The Benghazi Calculation

All political thinking is conditional thinking, of the if-then sort – if this, then that. If an incumbent president inherits an economic mess, and can’t fix it in four years, then he won’t be reelected. The other guy will win, even if his party was the one that created the mess in the first place, and even if he promises to do just what his party’s last president did, but do even more of it, because deregulation of everything and making sure the rich pay next to nothing in taxes, and making sure the government does next to nothing for anyone else, just might work this time. That meant Obama was toast and Romney would win in a landslide, except that didn’t happen. Conditional thinking must account for all conditions, and Mitt Romney was an awful candidate – wooden when he wasn’t outright offensive and too damned rich to be likable. Obama – polite and courteous and thoughtful – was always likable, even if you disagreed with what he did at times, or much of the time. The attempts to portray Obama as a tyrant were absurd – if anything, the guy was for too tentative about everything, as Republicans kept complaining, particularly when Obama chose to “lead from behind” on Libya and when he chose to concentrate on Syria’s chemical weapons instead of using America’s massive military might to get rid of that Assad fellow. Obama wouldn’t even bomb Iran back to the Stone Age to keep Israel safe.

Obama was a weak sister. Once you maintain that, the tyrant argument becomes impossible. Attempts to portray Obama as an overeducated elitist snob, or at least not one of the Real Americans who knew all about hard times, were also kind of silly. Obama grew up poor, in a single-parent household, and his mother had to turn to food stamps a few times – so when wealthy Republicans from old money told their hard-scrabble constituents that Obama wasn’t one of them, they had to do some stretching, and that turned a bit racial. Obama was black, and they weren’t, and he grew up in Hawaii and had lived in Indonesia for a time, places that their resentful hard-scrabble constituents, stuck in Tulsa or Altoona or the Ozarks, would never see and couldn’t even imagine. Hawaii, Indonesia, Kenya? It was all the same to them. That should have worked, but it didn’t, and Obamacare didn’t have death panels, and that Osama fellow was dead and gone, finally, and no one took away their guns. All the if-then calculations were too simplistic. One single thing doesn’t cause another. Rome didn’t fall because Nero sneezed.

Now the question that the Republicans face is how to hold onto the House in 2014 – which seems certain – and regain control of the Senate, and then win back the White House two years after that, and that means the if-then calculations have begun. If minorities and the poor, and the elderly and the young, can be kept from voting, then things will work out well for the Republicans. The new voter-ID laws and other restrictions on the time and place of voting, passed in every state where the Republicans have full control, should take care of that, and last year the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – so that helps too.

That takes care of one condition for victory. Obamacare, however, is a bit trickier. The calculation is that everyone hates it, but it’s in place and millions who had no chance of buying insurance now have done just that, and millions more will, and the insurance companies love it – they have all those new paying customers. They want it to work, as do hospitals and other healthcare providers – there’ll be fewer freeloaders ruining everything. Running on a platform that’s promises to scuttle it all may be a bad calculation. If too many people are okay with Obamacare, then you’re stuck. You can talk about fiscal responsibility all you want, but as with Social Security and Medicare, people do like what works to make things better for everyone – or for them in particular. That’s a dead end. You can’t keep everyone on Social Security and Medicare from voting. There are just too many of them.

Medicaid is a different matter, as that’s a program only for the poor and disabled, so in states where the Republicans have full control, those Republicans have turned down the free Medicaid expansion funds that were part of Obamacare, on the principle that Obamacare, in its entirety, is foolish and maybe evil. That was a simple if-then calculation, except that meant that millions of the poor and disabled will remain in perilous straights. That’s the same bloc of voters, but that seems needlessly cruel. The taxes to pay for this were already collected. Expanding Medicaid eligibility, to cover more of those unlucky folks, costs the states nothing at all. If you turn down those funds, then you look like a real prick. John Kasich in Ohio and Jan Brewer in Arizona, both as hard-assed conservative Republican governors as you can find, defied the howling and screaming of their Republican legislatures and accepted the funds. They made a different if-then calculation. If you seem needlessly cruel, then voters will turn on you. And you don’t want to appear stupid either.

