Kearney: Benghazi ‘scandal’ not as scandalous as Republicans claim

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Ryan Kearney, Columnist

In the eight months since four Americans, including American Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were killed in the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, many on the right have claimed the attacks signify a gross negligence or even a criminal cover-up on the part of President Barack Obama’s administration. The extent of this negligence or cover-up and what exactly the plot entailed varies widely depending on who one asks, but the overwhelming consensus among Republicans in Congress and the media is that something fishy occurred. Consequently, Republicans in the House of Representatives last week resumed their investigation into the Obama administration’s handling of the attacks, even though an independent inquiry was already conducted in December.

Although the attack hardly represents the finest hour for the Obama administration, the CIA or the State Department, many of the conspiracy theories about the subject are grossly over-dramatic. Much of the obsessive focus on the subject is little more than an attempt to derail the probable 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The situation involving the Benghazi attacks is complicated, which partly explains why it has become a haven for accusations and visions of secret plots. The State Department internal review declared “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels … resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place,” a failure of leadership for which Clinton has taken responsibility. Though it appears a special operations team stationed in Libya could not have made it to Benghazi in time to prevent the attacks, the fact that the situation spiraled out of control is still indicative a tragic error on the part of the CIA and the State Department.

Given this blunder, the Benghazi incident clearly represents a stain on Obama’s otherwise solid record on foreign policy. But it does not reveal a wide-reaching conspiracy on the part of Obama and Clinton to mislead the public and save the president’s re-election campaign, as many are insisting. From Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who called the incident a “massive cover-up,” to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who declared Benghazi could very well lead to the impeachment of the president on the grounds that he “misled” the public, there is a genuine belief among many Republicans in Congress and the media that Obama personally engineered some kind of vast conspiracy. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), for instance, called the “scandal” “more serious” than Watergate.

The idea the administration would even engage in some type of cover-up makes little sense. Many Republicans claim that public awareness of the attacks would have been damaging to Obama’s 2012 campaign, but as Nate Silver of The New York Times pointed out, a terror attack likely would have spurred a “rally ‘round the flag’” effect for the incumbent commander-in-chief, boosting his election prospects. The evidence and the rationale for the president being involved in a criminal misleading simply are not there, and I highly doubt the unlikely move to impeach him over this matter would get very far.

For the first time in his presidency, though, Obama is not the sole target of Republican loathing. Hillary Clinton-bashing is back in style on the right, with many pinning the blame on her for the super-secret Benghazi conspiracy in an attempt to derail her presidential prospects. With absurdly early polls showing Clinton as the clear favorite to claim the White House in 2016, should she decide to run, many of her potential rivals have latched on to this issue as the one that will bring her down for good.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a likely contender in 2016, captured the feelings of this group this weekend, declaring Benghazi should “preclude her from holding higher office.” Benghazi certainly is not Clinton’s crowning achievement at the helm of the State Department, but the idea that she, too, was in on some cover-up is a ridiculous and quite obvious attempt to soften her up before the upcoming election.

Although the Benghazi attack represents foreign policy mismanagement, it is hardly the second coming of Watergate for which so many Republicans are wishing. It is unfortunate the incident is being politicized months later in an attempt to discredit Obama and Clinton, but I am confident that the House Republicans’ vigor will fade as they realize that there is no deep, dark secret plan, and Congress will turn its attention to more pressing and reality-based issues.

Ryan Kearney is a Communication sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

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