Four years ago, I went on and on about all the signs that, following the election of Barack Obama, we were going to put the more petty and pointless forms of partisan bickering behind us, and move forward in addressing the nation’s challenges.
A central theme at the time was the conciliatory relationship between the president-elect on one hand, and Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham on the other — particularly on national security. Here are some of the things I wrote back then, in my last few months at the newspaper:
That last one is particularly poignant in light of the McCain/Graham reaction to the president’s possible choice for new secretary of state, and the president’s reaction to that reaction:
If there was still any thought that President Obama and Senator John McCainmight eventually move past their once-bitter White House rivalry toward a cooperative governing agenda, it was all but dashed on Wednesday.
The two men who battled for the presidency four years ago spent the day bumping chests and marking their turf over the attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and the possibility that Mr. Obama might soon nominate Susan E. Rice, his ambassador to the United Nations, as his next secretary of state.
Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, began the ping-pong volley of sharp-edged commentary in the morning, calling Ms. Rice “unqualified” to serve as secretary of state for her public statements about the September attack in Benghazi. He vowed that he and Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, would do anything “within our power” to block her appointment. The president responded at a news conference in the afternoon, accusing Mr. McCain of trying to “besmirch” Ms. Rice’s reputation and daring him to “go after me” if he wants to.
Mr. McCain then took to the Senate floor to denounce the administration’s handling of the Benghazi attack and to call for a select committee to investigate. He accused the president and his staff of misleading Americans about the events in Benghazi and said Mr. Obama has created a “credibility gap” with the public on the issue.
That story concentrated on McCain, so here’s a quote from a Graham press release:
“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.
“We owe it to the American people and the victims of this attack to have full, fair hearings and accountability be assigned where appropriate. Given what I know now, I have no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle.”
This Benghazi thing that people I respect are bickering over — I’ve never fully gotten it. Way back on Sept. 27, I wrote in puzzlement to Graham’s office, trying to understand what they were all worked up about. Kevin Bishop responded with some links (all from the MSM that some Republicans maintain have ignored the issue), which I found helpful.
OK, yes, I see that statements from the administration following the attack were muddled, back-and-forth. But there were three significant reasons why I couldn’t see it as the “debacle” that Graham describes:
- I expect a certain amount of confusion, especially in the initial days, about such an out-of-control incident. The fog of war is a real phenomenon. And a terrorist attack involving a lot of people and extreme violence in a remote part of the world is as foggy as anything. Personally, I’m impressed that authorities in that part of the world managed to identify suspects after such a melee.
- Of course the administration was talking about the inflammatory video. It had already threatened embassy security in one country in the region, and sparked violence in several other locales in the following days. And to think this, initially, was part of that pattern was perfectly reasonable. But even when the administration knew better, it still had a significant problem dealing with the fallout from that video in all those other places. So it was not out of place to keep talking about it.
- This is the biggest reason. And if it weren’t for the fact that I screwed up and lost a key link, I would have written about this back in September. Just minutes after I had posted that our ambassador had been killed, apparently (I thought) in connection with another video-related protest (my headline was “So now one of these random rioting mobs has killed a U.S. ambassador“), I posted this addendum: “Of course now, all of that said, the administration is saying that maybe this was planned, rather than being a crowd spontaneously getting out of control…”
Unfortunately, as you can see if you click on it, the link I provided on that new development was to the wrong story — it went back to something about the video, not the item that told me the administration was changing its story. This occasionally happens when I’m running multiple windows and tabs (sometime more than 20 at a time) and doing a lot of copying and pasting.
So I don’t know where I learned that, although I’m sure it was one of the usual MSM sources I rely on, the ones you see in my Virtual Front Pages — the NYT, the WSJ, the Washington Post, something along those lines. I wouldn’t have believed it and passed it on, otherwise.
So I can’t say, “Look, senators, you’re wrong. See what the administration said that day.” But I can never quite connect with their narrative that the administration was hiding the hand of terror in this incident, because I got the impression from the administration that it was terrorism on the very first day. And I continued to see reports to that effect going forward, becoming more definite with the passage of time, as I would expect.
If Susan Rice persisted in saying something different, maybe that’s a problem. She was either misinformed, which would not be good, or deliberately trying to portray the incident as something other than what it was. Why she would do that, I’ve never fully understood, but there’s that possibility, I suppose.
Yeah, I know, there’s this whole narrative where the administration failed to heed cries for more security, or failed to react quickly enough to the attack itself, and sure, go ahead and investigate that. A U.S. ambassador was killed. We should know everything that went wrong so that we might keep it from happening again.
But all this chest-puffing, finger-pointing “debacle” talk is over the top. We don’t need this right now.
I subscribe to Thomas Friedman’s assertion that this is a very dangerous time in the region, starting with the meltdown of Syria and on through a litany of other delicate situations that make that part of the world more of a powder keg than usual. This would be an excellent time to go back to having partisan hyperbole stop at our shoreline. The way it did four years ago.