By Eugene Robinson
WASHINGTON — Before asking a question at the coming show trial, each self-righteous congressional inquisitor should be required to correctly locate Benghazi on an unlabeled map.
That would shorten the farce. My guess is that some of the House Republicans screaming loudest in faux outrage would be hard-pressed to find Libya, much less pinpoint the city where four Americans were tragically killed.
No, Congressman, that’s Liberia you’re pointing to. Whole different country.
It’s impossible to take seriously a House select committee investigation designed not to unearth relevant new facts but to achieve nakedly political goals: rousing the GOP base for the fall election and sullying Hillary Clinton’s record in case she runs for president.
It is disgusting that the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, which claimed the life of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, would be used in this manner. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call this a new low, and the fact that the ploy will probably backfire on Republicans is scant consolation.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the chair of the select committee, tried Sunday to back away from his earlier reference to the proceedings as a “trial.” But his intent to prosecute rather than investigate remains clear.
“Why were we still in Benghazi?” he asked on “Fox News Sunday.” “The British ambassador was almost assassinated. Our facility was attacked twice. There were multiple episodes of violence. We were the last flag flying in Benghazi, and I would like to know why.”
Of all the dumb questions, that may be the dumbest. U.S. diplomats and intelligence agents were in Benghazi because, as Clinton testified last year, “we have become accustomed to operating in dangerous places.” It is in these chaotic, violent places where threats to our national interests take shape. Brave public servants volunteer to go into conflict zones to make it safe for partisans at home to question their valor.
Here are the answers to the only questions about Benghazi that matter:
Did the State Department provide adequate security for the consulate? Obviously not. The facility was overrun, sacked and burned; therefore, security was inadequate. It should be noted that Stevens, who was based in Tripoli, thought he could safely visit Benghazi. But ultimately the buck stops with Clinton, who has taken responsibility.
Could reinforcements have arrived in time to save lives? No, according to the Pentagon. The nearest fighter jets and other assets were too far away. They could not have made it to Benghazi in time to make a difference.
That’s it. You’ll notice that I did not mention the question on which Gowdy and his GOP colleagues will probably spend the most time, energy and hot air: “Who edited the talking points?”
Yes, talking points. Incredibly, unbelievably, disgracefully, Republicans are trying to make a full-blown scandal out of who did or did not change the wording in an internal memo — a memo meant to give the administration’s first, vaguest, most cautious, least definitive assessment of what had just happened in Benghazi.
We know, from all the investigations thus far, that CIA officials initially believed the attack was related to a rash of violent anti-American demonstrations in other cities, such as Cairo, over an anti-Islam video. We also know that U.S. personnel on the ground saw a much more organized, well-planned terrorist assault. This disconnect is commonly called the “fog of war.”
U.S. diplomatic, defense and intelligence officials spent the days following the attack in a scramble to make sure our people and facilities in other danger zones were secure. Even if they had focused on the issue of demonstration versus planned attack, could they have determined the truth in time for Susan Rice’s appearances on the Sunday talk shows? Of course not. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who has ever tried to reconstruct the blow-by-blow of a combat engagement.
And furthermore, as Clinton memorably asked Congress in exasperation, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
What’s the point, exactly, that Republicans are trying to prove? That there are still Islamic terrorists who want to kill Americans? I think this is common knowledge. That deadly violence by a homicidal mob is somehow more benign than deadly violence by an organized group? Honestly, I fail to see the distinction.
The way to honor the Americans who died in Benghazi is to try to make sure nothing like this happens again. The way to dishonor them is to make their deaths the subject of partisan political theater.
Ladies and gentlemen, the curtain is about to rise.
Eugene Robinson is a Washington Post columnist. His email address is email@example.com.