she did some more bad things.

The second point of attack was Clinton’s role in the absence of sufficient security at the Benghazi compound.    Given the general chaos of Benghazi at the time and the lack of reliable support, if any, by Libyan police, it seems obvious now that more security was needed.   But how much to blame Mrs. Clinton remains an open question for those with open minds.   Yes there were requests for more security by Ambassador Stevens and it seems many were turned down, but as one knowledgeable commentator has suggested  they weren’t of the “hair raising kind.”   In other words, Ambassador Stevens was willing to abide by standard request procedures.

Clinton argued that she had security experts handle those requests and did not see them.   As a result of the attack, a review of procedures suggested two high level staffer failed to do their jobs, while procedural changes were made, such as a new staff position that focuses on posts with the highest risk situations.  You want to blame Clinton for not having a more responsive system already in place, go ahead but she did head up a department serving over 200 posts world wide including many other high risk situations as well,   Those who judge her harshly on what happened in Benghazi act as if that was the sole focus of her job, probably because it has become their sole focus.

In any event, the Republican questioning took an odd tact.  They spent well over an hour dwelling on the emails of Sydney Blumenthal, who had little to do with the situation.   Though not an expert on Libya, he is an old friend of Hillary’s who gave her some information culled form a former CIA agent it seems.   She passed on some of it to other officials who might be interested.   The Republican point seemed to be that she was much more available to talk about Benghazi with this friend than with Ambassador Stevens, as if email exchanges about policy are common in the State Department which actually uses cables and secured phones for the most part, at least that is my sense from the hearing.

No case was made that other ambassadors communicated with Clinton through email and had her personal phone number, either.  There was just the innuendo that Clinton was not really available to Ambassador Stevens while she was to Blumenthal, ignoring the way the State Department normally does business.

The third charge was aimed at Mrs. Clinton’s honesty in the days that followed as to who made the attack.   Finally some new information in the form of three emails, two to foreign leaders and one to a relative.  All went out the day after the attack and all indicated it was an act of terrorists.  In one she even dismissed the notion that the video and a demonstration in Egypt played any role.  In response, Clinton said that counter information came in later that blurred events which made her question her original opinion.

The Republicans have ginned this up as if it were another Watergate.  At worst it was a short term attempt to get a grip on the situation while putting the best political spin on it as possible.  The fair minded conservative columnist Kathleen Parker summed it up this way yesterday:

“Republicans have focused on a narrative that is too ghastly to imagine. One theory is that Clinton and the Obama administration didn’t want the world to know that their Libya mission had failed, so they blamed it on the anti-Islam video then in circulation.  More horrid is the suggestion that Clinton purposely denied extra security to Stevens lest her role in directing our Libya policy be tarnished.  People will believe what suits them. But the more probable truth concerning Benghazi is that the early story was a deception with a purpose, which was to buy time until the administration and the CIA could figure out how to manage the crisis without exposing the intelligence agency’s operation in the area.” 

So, after three years and eight congressional committees (with this one ongoing) we are left with the debatable contention that Hillary Clinton was somehow derelict in her duties by not being in more direct contact with Ambassador Stevens (who certainly could have contacted her directly if he chose), hence not responsive enough prior to the assault.  Also, the charge that she helped the Obama administration spin a murky truth situation in their favor for a week or so (as if immediately coming down firmly on the terrorist attack explanation would have changed anything.)

That is all that the Republican inquisition has been able to come up with to this point regarding Benghazi.   I can’t imagine how they will come up with anything more definitive, but that does not mean they won’t keep trying.

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P. S. – If you want to get more background details on the hearing check out this article in the Los Angeles Times.

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POLITICAL ODDS AND ENDS: Suggestions, Corrections and Observations

First, ISIS revealed tonight on TV:  If you have been wondering what the draw of ISIS in Syria is for thousands of budding jihadists, and what life is like in ISIS controlled territories watch:  Blind Sided:  How ISIS Shook the World on CNN tonight at 9 EDT and PDT (other time zones must fend for yourselves).   Fareed Zakaria interviews former jihadists and reporters, such as a German news man who was allowed to visit ISIS held territories and lived to tell about it.

Second, a correction:  I Indicated in my immediately previous post that hundreds of migrants have died in sinking boats while aimed Italy (mostly Sicily I think) in recent weeks.  I had called them Libyans since they departed from Libya, but assumed way too much.  Actually, they come from many countries in Africa, like Eritrea, and the Mid-East, like Syria.   Libya has become the primary point of departure because political chaos there has allowed smugglers to operate easily.

