If there's one thing both parties in Washington can agree on, it is the necessity of getting to the bottom of the Sept. 11 assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already agreed to testify to Congress after the completion of the State Department's Accountability Review Board investigation now underway. As for President Obama, he reiterated during his press conference Wednesday that "it is important for us to find out exactly what happened in Benghazi, and I'm happy to cooperate in any ways that Congress wants."
Needless to say, that transparency is not good enough for Republicans and their amen corner. After all, while John McCain called the tragedy a scandal worse than Watergate or Iran/Contra, GOP water carriers like Charles Krauthammer and Glenn Beck charged the Obama administration with trying to silence former CIA chief David Petraeus.
Of course, when comes to avoiding accountability and deflecting blame for national security catastrophes and foreign policy failures, the Bush administration and its Republican allies wrote the book. Here are just some of the pages Obama chose to ignore.
Oppose the Investigation. As the chorus grew in early 2002 to create a commission to investigate the 9/11 attacks that killed 3,000 people, President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their allies said no. While Cheney warned "the people and agencies responsible for helping us learn about and defeat such an attack are the very ones most likely to be distracted from their critical duties if Congress fails to carry out their obligations in a responsible fashion," House Majority Leader Tom Delay declared:
"A public commission investigating American intelligence in a time of war is ill conceived and, frankly, irresponsible. We need to address America's challenges in intelligence gathering and terrorist prevention. But we don't need to hand the terrorists an after-action report."Delay's Senate counterpart Trent Lott went a step further, arguing that "there's nothing more despicable ... for someone to insinuate that the president of the United States knew there was an attack on our country that was imminent and didn't do anything about it." His GOP colleague from Texas Kay Bailey Hutchison concurred, protesting, "I don't think that anyone should start pointing fingers in a personal way or suggest that people are trying to cover their political backsides."
Agree to Testify, But Not Under Oath. Ultimately, President Bush yielded to mounting public pressure and agreed to support the 9/11 Commission under the aegis of Henry Kissinger. (Unwilling to reveal his financial interests, Kissinger withdrew.) But as for his own participation, Bush agreed to testify, but on the conditions that he be questioned behind closed doors jointly with Vice President Cheney and neither man would be under oath. As President Bush explained his White House meeting with the 9/11 commissioners on April 29, 2004:
"If we had something to hide, we wouldn't have met with them in the first place. I came away good about the session, because I wanted them to know, you know, how I set strategy, how we run the White House, how we deal with threats.Delay the Findings for Years. After learning that there were in fact no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2003 launched an investigation. But thanks to the maneuvering of GOP Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), the committee divided its work into two phases. But Phase 2, the probe dealing with the Bush administration's uses and misuses of pre-war intelligence, would not be completed until after the November 2004 election. (The Silbermann-Robb commission similarly punted on that vital question, noting that "Well, on the [that] point, we duck. That is not part of our charter.")
The vice president answered a lot of their questions, answered all their questions. And I think it was important for them to see our body language as well, how we work together."
(Continue reading below the fold.)
When the Phase 1 report was published in July 2004, Roberts crowed, "the committee found no evidence that the intelligence community's mischaracterization or exaggeration of intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities was the result of politics or pressure." But as Vice Chairmen Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) protested:
"There is a real frustration over what is not in this report, and I don't think was mentioned in Chairman Roberts' statement, and that is about the -- after the analysts and the intelligence community produced an intelligence product, how is it then shaped or used or misused by the policy-makers? So again there's genuine frustration -- and Chairman Roberts and I have discussed this many times -- that virtually everything that has to do with the administration has been relegated to phase two. My hope is that we will get this done as soon as possible."But in March 2005, Roberts announced that Phase 2 "is basically on the back burner." As he explained:
"I don't think there should be any doubt that we have now heard it all regarding prewar intelligence. I think that it would be a monumental waste of time to replow this ground any further...To go through that exercise, it seems to me, in a post-election environment--we didn't see how we could do that and achieve any possible progress. I think everybody pretty well gets it."Give Rice Better Sound Bites. On Wednesday, Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham announced they would try to block the potential appointment of UN Ambassador Susan Rice to succeed Hillary Clinton. Calling Rice "not very bright," McCain blasted her Sept. 16 statements about the Benghazi killings to ABC's This Week.
Of course, when the Rice in question was named Condoleezza and worked for a Republican president, John McCain took a different tack. After all, Condi Rice famously warned of Saddam's non-existent weapons of mass destruction, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." In 2004, she sheepishly described the critical Aug. 6, 2001 presidential daily brief admitted to the 9/11 Commission, "I believe the title was 'Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.'"
Nevertheless, when Bush's national security adviser was nominated for secretary of state in 2005, John McCain declared, "Condoleezza Rice is a great American success story" and "a person of integrity." Slamming those who "challenged her integrity," McCain groused:
"I see this [as] some lingering bitterness over a very tough campaign. I hope it dissipates soon."Attack the Victims' Families. During the last weeks of the 2012 presidential election, Republican Mitt Romney was criticized for trying to appropriate the Benghazi victims for his campaign. (Among those pushing back was the father of Ambassador Stevens and the mother of the former Navy SEAL killed there.)
But back in 2007, current House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa had a novel approach. During committee hearings into the slaughter of private security contractors in Fallujah, Issa defended Blackwater by mocking the victims' families to their faces:
"Although I don't think your testimony today is particularly germane to the oversight of this committee, I am deeply sorry for the losses that you've had...One question I have is, the opening statement, who wrote it?"And so it goes.
Of course, the list of GOP national security scandal defenses is a much longer one. Republicans in Congress refused to hold hearing, as Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts did after revelations about the NSA's program of illicit domestic surveillance. When pressed by the media, the president could deny having made any mistakes, as President Bush did in 2004. (Three years later, Bush admitted one to Scott Pelley of CBS: "Using bad language like, you know, 'bring them on' was a mistake.") Despite 3,000 killed on 9/11 and thousands of dead and wounded American troops in Iraq, Republicans declared that President Bush "kept us safe." And his father showed in the wake of the Iran/Contra scandal, you can always pardon those convicted for wrong-doing by defending them as victims of the "criminalization of politics."
In contrast, President Obama has demanded truth and accountability for the horrific tragedy in Libya. Thus far, he has refused to follow any of the usual Republicans approaches to the Benghazi scandal. Of course, that is due in large part to fact that there isn't one.