SAN DIEGO — Now that Americans are restarting the argument over the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the picture of what happened on Sept. 11, 2012, and how the administration responded is becoming more clear – just as the politics surrounding the attack are becoming more cloudy.
Since it is now known the administration didn’t release all the information it should have, House Speaker John Boehner was right to convene a special committee to investigate the incident and Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. – a highly capable former federal prosecutor – is an excellent choice to lead that inquiry.
Still, after several days of partisan spin from both sides, I’m becoming convinced that the last place we’re going to find the truth is within the Washington Beltway. All we seem to find there are competing agendas, and a lot of bobbing and weaving.
David Plouffe is now a contributor for ABC News where, on a recent installment of “This Week,” the former White House senior adviser insisted that Republicans were “delusional” and that Boehner was bullied by extremists in his own party to push the line that there was a “conspiracy” to cover up the facts.
Emmy-winning former CBS News investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson – during an appearance on Fox News – accused Plouffe and other spinners of engaging in a “well-orchestrated strategy to controversialize a story they really don’t want to hear about.” Attkisson called Benghazi “a legitimate news story and a legitimate area of journalistic inquiry.”
This discussion could lead nowhere fast. There ought to be ground rules. Here are three:
- If you insist on framing this issue in terms of Hillary Clinton’s future, you need to keep quiet. As much as conservatives want to hold Clinton accountable for an attack on a consulate during her watch as secretary of state, and liberals want to protect her from Republican attempts to derail her possible bid for the White House, Americans must not lose sight of what this story is really about. It’s not about Clinton. It’s about honoring the memory of four murdered Americans who served our country, both in the military and the diplomatic corps, by finding out the truth about why they died and whether there was a serious dereliction of duty in Washington. The most important question isn’t what keeps Republicans preoccupied – why the administration initially advanced the false narrative about a video being to blame for the attack. It’s why help was never dispatched. Everything else is a distraction.
- No more wasting time on the sort of hackneyed stunts that press secretaries and spokesmen and spokeswomen in both parties use to keep information from being released to the media, even when it is specifically asked for. If it’s not “Sorry, we can’t comment because there is an ongoing investigation (that never ends),” then it’s releasing the information one bite at a time so that the public loses interest, memories fade and passions cool. We either value and take seriously the role of the media to act as a watchdog over the excesses of government, or we should just accept the fact that there is no accountability on the part of our elected officials. During a recent radio interview, Attkisson took note of this strategy as she lamented the fact that Judicial Watch, the conservative legal advocacy group, was able to get emails that she and other journalists had requested for two years with no success.
- Let’s also try to take the politics out of the story. Republicans are saying that Democrats could pay a price for the administration’s actions in November because this issue could energize the conservative base. Meanwhile, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid criticized the convening of the investigative committee as an election-year gimmick. “For Republicans to waste the American people’s time and money staging a partisan political circus instead of focusing on the middle class is simply a bad decision,” Reid said. There you have it. If the hyperpartisan Reid really thought Republicans were making a “bad” decision that would hurt them with voters at election time, he wouldn’t be criticizing them for digging themselves into a hole. He’d be encouraging them to dig deeper.
Obama supporters like to call Benghazi a phony scandal. It’s not. It’s a test of leadership and a stab at accountability. Let’s hope our elected officials are up to the challenge.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at [email protected]