Benghazi Blues

Not all of Southern California is bleeding-heart-liberal Hollywood and those now-useless rich celebrities in the fifty-million-dollar beach houses behind the gates out in Malibu. Yes, California for the first time in forever now has a Democratic supermajority in both houses up in Sacramento, along with a Democratic governor – Jerry Brown once again, who the last time around had been dating Linda Ronstadt and was called Governor Moonbeam. This changes things. The Republican Party out here can block nothing now, because they hardly exist anymore. That scares the national party shitless – the “home turf of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan that just a generation ago was a reliably Republican state in presidential contests” is now deep blue. We even passed Proposition 30 this month – go ahead, raise taxes on the rich to keep the schools open – and that passed by a wide margin.

Much of this is demographic – the state is heavily Latino now and the collapse of the Republican Party out here can be traced back to Pete Wilson, the governor in the eighties who pushed so hard to make life miserable for anyone who even looked Hispanic. He was our Janet Brewer. But then the Asian population exploded too, and the state also kept getting younger. Defensive and angry old rich white men didn’t fare well in elections over the years, and then they finally became no more than a curiosity. We did try Arnold Schwarzenegger for a few years, but he turned out to be more of a movie star than a Republican – he had no problem with gay people and didn’t claim global warming was a hoax and nothing should be done, or hold with much of anything his party said about anything. Many say he’s the last Republican governor we’ll ever see out here. It might be more accurate to say he’s the last Conan the Barbarian we’ll ever see in the governor’s office.

So there you have it. California may be the dismal future of the Republican Party, but then nothing is as simple as it seems. High on the hill over Malibu there’s Pepperdine University, a very conservative place – they even hired Ken Starr to run their law school, maybe because he almost brought Bill Clinton down, or maybe because Richard Mellon Scaife gives a ton of money to the school. There’s also the aerospace complex down by LAX – that’s where all the spy satellites come from, and all the radar and stealth systems and where the missile systems are designed. On Aviation Boulevard, Northrop is still building F-18 fuselages. Down there everyone has a high-level security clearance and a flag pin. Heck, drive south on the 405 and you pass the Naval Weapons Storage fields on your right – acres and acres of low mounds with stuff underneath that you really don’t want to know about. Then you pass into Orange County – home to the John Birch Society and the world headquarters of those Holocaust deniers, where you’ll also find Rick Warren’s megachurch and its many clones. That’s Republican Jesus-Land, at least for now. After that, further south, you pass into San Diego County – through San Clemente where Nixon had his Western White House and then past Camp Pendleton, the largest Marine operation west of the Mississippi. After that you end up in San Diego itself – home to our Pacific fleet, with aircraft carriers and whatnot filling the bay. This is not the land of Hollywood liberals. Watch what you say.

That was clear in the last weeks before the election. It was best not to mention Obama, because someone would invariably ask you how anyone could vote for that evil man who essentially murdered our ambassador to Libya and those three others with him, by ordering our military to stand down and let the bad guys kill them all, because Obama always sides with the terrorists, or more charitably, because he was in over his head and froze. That was the line on Fox News and Rush Limbaugh’s show and nowhere else at all, and there was no evidence that Obama did anything of the kind, but it wasn’t worth discussing. Short of hopping in the car and driving back to Hollywood – two hours on the road – silence was the best option, or changing the topic. Everyone likes to talk about their kids.

What happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, was awful – but what actually happened is still not clear even now. Nevertheless, that evening, Mitt Romney jumped right in and excoriated Obama because a low-level worker at the embassy in Cairo, hundreds of miles to the east, had released a statement, earlier in the day, denouncing that amateurish video mocking Islam, in hopes of staving off the street riots that might come. The riots happened anyway, and Romney decided the earlier Cairo statement had been issued by the administration itself, and had actually been issued after what happened in Benghazi. It was an apology of some sort, because Obama is always apologizing for America, and Mitt Romney would never do that. This was before anyone knew our people had been killed, so that was a little awkward, as was the fact that Romney had everything wrong, or charitably, out of sequence.

