Monday, May 05, 2014

Benghazi Is About The President's Legitimacy Not Just Hillary

The entire premise of the Republican Benghazi fixation is backwards.

All of the Congressional and State Department reports make clear that the Republican Benghazi story is fact free nonsense supported only by delusional drivel. This is all very well detailed in this excellent summary the GOP's disregard of facts. But more importantly, the entire political premise for their Benghazi fixation, the entire foundation upon which it is built, is laughable and completely backwards. In their view Obama is the President only because he lied his way to re-election by pulling the Benghazi wool over peoples eyes. Yes, since the election the focus has shifted to undercut Hillary Clinton if she runs in 2016, but make no mistake it started out and continues to be about the legitimacy of Obama as President of the United States.

The Republican theory is that after the Benghazi attack the President downplayed an al Qaeda/terrorist connection to the attack in order to enhance his election prospects. They say that the Benghazi attack undercut the Administration's position that we were having some success against terrorists intent on doing us harm. They knew that Obama had achieved many successes against terrorists, most notable the killing of Bin Laden. All of these successes had eluded Bush and gave rise to the popular perception that Obama was making advances against terrorism.

The Republicans thought Benghazi would reverse all of that. In their view, if Americans were told that four Americans had been killed in Benghazi by al Qaeda terrorists everything Obama had done in the prior four years would have been for naught and he would go down to stunning defeat. This one event would undo the prior four years.

Of course it wouldn't do if the attack was just part of a sequence of events triggered by a hateful video. It had to be an attack by the big AQ, which would prove that everything else that had been done in the prior four years was meaningless smoke. Benghazi today, Benghazi tomorrow, Benghazi forever.

And so, when Susan Rice read the CIA talking points that suggested this attack was motivated by the same thing that generated protests or attacks in Tunis and Cairo and elsewhere, there had to be a coverup. Even in that telling it was an odd coverup since the President had already said it was terrorism and the story details were revised a week later. It didn't matter, this was a coverup of the Achilles heel of the Obama re-election campaign.

Well, if history is a guide they have it backwards. If Obama wanted to use Benghazi to advance his election prospects he would have hyped the Al Qaeda/terrorist fear and brought back the color coded terror alerts. He would have used the playbook that Bush used for all the years after 9/11, including immediately before the election day. Bush would tout his successes but point to every terrorist attack, or threat of attack, or imagined attack to keep people afraid and manufacture the image he and only he was the one who could "keep us safe."

This cynical use of terror attack and threats real or imagined was long suspected while Bush Was President. And it was eventually acknowledged by his DHS Secretary Tom Ridge who said, as reported by Time,

Ridge says he objected to raising the security level despite the urgings of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, according to a publicity release from Ridge's publisher. He said the episode convinced him to follow through with his plans to leave the administration; he resigned on Nov. 30, 2004.

Similarly, as reported by John Amato in connection with the publication of Ridge's book, The Test of Our Times,

Former US homeland security chief Tom Ridge charges in a new book that top aides to then-president George W. Bush pressured him to raise the "terror alert" level to sway the November 2004 US election.

Then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and attorney general John Ashcroft pushed him to elevate the color-coded threat level, but Ridge refused, according to a summary from his publisher, Thomas Dunne Books.

"After that episode, I knew I had to follow through with my plans to leave the federal government for the private sector," Ridge is quoting as writing in "The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege ... And How We Can Be Safe Again."

Some of Bush's critics had repeatedly questioned whether the administration was using warnings of a possible attack to blunt the political damage from the unpopular Iraq war by shifting the debate to the broader "war on terrorism," which had wide popular appeal.


He later publicly acknowledged that much of the information underpinning the new alert was three years old, stoking Bush critics' charges of political manipulation.

If President Obama wanted to make political hay about Benghazi he would have done exactly what Bush did, and try to scare the living bejeezus out of the American people right before the election. But that's not what he did. He and spokespersons for the Administration went out and told he truth as they knew it at the time. It was an evolving narrative as is always the case in times of conflict. First reports are rarely completely accurate and the facts become clearer after the dust settles.

The funny thing is the Republicans know that the Administration was being candid and was not hyping the incident as they know Bush would have done. They knew that his demeanor during this time was a strength, exuding a combination of confidence, compassion for the victims, and resolve. It was the calmness that the American people needed.

So they did what they always do? They attacked this strength. This is what they have done throughout his Presidency. They know he is a gifted orator so they attack his use of tele-prompters. They know he is brilliant and extraordinarily well read so they raise bogus questions about his educational background. They know he is very popular in one on one settings so they attack him for being aloof.

They did and are continuing to do the same with Benghazi. They know he was truthful and the tone and tenor were spot on so they attach him for not hyping an al Qaeda connection and cynically argue that if he had done so his re-election would have been doomed, when, if anything, it would have been further bolstered.

Well, the American people didn't fall for that in 2012 and four years of age aren't going to make it a more successful line of attack in 2014 or against Hillary in 2016.

But it isn't just about 2014 or Hillary. It started out as an attack on the President's legitimacy and continues to this day. In Republican minds the 2012 election had nothing to do with the forty-seven percent. It hinged on only one issue - Benghazi. If the Benghazi truth had been told he would have lost in a landslide.

In the Republican mind President Obama's first term was illegitimate because he was a Kenyan (not to mention anti-colonialist socialist) who wasn't eligible to hold office. And his second term is doubly illegitimate because he lied his way to re-election by pulling the Benghazi wool over peoples eyes.

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