The same calculations are being weighed in Washington, as Congress debates restoring the long-term unemployment benefits to the more than a million folks who lost them just after Christmas. Almost five million will lose those benefits by the end of this year, and cutting all of them off may be needlessly cruel – or America is broke, and always will be broke, and no amount of growth will make anything any better, so we need to cut them off, because we can’t afford such things – or they’re lazy bums and should take care of themselves, damn it. Republicans are working out how to explain cutting them off, which is itself a series of if-then calculations. Do you really want to argue that now, for the first time in our history, America really can’t afford to do much of anything, and the only issue to consider is how much this or that costs, or whether or not it will make money? If you assert that, then you’re arguing America has lost its greatness forever – but with unemployment insurance the idea is a bit less dismal. The idea is to appear fiscally responsible but not heartless. It’s the same with the debate on raising the minimum wage. If you oppose that, then the same dilemma presents itself. The price of a Big Mac might rise by eight cents. Do you want people to suffer needlessly? The calculations are hard. If that, then this – but nothing is certain.

That’s why the Republicans want to return to a sure thing, and that would be Benghazi. That provides a way to hammer Obama and destroy Hillary Clinton’s chances in 2016, because she was our secretary of state when, two years ago, on another September 11, our ambassador there, and three of his aides, were killed by an angry mob, or somebody – and Obama and Clinton refused to send in any forces to save their lives. They let them die – Obama, because he’s always been on the side of the terrorists, starting with Bill Ayers, and Clinton, because she’s incompetent at everything she does. What’s worse, they then sent out Susan Rice, their national security advisor, to explain what happened, and Rice said it was a mob inflamed by that anti-Islam video that had caused riots from Kuwait to Cairo to Casablanca that day, and a few local militias, when everyone knew it was an attack organized by al-Qaeda at its highest levels, probably planned step by step by the guys we’re holding at Guantanamo, which Obama wanted to close. Additionally, Obama and Clinton and Rice lied about this because what happened at Benghazi proved that Obama really hadn’t done a damned thing to lessen the threat of al-Qaeda, ever. Hell, maybe that Osama fellow wasn’t really dead. The Navy said they dumped the body in the Indian Ocean. What’s up with that? And Democrats know nothing about national security. They never have and never will.

That may be overstating their case, but not by much. They’ve made their calculation. They’ll run on this. It’s a sure thing. It also avoids all that other stuff where they come off as heartless bastards.

If that, then this, but nothing is certain:

A long-delayed Senate Intelligence Committee report released Wednesday faulted both the State Department and the intelligence community for not preventing attacks on two outposts in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, in 2012.

The bipartisan report laid out more than a dozen findings regarding the assaults on a diplomatic compound and a CIA annex in the city. It said the State Department failed to increase security at its mission despite warnings, and blamed intelligence agencies for not sharing information about the existence of the CIA outpost with the U.S. military.

The committee determined that the U.S. military command in Africa didn’t know about the CIA annex and that the Pentagon didn’t have the resources in place to defend the State Department compound in an emergency.

The attacks were preventable, but the whole thing was a screw-up involving institutional disorganization and a failure to set up the proper lines of communication between agencies that don’t much like each other – all of which has been addressed, and fixed now. It’s over, and there’s something worse for the Republicans:

The report found no evidence of the kind of political cover-up that Republicans have long alleged. Much of it recounted now-familiar facts about deteriorating security conditions in Benghazi in 2012, a year after the fall of longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi. It filled in new details about the relationship between the State Department compound and the CIA annex about a mile away, and described the concern among many intelligence specialists about the growing potency of Islamist militants in the city.

There was no malice, and no conspiracy, and no cover-up. No one was talking to each other. And they shouldn’t have used locally hired security guards. That’s about it:

The document contains only one mention of then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom the panel’s Republicans name as the official who should ultimately be held responsible for the failures in Benghazi. Even so, the report is likely to provide fodder for both Republicans and Democrats as Clinton ponders a possible presidential run in 2016.

The committee described the attacks as opportunistic and said there was no specific warning that they were about to be carried out.

And it wasn’t al-Qaeda, unless you count the fact the local attackers were big fans of al-Qaeda, far away, and liked their work over all the years. They saw a chance to be just like the guys they admired so much, and they took it.

Adam Serwer offers this summary:

The report, which the committee approved by a voice vote, concluded that the attacks could have been prevented and makes several recommendations for improving security of U.S. diplomatic facilities in areas where U.S. personnel are likely to face threats. It also faults the State Department for not responding to repeated requests for increased security at the facility, and for ignoring incidents prior to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack that indicated Americans there were at risk. The report also states that Stevens himself rejected two offers from General Carter Ham, the head of the U.S. military’s Africa command, for military protection the month before the attacks. The report concludes that the attacks were “likely preventable” had warnings about the “deteriorating security situation” been heeded.

Our ambassador himself rejected two offers military protection, and no one was talking to each other. This was a disaster ready to happen, and what Susan Rice said on the Sunday talk shows wasn’t a cover-up:

Various versions of the talking points do not suggest the White House edited them to cover up references to Al Qaeda or to manufacture evidence of a protest.

