|Death in Benghazi, Dishonor in Washington|
By Troy Senik
Thursday, May 16 2013
Liberals, whose faith is the state and whose catechism consists of vapid slogans, have grown fond in recent years of declaiming that, “Government is simply the name for the things we do together.” If you’re playing along at home, please note that list now includes being improperly audited, being secretly surveilled and being left to die at a U.S. diplomatic installation.
The early days of the Obama Administration’s second term have yielded a bumper crop of potential scandals, with the IRS’s selective targeting of right-leaning non-profits and the Justice Department’s monitoring of Associated Press phone records now taking the spotlight.
Those latest contretemps, however, should not be allowed to overshadow the White House’s ongoing difficulties in explaining precisely what happened in the terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, where four Americans – including our Ambassador – lost their lives last September 11.
Benghazi is more consequential than either the IRS or Justice Department scandals. The most obvious distinction is that the loss of human life that occurred in Libya represents a higher price for government malpractice than either bureaucratic harassment or ill-gotten phone records, however repellant both of those developments may be.
Benghazi also erodes the liberal faith in government at a deeper level – or at least it ought to. The IRS and DOJ scandals each represent sins of commission. In both situations, it appears that government officials dramatically exceeded their proper authority and ignored the resultant threat to civil liberties.
Benghazi was a sin of omission. At a moment when four Americans found their dependence on government at an all-time high – when their very lives hung in the balance – they were orphaned by the state, left to die on a soil that was not their own. Surely leaving no man behind ought to be one of those “things we do together.”
There’s a deep and bitter irony running through this story. On nearly every major initiative of the past several years – be it TARP, ObamaCare, the debt ceiling or immigration reform – Washington has told us that the consequences of inaction were so high that something had to be done immediately, allowing the governing class to railroad voters into massive, unvetted pieces of legislation that inevitably ended up shot through with unintended consequences and outright mischief.
In Benghazi – an example of when urgent action was truly called for – the federal government was nowhere to be found.
The most glaring aspects of the story are well-known. The Obama Administration, up to and including the President, perpetuated the myth that the attack was carried out by a spontaneous mob enraged by an anti-Islamic film, despite the fact that all of the intelligence pointed towards an organized terrorist attack. The Americans on the ground in Benghazi were left undefended, despite the presence of a small Special Operations Team in Tripoli that was given orders to stand down. Security for American officials in Libya was nowhere near the level appropriate given the volatility of the country and the impending anniversary of 9/11 (it is an Al Qaeda hallmark to plan attacks to correspond to historically significant dates).
All of those facts are damning in and of themselves, but too little attention is being paid to the truly shameful internal deliberations surrounding the event. In defending the Administration’s decision not to send military reinforcements to intervene in Benghazi, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (generally one of the more conscientious figures in the Obama Administration) claimed that, “the basic principle is that you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on, without having some real-time information about what’s going on.”
Some measure of prudential caution is surely always called for. But if certainty were a precondition for the use of military force, American guns would go quiet forever. Imperfect information is an essentially intrinsic quality of sudden attacks. By Panetta’s logic, all terrorists have to do to gain an upper hand on the United States is ensure a sufficient level of confusion to render the world’s most powerful military force inert.
Another excuse that deserves scrutiny is the one offered by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who was at least partially responsible for the sanitation – to the point of uselessness – of the original talking points produced in response to the attack.
When Nuland objected to the CIA’s assertion in the memo that there were long-standing concerns about potential terrorist activity in Libya, she did so by noting that the information “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that?”
That quote is an object lesson in how life in the nation’s capitol can deform one’s soul. Notice that Nuland’s objection does not turn on what the truth is. In fact, it doesn’t even address the matter. Its singular concern is where the (well-deserved) finger of blame would be pointed.
Any sense of responsibility to the American public – let alone to those who died in Benghazi – is absent. A true public servant would have aimed for accuracy. A bureaucratic hack would be searching for exculpation. Nuland’s choice is clear.
That decision is representative of the dysfunction we’ve seen throughout the Obama Administration for the duration of the Benghazi scandal. It’s entirely possible that security warnings got lost in the noise prior to the attack. It’s utterly conceivable that whatever military relief could have been deployed would not have arrived in time to make much difference. But neither of those facts can obscure the real sin here: In a moment when the United States government comprehensively failed its representatives abroad and its citizens at home, the first reaction was not to take responsibility. It was to shift blame, make excuses and generally act as if political calculations were eminently more important than any loyalty to the truth.
To call that incompetent, dishonest or both is to be too charitable. It is nothing short of dishonorable.
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