House Benghazi Committee: Fact-Finding Mission Or Partisan Witch Hunt?
Marc Ambinder thinks that the recent announcement of a House Select Committee to investigate the Benghazi attack and the Obama Administration’s response to it might end up being a good idea:
Select committees are Congress’ equivalent of loud, attention-getting whistles. The words evoke serious investigations into the Kennedy assassination, trading arms for hostages, the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the Church Committee’s probe into U.S. intelligence practices. Often, they produce solid legislation. At their best, select committee reports tell definitive stories of major policy failures, stories that guide politicians for generations to come.
If the Benghazi committee decides to focus on policy, then there’s a chance that, despite its partisan origins, it could produce a meaningful critique about President Obama’s foreign policy decisions, especially the series of events and assumptions that led the U.S. government to locate a large CIA outpost in Benghazi in the first place.
Ambinder goes on to list some questions he’d like to see the Committee deal with:
A good Benghazi probe could look at the Obama/NATO strategy for Libya. Was there really a humanitarian crisis that compelled an intervention? Was the intervention complicated by factors that should have been foreseen?
Should the U.S. have sent arms to Libyan rebels? With al Qaeda remnants and insurgents so easily mixing with opposition forces, was there any way to prevent guns and instruments of war from falling into the wrong hands?
Did the CIA have enough people to complete the Benghazi mission? Should the CIA be deployed so globally without appropriate counter-intelligence resources?
When the U.S. decides to intervene in countries even without “boots on the ground,” how many actual boots need to be on the ground? How wide a footprint is no footprint equivalent to?
Are the State Department and Department of Defense stretched too thin for counter-proliferation missions of this sort?
These are all excellent questions, of course. What stands out, though, is that they are mostly completely unrelated to the attack itself, and certainly not related to the areas that Republicans have been obsessing over for the past twenty months. For the GOP, the only areas of inquiry that seem to be relevant involve the issue of State Department responses to requests for additional security for the embassy in Tripoli, the Ambassador’s decision to travel to Benghazi without a full security detail, and, of course, the aftermath of the attack when, at least initially, the Administration’s comments on the attack concentrated on protests over an anti-Muslim video on YouTube. Indeed, the entire controversy that led to announcement that Speaker Boehner would seek a Select Committee was rooted in the release of an email regarding those famous Susan Rice Talking Points about the attack, which formed the basis for her comments on the Sunday morning shows on September 16th. While the House hasn’t voted on the Speaker’s request yet, meaning that we don’t know the precise boundaries of the investigation that the Select Committee will be asked to undertake, it seems obvious from the start that the primary focus of any investigation will be on these issues and not on the areas that Ambinder mentions.
The main reason for that, of course, is that it seems quite apparent that this investigation, along with the previous ones conducted into the Benghazi attack seems to be clearly more concerned with scoring political points than a serious inquiry into what’s really at the heart of the Benghazi story. As Ambinder’s questions point out, that is the entire history of the Obama Administration’s decision to intervene in the Libyan civil war, our relationship with the various rebel groups, and our actions in the country in the year between the downfall of Gadhaffi and the Benghazi attack. These are important questions, but they aren’t the ones that are “sexy” to the conservative base, which is more interested in attempting to find proof for its underlying belief that the Obama Administration cheated its way to re-election, and that “covering up” the Benghazi attack was part of that effort. Hence the common refrain from the right that Benghazi is worse than Watergate because “nobody died in Watergate.”
If this partisan take on the Benghazi story ends up being what drives the Select Committee’s investigation, then its hearings will be just as useless as that have been help up until now. Given the fact that Republicans seem to think that they’re still going to find a ‘smoking gun’ in the story that will harm the President politically and that they are convinced that it will aid them in an anticipated 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton, it seems likely to me that that this is exactly what will happen. As Ambinder points out, there are plenty of questions arising out of what happened in Benghazi that ought to be answered. I just have no confidence that the House GOP will spend any time asking them.