Also, this immigrant wave, along with drownings, has been going on for years.  More immigrants tried the trip during the same period last year (25,000) than this (20,000), but it has garnered more attention because the number who have died trying has increased nine fold.  Don’t ask me why.

Third: Hail to the Comedian-in-Chief:  You probably have seen high lights of the White House Correspondence Dinner Monday night, such as when the President said that despite not having that much time left in the White House he doesn’t have a bucket list, but he does have a list that rhymes with bucket.   That got a good laugh as did some of his other jokes.  He was a  tough act for SNL’s Cecily Strong to follow.

I think this was his best W.H.C.D. performance, though he deserves the most credit for the one back in 2011, when he performed well while an operation to get Bin Laden was taking place at the same time.   I think it the most amazing moment of his presidency.  Can you imagine how his constant critics would have crucified him if the operation had gone badly?  They gave him little credit for its success.  And with so much on the line there he was out there getting laughs.

I often ponder what it must be like to make decisions every day that may well prompt the death of others, either from the interventions you make (like Libya) or the ones you resist making (Syria, until relatively recently).  And trying to pay attention to your family amidst constant criticism in this 24/7 age.  I’d fall apart in a day.  As disgusted as I get with our presidential election process, I think it provides a necessary test of the stamina, resilience and overall self-integration being president requires.

Fourth, an observation about our politics:  We often hear pundits and pollsters talk about how Americans are tired of the gridlock in Washington and want the parties to get something done, but the important point usually ignored is that while most of us our frustrated by our national government and want change, our visions of the changes to make are not only polarized but often contradictory.  One example is pointed out in a recent column by E. J. Dionne in which he discusses the fracturing of western democracies in general:

“In a PRRI/Brookings survey I was involved with in 2013, two findings locked horns: 63 percent of Americans said government should be doing more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, but 59 percent also believed government had grown bigger because it had become involved in things people should do for themselves. We want government to do more about injustice, but we also seem to want it smaller.”

Helping to explain that divergence is our belief that government primarily serves special interest groups and that big government is in its nature wasteful and inefficient.  Some of us are more willing to put up with those shortcomings than others, another aspect of the polarization, so while we might want government to play a bigger role, not this government, not as it works now.

So, the overall temper of the nation is that we might be able to come together on the idea that government should do more to reduce the gap between rich and poor, but only if it is not the inefficient pay-to-play government that we have now.

A much better government that we are not likely to ever have.

Fifth:   I suggest you watch VEEP on HBO (or checked out from the library for cheap people like me:   It provides booster shots of humor to make thinking about Washington more tolerable.  I’ve only begun to watch the first, but this is the fourth season of a zany portrait of Washington politics focusing upon a vice-president played to gut busting perfection by Julia Louis-Drefus with funny-fine performances by the rest of the cast.   Some Washington folks say it captures the gist of political life there better than other shows, which is a scary thought, especially as the VEEP becomes the Prez this year.   Not for children unless the F-bomb is common in your house.

Civil War Breaking Out in Libya

I had planned on an update on the tensions in Ukraine, dwelling on introducing an important player there named Rinat Akmetov, the country’s richest man with sufficient holdings and manpower in eastern Ukraine to settle down that region.  However, you know what they say about the best laid plans.   Ukraine seems to be calming down some, with some noteworthy aid ftom Akmetov, while Libya has become the new hot spot and, though its international ramifications are not on the scale of Ukraine, it’s political ramifications here might prove significant. 

Benghazi has been just an endless series of investigations by Republicans in hopes of besmirching the present Obama administration and blocking a future Hillary Clinton one by proving some sort of cover up,.  Now it is the scene of an attack Friday by forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar (spelled Hifter in some other articles), a former general, on Islamist militias in that western city.   Then yesterday other militias tied to him took over the parliament building in Tripoli, blaming that parliament for backing pro-Islamist forces in the country at odds with more so-called “liberal” elements.

This is far too complex and “iffy” for me to summarize the situation other than to say that since the overthrow of Khadaffi, Libya has largely depended on various militias,  antagonistic or at least competing with each other, for the little stability that exists in the country.  The Washington Post offers much more detail in this article.

What I will be interested to see is how the Republicans play these recent events.   No doubt blaming the ineptitude of the Obama administration for starters, likely adding yet at least one more investigation to their agenda.   But  where has their interest been when it comes to stabilizing Libya?   They can’t get past the Benghazi murders.