For a day and a half Romney remained all stiff and righteous, saying he certainly did have his facts right and in perfect proper sequence, but then he fell silent. Most of the press, except for Fox News, gently and carefully reported what had actually happened, step by step. They didn’t call him a liar and a fool and a repulsive opportunist ghoul – they only said this is what happened and this is what Mitt Romney said, and cut to commercial. The damage was done. Romney moved on.

No one else moved on. Something has to be wrong here, and Obama must be to blame. The facts were still confused, but four of our own were dead and something didn’t pass the smell test – whatever that is. And that leads us to where we are today, as Paul Waldman explains:

If you’re looking at the Republican harrumphing over Benghazi and asking yourself, “Why are we supposed to be so mad about this again?” you’re not alone. Let’s review: There was an attack on our consulate that killed four Americans, including our ambassador. Amid confusing and contradictory reports from the ground, President Obama waited too long to utter the magic incantation, “Terrorism, terrorists, terror!” that would have … well, it would have done something, but it turns out that he did say “terror,” so never mind that. But that’s not the real scandal! The real scandal is that Susan Rice went on television soon after and amid all kinds of “based on the best information we have” and “we’ll have to see” said one thing that turned out not to be the case: that after the protests in Cairo, there was some kind of copycat protest in Benghazi, which was then “hijacked” by extremist elements using heavy weapons to stage an attack.

A sane person might say, okay, she was obviously given some incorrect information at that time, but it’s not a particularly meaningful deception. As people have been pointing out for weeks now, it’s not as though not using the word “terror” or saying there was a protest before the attack gave the White House some enormous political advantage. If you’re going to have a cover-up, there has to be something you’re covering up.

That’s the problem:

John McCain and Lindsey Graham are essentially saying that this horrifying cover-up was quite possibly the greatest crime in the history of the United States government, and if we’re going to get to the bottom of it nothing short of a select committee – a “Watergate-style committee,” as it is being referred to by reporters – will do. Who knows what it might uncover? Were there CIA whistleblowers whose bodies are now lying at the bottom of the Potomac? Was David Petraeus being blackmailed? Are William Ayers and Jeremiah Wright involved? Did Susan Rice fly to Tripoli, have a steamy liaison with a clone of Ayman al-Zawahiri created in a secret underground laboratory, and then go to Benghazi where she personally killed Ambassador Chris Stevens with a hat pin? We won’t know unless we spin this out into a multi-week story!

The folks south of Hollywood want to know! No one else does, which Waldman attributes to Republican Scandal Envy:

Republicans are indescribably frustrated by the fact that Barack Obama, whom they regard as both illegitimate and corrupt, went through an entire term without a major scandal. They tried with “Fast and Furious,” but that turned out to be small potatoes. They tried with Solyndra, but that didn’t produce the criminality they hoped for either. Obama even managed to dole out three-quarters of a trillion dollars in stimulus money without any graft or double-dealing to be found. Nixon had Watergate, Reagan had Iran-Contra, Clinton had Lewinsky, and Barack Obama has gotten off scott-free. This is making them absolutely livid, and they’re going to keep trying to gin up a scandal, even if there’s no there there. Benghazi may not be an actual scandal, but it’s all they have handy.

Kevin Drum adds this:

They’re just convinced that Obama runs a gang of Chicago thugs who are lying and cheating behind the scenes at every opportunity. It’s a foundational story on the tea-party right. Unfortunately, the reality is that whatever else you think of Obama, he’s one of the straightest arrows we’ve had in the White House since… forever. He runs a tight ship organizationally, and on a personal level he’s so intolerant of personal peccadilloes that he sometimes seems almost inhuman. It would be astonishing if he could actually avoid a serious scandal for an entire eight-year term, but if anyone can do it, it’s probably Obama.

