In the Arena

Benghazi Again

The Republicans, apparently with nothing better to do, are still chasing their tails over the tragic events in Benghazi on September 11.

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Esam Al-Fetori / REUTERS

A protester in front of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, on Sept. 11, 2012.

The Republicans, apparently with nothing better to do, are still chasing their tails over the tragic events in Benghazi on September 11.

Actually, no. That’s not true. They’re chasing their tails over what happened after the tragic events of September 11. They’re mostly concerned that the Obama Administration tried to cover up the fact that this was a terrorist attack by a local militia (translation: local street gang) which aspired toward bad-butt Al Qaeda status. This is a pretty hard sell since, the day after the attack, the President called it an “act of terror.”

It does seem that the Administration’s talking points were massaged a bit after the President’s candor. This may have been attributable to the presidential campaign and the Administration’s desire to low-ball the Al Qaeda threat. If so, this was a venial, not a mortal, sin. It affected not one life. More likely, though, the wording was scrubbed as a result of the nature of the investigation going on at the time–it may have been deemed premature to announce that it was a pre-meditated act of terror. Perhaps the local militia lucked into a situation where they showed up at the consulate and found very little security protection. Hard to say. There were protests all over the middle east that night, ginned up by jihadis using the excuse of a near-unseen anti-Muslim You Tube video.

But let’s say the street gang had been casing the joint in advance. Who’s to blame  for  the lax security? This is the real substance of the case. Could it have been the Secretary of State? Undoubtedly, no. This sort of question is well below her pay grade. Could it have been the person in charge of embassy security issues? More likely, and that person resigned after the subsequent investigations…and even that might have been unfair for two reasons. Security was up to the Ambassador and Chris Stevens was well known for erring on the side of greater public access to U.S. facilities. Or, more plausibly, reason number two…

Could it have been the Republicans who consistently voted against funds for increased embassy security? Hmmm…that makes their current carping seem awfully political, doesn’t it? Again, sins of politics are not mortal. But one does wonder why the Republicans tend to fix on issues like this, which are defined by their absence of substance. (I haven’t noticed the Republicans clamoring to spend more on embassy security–which would be a matter of substance, happily embraced by the Administration.But that would require a budget deal, which would give the President a win.)

In fact, the Republicans are now, according to the Washington Post, back in their standard dilatory mode when it comes to producing a budget agreement because–wait for it–things are going pretty well in the deficit department. With recovery, there are higher tax revenues (up 16%) and lower government payouts for services to the unemployed, and the deficits are melting away. So the Republicans believe that they’ve lost their leverage to reduce government spending.

Reducing government spending–rather than speeding a recovery–was always the Republican intent. The evidence was just too overwhelming that reducing spending in a recession retarded, rather than speeded, a recovery. What the current, intellectually limited GOP really care about is: government spending=wasting money on the poor. Everything else is flummery and encrustation.

The sad thing here is that the Republicans are right, in part, about government spending. It is wasteful. There are far more efficient ways to do Medicare that would produce a better health care system for the elderly. Social Security disability is slouching toward scamdom. The Veterans Administration is a 19th century bureaucratic disaster. Unemployment benefits and food stamps should require some sort of return service from recipients. The list goes on…But rather than address the substance of those problems–problems that Democrats don’t seem very interested in solving–they obsess on the stupid: fixing on more-or-less budget debates, federal dictatorship fantasies and meaningless political ploys like Benghazi.

I suspect they won’t be a viable political party until they begin to focus on substance rather than emptiness.