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Dan K. Thomasson: All Benghazi, all the time

  • McClatchy-Tribune News Service
  • Published Wednesday, May 14, 2014, at 12 a.m.

Forget the Alamo, Remember Benghazi … at least as far as the Republicans are concerned.

That appears to be the new battle cry for the House majority and GOP candidates everywhere as they prepare to challenge the White House’s explanations for the 2012 event that took the life of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, with a special investigative committee that the party’s leaders hope will have a semblance of bipartisanship even if a two-vote edge for them might just make it seem otherwise.

One can almost smell the scent of one of those classic political confrontations that both parties are historically fond of generating as a major autumn election looms to determine control of Congress and set the stage for the next stampede for the presidential prize. Whether the new investigation can rise above just another propaganda extravaganza full of “so what” revelations or answer some really serious questions about security needs is anybody’s bet. But the odds have to favor the former.

A reason for that is the seeming determination of conservative Republicans to focus this inquiry on early White House determination to paint the tragedy that took the life of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his bodyguards as a spontaneous protest over a video that has caused other demonstrations in the Middle East and not a plotted act of terrorism, which it was later found to be. That’s where the “who cares” factor comes in.

But that is less of a problem for the State Department and the White House than the lingering rumor and suspicion that there was an attempt to cover up what amounted to a lack of response by the administration that might have changed the outcome. If GOP sharpshooters remain true to their oft-stated doubts since the tragedy took place, this will be where they center their sights despite a lack of real evidence to support this view.

So how could this committee of seven Republicans and five Democrats, if they chose to participate, accomplish something useful in what promises to be a knock-down, drag-out under the television klieg lights?

A place to start might be to determine why an American ambassador in a violent land, no matter how popular he was with elements of the Libyan population, was in such a dangerous place at that time of night. What was he doing there? Was he on a special mission? With whom was he meeting?

Even more important perhaps is the question as to why he was so lightly protected. Benghazi isn’t Paris, for Pete’s sake. Those familiar with the protocol contend that for an ambassador in such a troubled land to sally forth without a full security detail is unusual, but that to do so to a lightly guarded, quite vulnerable place is the height of folly. Some experts speculate that his actions were deliberately aimed at avoiding the attention a full security detail might draw. Be that as it may, his assailants must have had advance knowledge of his travel.

At the heart of this line of inquiry is the uncovering of an obvious weakness in how the State Department protects its diplomats – whether its Diplomatic Security Bureau is given the resources, including weapons, manpower and expertise, that it needs in a world increasingly vulnerable to well-organized terrorists. The answer on the face of what occurred is clearly it doesn’t. Should the committee pay attention to that aspect, it might accomplish some good.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on whose watch this took place and who is considered a front-runner for presidential succession, will obviously be a target of the House panel’s investigation. She already has testified that she takes responsibility while at the same time decrying those who contend she and her boss, Barack Obama, deliberately tried to divert public outrage by lying about the true nature of the assault in the immediate aftermath.

In a perfect world, this would be an orderly process that would produce much-needed reforms. That’s what these things are supposed to do. But they never have, and it probably is too much to believe this time will be different. If one needs more evidence of the political nature of this, it is that dozens of House Republicans frantically applied for a spot on the panel as an election-year boost to their fortunes.

Dan K. Thomasson is a columnist for McClatchy-Tribune and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers.

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