And yes, it’s driving Republicans crazy. Even the ones who don’t want to impeach him at least want to bring him down to earth a bit. So they latch onto anything they can. It’s all starting to seem kind of desperate, but I doubt they’re going to let that stop them. After all, it eventually worked against Clinton.

Yes, and that’s how Ken Starr ended up as Dean of the Pepperdine Law School. There must have been a cover-up, even if Susan Rice did nothing wrong. Still, at the Economist, Matthew Steinglass argues that even if she did nothing much wrong, something is very odd in all this:

At the most fundamental level, the reason it is absurd to suspect the existence of a “cover-up” over the Benghazi attack is that such a cover-up could not have had any conceivable goal.

Back to the beginning: the underlying accusation about Benghazi is that the Obama administration deliberately mischaracterized the terrorist attack there as having grown out of a spontaneous demonstration because that would be less politically damaging. Such a cover-up would have made no sense because the attack would not have been less politically damaging had it grown out of a spontaneous demonstration. The attack on the Benghazi compound would not have been any less politically difficult for the administration if it had grown out of a riot, nor would any normal voter have expected it to be less politically damaging, nor would any normal campaign strategist have expected any normal voter to have expected it to be less politically damaging.

Got that? Didn’t think so, but Kevin Drum tries to help:

As best I can tell, the suggestion from the right has been that Obama didn’t want to admit that Benghazi was a terrorist attack because….well, I’m not sure, exactly. Something about how this would blow a hole in his claim to be decimating al-Qaeda via drone attacks. Or maybe it would remove some of the luster from being the killer of Osama bin Laden. Or something. But one way or another, the story is that Obama was deeply afraid of admitting that terrorists are still out there and want to do us harm.

This has never made a lick of sense. If anything, the continuing existence of terrorists justifies his drone attacks. And it certainly wouldn’t do him any harm in an election. The American public routinely rallies around a president responding to a terrorist attack.

There’s no motive here, and Drum suggests this item from David Weigel – those who manage to read all the transcripts of Rice’s Sunday show appearances and still claim that she somehow misled the public are twisting themselves into pretzels, as Drum notes:

Actually, there’s considerable evidence that on September 15, when Rice taped her appearances, the CIA told her there had been protests in Benghazi earlier in the day. The CIA turned out to be wrong about that, but it simply makes no sense for them to have made this up. If it does anything at all, it only makes their response look worse. This whole thing is a conspiracy theory with no conceivable motive. It’s a wild, scattershot attack hoping to take down someone, somewhere, just to claim a scalp. It’s disgusting.

Yes it is, and at his press conference, Obama let it rip when he was asked about threats from Lindsey Graham and John McCain to block the nomination of Susan Rice to be Secretary of State:

Let me say specifically about Susan Rice: She has done exemplary work… If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the UN ambassador? Who had nothing to do with Benghazi? And was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received? To besmirch her reputation is outrageous.

Lindsey Graham was having none of that:

Mr. President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi. I think you failed as Commander in Chief before, during, and after the attack… Given what I know now, I have no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle.

Here Kevin Drum has had enough:

Out of all that, the only thing she got wrong was her suggestion that there had been a copycat protest in Benghazi. “The facts are there was never a riot,” Graham said, and he was right. But he said that a month later. By then, everyone knew there hadn’t been any riots. Back on September 15th, when Rice’s TV appearances were taped, we didn’t.

Berating Rice, who had nothing to do with Benghazi aside from representing the administration on these talk shows, is nuts. The intelligence community was wrong about one relatively unimportant fact, and Rice passed along that mistake. That’s it. There’s no cover-up, no conspiracy, no incompetence, no scandal.

And one more thing: mainstream press outlets that report on this need to start being more careful. No breezy summations suggesting that “Rice blamed the attacks on a video.” She didn’t. If you’re going to report on this, you need to report on what Rice actually said, and you need to make clear why she said it. This is real life, not a video game.

