Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Conservatives in Washington have been loudly complaining about the Obama administration’s response to the attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed in the September attack.
Sensing a campaign issue, Republicans trumpeted the attacks as a sign of the administration’s weakness. Although their candidate lost and the election is over, Republicans in Congress have continued to pursue this in a way that shows they are trying to gain a political advantage. There have been serious allegations about how the Obama administration responded, and Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have gone so far as to call for Watergate-style hearings.
That demand is stunning because it suggests that the president was involved in a nefarious cover-up. It’s a baseless and dangerous claim, and it’s the type of rhetoric that has encouraged conspiracy theorists over the past four years to press their insatiable demand for “proof” — and the facts be damned — to refute rumor, speculation and innuendo. (Remember, President Barack Obama’s birth certificate and the word of Hawaii’s Republican governor as to its authenticity weren’t enough to prove his citizenship to some of the people the GOP counts in its base.)
It is a shame that McCain and Graham would cater to the tin-foil hat crowd, especially in a situation of this magnitude.
Of course, the Obama administration did itself no favors with its muddled public statements in the days after the attack. However, according to reports from the congressional hearings this past week, those statements appear to reflect the different and conflicting lines of intelligence that developed after the chaotic and tragic event.
Instead of taking the Republican tack by looking for facts to support their conclusions, lawmakers investigating the Benghazi attack should carefully consider the situation in context and figure out how to improve intelligence and security. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue.
Despite the Republican hyperbole, this was not the first attack on an American diplomatic mission. The University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism has catalogued hundreds of attacks against American diplomatic targets since 1970. According to an analysis of the consortium’s data by Mother Jones magazine, attacks on American diplomatic targets peaked under Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. In George W. Bush’s two terms in office, there were 64 attacks. Did we miss McCain and Graham’s calls for Watergate-style hearings then?
The questions about security are real, and Congress should consider how the nation protects its embassies and consulates. There’s a sense that Marines guard all of the United States’ foreign missions, but that isn’t the case. About 1,200 trained, armed Marines are stationed at about 150 of the nation’s embassies and consulates — about half of all of the diplomatic missions. Do the math and consider how many Marines that is for each mission.
Also, the Marines’ duty is to provide “internal security.” Although the State Department also provides security officers, the protection of embassies from outside attackers is, by international treaty, the responsibility of the host government.
As Congress considers what happened and how the nation protects diplomats and embassies, it shouldn’t lose sight of its own role. Some of the House Republicans who have been screaming loudest have voted for cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department’s budget for security.
If the country is to learn anything from this and move forward, it is going to have to have a sober conversation about the situation, what can be learned and what should be done. The deaths of a U.S. ambassador and American personnel are a serious matter, and the way they have been bandied about for political gain has been unconscionable.