Last week, the House Select Committee on Benghazi released its much-anticipated report. Despite the heat of a highly charged presidential election and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as one of the main actors, the report was greeted with a collective yawn.
The report was the committee’s final act in a two-year investigation into the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans were killed, including U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens, the first U.S. ambassador to die in office since Arnold Lewis Raphel was killed in a 1988 airplane crash in Pakistan and the first to die in the line of duty since Adolph Dubs was killed in Afghanistan after an exchange of gunfire following a kidnapping attempt in 1979.
Although Clinton was famously elbows deep in the events that led up to and occurred in Libya, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina), the chairman of the Benghazi committee, and his fellow Republican committee members went out of their way to prevent the impression that their investigation was political in nature.
And that’s where they screwed up.
Obviously, the whole point was to make sure something like the attack in Benghazi doesn’t happen again. Part of that mission, one would assume, involves some sort of measure to hold those in power accountable. And how do we as Americans hold our government accountable? At the ballot box.
Recall there was another presidential election underway during the 2012 attack in Libya and at the time Clinton was secretary of state.
A month before the attack, at the Democratic National Convention, Obama and his surrogates touted what they said were his administration’s accomplishments including the diminished threat of terrorism. Osama bin Laden was dead and General Motors was alive.
Did the effort to maintain that perception affect the decision-making as the attack was underway?
You can’t avoid politics in anything that involves the government. Yet the Benghazi committee made avoiding any hint of politicization one of the priorities when the findings were released.
Alabama Rep. Martha Roby is on the committee and, at the time of her appointment, promised Alabamians that she would “leave no stone unturned.”
Political observers saw Roby’s appointment to the committee as an opportunity for her to gain national exposure and possibly more stature to run for higher office.
Roby had her moment in the spotlight when she questioned Clinton during the marathon 11-hour hearing last October. Clinton laughed at Roby’s question when asked if Clinton was home alone the whole night of the Benghazi attack.
Those on the right applauded Roby for her tough “grilling” of Hillary. Those on the left snickered and sneered at the “dumb-dumb” sorority girl from Alabama.
The interaction didn’t hurt Roby, but it was hardly the launching point for a Roby gubernatorial or senatorial movement.
In all likelihood, this report will accomplish nothing, which seems to be par for the course when it comes to Congress’ role of keeping the executive branch in check. American voters gave the opposition party control of the House of Representatives in three consecutive elections. If they wanted the body to neglect that responsibility, Nancy Pelosi would still be Speaker of the House.
Yet Republicans in control of Congress, which now includes the U.S. Senate, have been reluctant to use their powers to keep Obama in check. The Benghazi finding is just the latest example.
Gowdy and others on the committee argue the American people should read the report and come to their own conclusions because it is not up to them to tell the public what to think.
“I hope my fellow citizens will read this report, not for me but for those who sacrificed and those nameless, faceless Americans who incontrovertibly saved other American lives that night,” Gowdy said at a press conference on the morning of the report’s release.
“I hope you will read the report with them in mind, and I would hasten to add, you can read this report from pillar to post in less time than our fellow Americans were under attack in Benghazi,” he added. “So what I’m asking you to do is a fairly small investment given what others were willing to do on our behalf.”
That report is 800 pages long. Perhaps it is just me, but I highly doubt 800 pages of a relatively dense and stilted report will end up as anyone’s beach read this summer.
The one conclusion the report does seem to draw is that there was a lot of bureaucratic bungling as the situation was unfolding in Libya.
A day before the Gowdy’s committee released the official report, Democrats on the committee released their own. Those Democrats, led by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), weren’t afraid of politics in their 339-page report.
In that report, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had more mentions than two of the Americans, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, who died in the Benghazi attack.
What that accomplished was entirely unclear, but it does demonstrate that there are two distinct playbooks — one for the GOP and one for Democrats.
“I truly believe anybody who reads this report in its entirety and gets to the end can truly look you in the eye and say this was not a political witch hunt about Hillary Clinton,” Roby told the Montgomery Advertiser following the release of the committee report.
Maybe it should have been a political witch hunt about Hillary. Perhaps then it would have sent a message to those in Washington to do a better job protecting Americans abroad or face electoral defeat.