Certainly Libya has been a mess since the end of Ghadifi, or Quadiffi, or Khadiffi (just a few of the various spellings).    As one commentator put it, what happened in parliament yesterday cannot be called a military coup, as Libya doesn’t really have a military.   Supporting Libya has seemed of no interest to Republicans.  Only finding blame within in the Obama administration for not doing enough to protect Ambassador Chris Stevens and the other three Americans killed or for covering up the real Al Queda sources of the attack,. 

At the time Chris Steven’s father said it would be “abhorrent ” to play politics with his son’s death.   Since then Republicans in Congress have specialized in abhorrent behavior.  The phoniness of their  concern for what happened at Benghazi will now likely be  coupled with a new phony concern for what should have been done in the interim to stabilize Libya.  

I truly wonder how this strategy works with those who are not already predisposed to hate  Obama and stop Hillary Clinton.   Republicans will decry Obama’s policy in Libya as it does with everywhere else in the world.   I admit there is much to criticize, but the Republican stance has nothing to do with policy.  Only politics.

 

 

 

 

Libya: A Political Moment that Shouldn’t Be

The general consensus of media pundits is that Obama won Tuesday’s debate, albeit narrowly.   Again we are  talking about rhetoric and style with only a tangential relationship to substance, i. e. Obama is judged to have thrust and parried a bit better than Romney, and much better than in the first debate where he barely lifted his sword.

English: map of Libya with Shabiat Banghazi hi...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a sports fan, I have to say I’m a little excited about the rubber match to be fought this Monday over the issues of foreign policy.  But as a citizen, when I regain my sanity and see clearly the chasm between the pretense and reality, I think I belong in a rubber room.   All of us do who find the race exciting, like playing fantasy football.  Except it is more our version of the Hunger Games.

The problem with making the Monday debate really interesting is that by most accounts, Romney’s foreign policy is not much different than Obama’s.  The primary difference is his asserting he will just handle it all better.  And in the process his strategy will be to show how Obama has come up short.

As the patron saint of Wisconsin, Vince Lombardi, put it decades ago:  “Winning is not everything; it’s the only thing.”  True of football back then in Green Bay;  even more true of this presidential election.  This morning I heard Chuck Todd, an MSNBC analyst, articulate what we all know.  “This campaign is ugly and over the next 18 days it will become uglier.”

It is against this backdrop that the issue of the four American deaths in Libya has become a powerful campaign tool for the Republicans, probably viewed by some fundamentalists as a gift from God.    I flicked to FOX news several times yesterday and almost every time they were talking about Libya and what the Obama administration  knew when and what they did about it and what they covered up.

Ambassador Chris Stevens father said several days ago that it would be “horrendous” if the death of his son and three other Americans would become politicized.   Sorry Mr. Stevens, but this presidential campaign is being fought as if it were to the death, and the death of your son is like blood in the water to Republican sharks.   For them, he and the three others make wonderful symbols to contradict the Obama claim that al Queda has been steadily weakened and to show that the Obama team has not done enough to aid the development of democracies in Egypt and Libya (never mind that some other Republicans argue we should have strongly backed Mubarak our long time ally, and a few argue that it was even wrong to help topple Gaddafi as well, who had been our ally of sorts for awhile).

Granted the Obama administration hasn’t handled the news about the Benghazi killings well and their earlier stances about a spontaneous demonstration  seem wishful thinking, some cherry picking between different reports.   But let’s remember the situation in Benghazi is chaotic (it took three weeks for the FBI to feel it was safe enough to go investigate the consulate) while both campaigns have war rooms looking for every weakness in the “enemy” that they can turn to strategic advantage.   The Obama administration was not eager to reveal anything the Republicans could use.  Do you think it would have gone down any differently if the roles had been reversed?

Let’s also remember that Republicans like  Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz, who feigned outrage at the lack of security have voted several times to reduce the state department’s budget over the years, especially in the area of foreign security.   They remind me of the police prefect in that ancient movie Casablanca who was” shocked” to discover gambling taking place at Rick’s casino while someone discreetly hands him his winnings for the day.  Though in this case the hypocrisy is not humorous but galling.

What happened and why regarding those deaths in Libya is complex and will take time to sort out, but in the meantime Republicans will make it very simple for all of us:  the Obama administration has its head in the sand regarding al Queda and should have protected those Americans, an example of Obama policy failure writ large.  (FOX is more than willing to “help” in the sorting with a special investigative report this evening).