Maybe so, but there must be something going on here. There has to be, so there is:

Charles Krauthammer, the Fox News and Washington Post commentator, believes the Petraeus’ sex scandal is linked to a closed briefing that he gave two days after the attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, in Benghazi, Libya. …

Krauthammer said on Fox News Tuesday that ties he sees between what Petraeus’ told the Congress in September and his fear for his future at the CIA make his affair with biographer Paula Broadwell important to the public.

Go that? In this theory, the White House knew about Petraeus’ affair, and told Petraeus to mislead Congress – or the administration would leak the scandal and absolutely ruin him. In other words, Obama was blackmailing the director of the CIA. This is not just Krauthammer, as Fox and Friends each morning has been saying this must be so. Except Petraeus now says this:

Former CIA Director David Petraeus on Thursday said his resignation had nothing to do with the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and denied disclosing any classified information.

CNN’s Kyra Phillips also snagged an interview – “He has made it very clear that [his resignation] was about an extramarital affair and not over classified information or Benghazi.”

Now they have to call their hero a liar. It only gets stranger. In fact, it gets this strange:

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is demanding a special select committee to investigate the events leading up to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya and has held around-the-clock television appearances pressing for a complete review of the incident.

But all of the senator’s media interviews and press availabilities may be interfering with his ability to gather information about the event. On Thursday morning, CNN’s Dana Bash reported that McCain chose to hold a joint press conference with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) rather than attend a closed-door briefing about the attacks:

“I have to tell you something that just happened on Capitol Hill, and that is our senate producer Ted Barrett just ran into John McCain and asked about something that we’re hearing from Democrats, which is John McCain is calling for more information to Congress, but he had a press conference yesterday instead of going to a closed briefing where administration officials were giving more information. Well, Ted Barrett asked John McCain about that, and it was apparently an intense very angry exchange and McCain simply would not comment on it at all.”

The man demands information – the real skinny on what really happened – and skipped his own committee meeting where all agencies were there to lay it out – and then started screaming at CNN for asking him why he skipped the meeting. The man has problems. The man needs therapy and his buddies know it:

At least one Republican senator is criticizing McCain for skipping the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee briefing, The Cable’s Josh Rogin reports. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), “who was there at briefing, and Senator McCain, who was not, are members of our committee, and I know they would play very important roles,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said.

And this:

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and other Republicans have dismissed the need for a select committee.

This is not going well, and this is also why the Republican Party in California collapsed. It wasn’t really the demographics. Yes, McCain is an America hero of sorts – he went through hell for his country way back when – but defensive and cranky old white men didn’t fare well in elections out here over the years, and then they finally became no more than a curiosity. As California goes, so goes the nation.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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2 Responses to Benghazi Blues

  1. Doubting Thomas says:

    Should Hollywood ever wish to make a film about Mr Magoo, they need look no further than John McCain to star in it.

  2. Rick says:

    Kevin Drum:

    “The intelligence community was wrong about one relatively unimportant fact, and Rice passed along that mistake. That’s it.”

    Okay, but the fact is, this whole “scandal” is diverting attention from what may be one of the only real problems here, and one we need to fix: The intelligence community seemed to lack intelligence here, just as they did with Iraq.

    This was 9/11, for chrissakes, and you’d think they’d have had a better grasp on things — if not beforehand, then at least just after it happened. I’m not sure there was even a good reason for them to inform the public about it, but they should not have kept anything from the administration, if they even did that, and the White House should not have been going public with half-baked cookies.

    “Scandal”? No, not the kind that this coffee klatch of Republicans was seeking, but they were just looking for something to change the subject from their own embarrassing lack of intelligence in the recent elections.

    But something wrong that needs to be made right? Yes. Just as finding no WMD in Iraq indicated earlier, American intelligence is apparently a lot lamer than most of the world thinks.


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