It was a local mess, as she said, and at the New Yorker site, Amy Davidson hones in on that:

The talking-points controversy was always strangely misdirected – in part because, as this report makes clear, there is a lot that was substantively wrong with the way things were managed in Benghazi.

That is true particularly if the subject of discussion is Hillary Clinton. She does not come out well in this report, in any part, although the Republican minority is more florid in its criticisms. The State Department made mistakes when she was its leader. One of the findings is that nothing changed even when “tripwires” meant to prompt an increase in security or suspension in operations had been crossed, and people in the Department knew it.

Hillary Clinton screwed up, but not in the ways the Republicans have been saying, as the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake explains here:

The p-word – “preventable” – is what stings most for Clinton. The report says, conclusively, that State’s failures contributed to the deaths of four Americans on Sept. 11, 2012. And Republicans can and will say that people died because of those failures.

At the same time, the report doesn’t detail whether any of these warnings or requests actually reached Clinton’s desk. Had it done so, then she really would have been in trouble. While Clinton was, ultimately, the buck-stopper at State, she is more able to distance herself from the problems identified by the Senate report if it doesn’t specify that she was directly aware of them.

And assume for a moment that she runs against Chris Christie in 2016, which is the most likely scenario now, in spite of the big guy’s current problems. Chuck Todd and his team an NBC’s First Read consider that, and come up with this:

Hillary Clinton has twenty years on the national stage (including a thoroughly litigated presidential bid in ’08) to balance out a bad story, while Christie is still making his first impression on the national stage. And of course, a difference is that no Democrats believe the worst about Hillary (and might try to take advantage of it) when it comes to Benghazi, while the same isn’t true for Christie. Plenty of Republicans, particularly conservatives who were never enamored with Christie in the first place, do believe the worst about Christie and the bridge.

Maybe Christie and the Republicans don’t want to run on this, and Eli Lake finds a more likely villain than Hillary Clinton here – General Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

An addendum to a scathing report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Benghazi, signed by six of seven Republicans on the committee, singles out Dempsey for “failures in leadership.” Specifically, the six Republicans fault Dempsey for failing to have a plan to respond to an attack on Benghazi given the ample intelligence showing the desire of terrorists to attack Americans there, and for allowing General Carter Ham, who was the combatant commander for Africa Command, to not know the CIA maintained an annex in Benghazi near the U.S. temporary mission.

The Republicans slam Dempsey for failing to send more military support from the region as the attack was unfolding. “General Dempsey’s attempts to excuse inaction by claiming that forces were not deployed because they would not have gotten there in time does not pass the common sense test,” the senators write. “No one knew when the attacks against our facilities in Benghazi would end, or how aggressive the attacks would be.”

Wait! Six of seven Republicans on the committee didn’t go with the long-standing Fox News talking-point that it was Obama, and Obama alone, who gave the order to stand down, meaning that our folks would all die? It seems so. Roger Ailes will be very unhappy, and sic Bill O’Reilly on them. If the calculation is that the road to the Republicans’ return to power runs through Benghazi, then this complicates matters. Six of seven Republicans on the committee made a different calculation.

Steven Benen says not to worry:

Given the latest report, which reinforces the previous reports, are Republicans finally prepared to move on to some other alleged conspiracy? Of course not.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) saw the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee and said, “It should be clear, even to my critics by now, that Benghazi is bigger than Watergate.”

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) added, “I’m familiar with cover-ups throughout history, the Pentagon Papers, Iran-Contra, all of them. This is gonna go down as the greatest cover-up in history because the president and Susan Rice both knew it was an organized terrorist attack and they deliberately sent Susan Rice to tell the American people it was not.”

It doesn’t matter that they’re wrong; they don’t care. They start with the conclusion and try to work backwards to find evidence that satisfies their goal.

They’ve made their calculation. If they make sure the wrong sort of people find it hard to ever vote in an election ever again, then they’ve got this in the bag – but that might not work well enough. If they can rid America of Obamacare, which everyone hates, then they’ve got this in the bag – but Obamacare is starting to work better and is becoming part of the fabric of how life is now, and not that bad a thing, with more and more voters relieved that it’s in place. Cutting off the unemployed and the poor and disabled, to show their amazing fiscal responsibility, could backfire – no one votes for heartless bastards, except other proudly heartless bastards, and there may not be enough of those around to pave the way back to power. Benghazi will have to do, except this report came from a bipartisan committee – the Republicans on the committee signed off on this too, as they made other calculations. One wonders what those calculations are. Maybe they’ll run Miley Cyrus for president next time. If that, then this – but nothing is certain.

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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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