Kathleen Parker, somewhat right of center and one of my favorite columnists,  offers a much more balanced picture in a recent Washington Post editorial in which she gets to the heart of the real story in Libya:  “Stevens went to Benghazi knowing the risks and died in the service of his country, the people of Libya and the greater good. It is tragic, but it is war.”  

For now that’s the important point, not to rush to judgement on blame, but how brave our foreign service people can be  in chaotic, dangerous situations.  They see interacting with the local populace as vital to their work.   As such, to be so well protected as is our embassy in Iraq makes the foreign service people feel “incarcerated” as characterized by Daniel Server, a former diplomat.  In regards to Ambassador Stevens he has said:  “For our diplomats to do things right, it requires taking risks.  And Chris Stevens did things right.”

The bravery and commitment of Ambassador Chris Stevens,  computer expert Sean Smith and security contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods is what should be focused upon, but don’t expect to see the tragedy play out that way Monday night.  If you are going to bother to watch.  I’m not.

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Those who want to delve more deeply into the complexity of the Benghazi attack should find interest in an article by Dan Murphy in the Christian Science Monitor Getting in on the Benghazi Blame Game.

“DISGRACEFUL”

I had almost completed a post, one which reconsidered Mitt Romney’s achievements and how, in some ways, he might make a good president.  But foreign events have interceded.    In any case, my speculation was largely a matter of guesswork since Romney steadfastly remains vague about what he would do regarding the budget deficit and job creation and, when you think about it, everything – except repealing Obamacare.  Recently, he has even been criticized for this by conservative allies such as the Wall Street Journal:  “Mr. Romney’s pre-existing political calculation seems to be that he can win the election without having to explain the economic moment or even his own policies.”

Mitt Romney - Caricature

Mitt Romney – Caricature (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

Of course, the attacks Tuesday on our  embassies in Egypt and Libya have thrust the foreign policy dimension of the presidency to the fore allowing the economic ones to fade momentarily to the background.   As petty as it is, I feel put out by having to write a more relevant post, and I am struck by how, to an exponentially greater degree, these events must be changing President Obama’s plans as well.  Not just politically, of course, but in terms of his guidance of our overall response as a nation to these events.  That’s the kind of thing a president has to deal with almost daily.  There is always something unexpected coming in, and we usually don’t  hear anything about them unless they are handled badly.   I for one prize Obama’s proven coolness under these pressures.

Of course, from the Republican point of view, everything Obama does is handled badly, so it is no surprise that  the Romney team uncovered something “disgraceful” immediately after the crisis broke out.   Amidst puzzling events unfolding, Romney seized upon a public statement made by someone in the embassy in Egypt prior to their walls being breached (someone who it now appears, acted on his own).  A statement that he calls “akin to an apology’ for American values  and a “disgraceful” act.

Four American diplomats murdered in Libya and a continuing tumult for the President to deal with throughout the Arab world  and Mitt Romney takes an on-line release by an embassy worker and makes it seem a revelation of our basic problem with the Arab world…….  We apologize too much (*1).  I assume you have a general sense of the issue and if you want a detailed one, I provide a couple of links at the bottom.

Peggie Noonan, a conservative commentator and former Reagan speechwriter, summed up on Fox News what I hope is the reaction of a majority of Americans:    “I don’t feel that Mr. Romney has been doing himself any favors, say, in the past few hours, perhaps since last night….   Sometimes when really bad things happen, when hot things happen, cool words or no words is the way to go.”

Good advice Peggie, but Mitt is  desperate to win votes at this point and will say anything to get them.   I don’t see that tactic working here, but we’ll wait and see.

For now, I suggest you read the outline of those initial events in the Outside the Beltway blog, which appear to be presented impartially (*2).  Read it and decide for yourself whose actions have been disgraceful.

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(*1)  You might also want to read this Washington Post editorial today which covers the same ground especially attentive to the notion that Obama often “apologizes” for American values.

(*2)  I read several pieces  about the Romney reaction, but chose this one as it seems more detailed than others and not particularly pro-Obama .   I infer not too  “pro-Obama” because in a short survey of its readers regarding the president’s overall performance, 50% judged it as “very unfavorable” and only 26% “very favorable.  I myself was among the 15% judging it “somewhat favorable.”  Though, as with all surveys, I’d add a caveat, somewhat favorable under very unfavorable circumstances.