Reg Henry: Benghazi tied to worst kind of partisanship

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Let us talk about Benghazi, because America is so blessed that apparently it has no other problems.

In fact, let's chant "Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi," because questions need to be answered and we need to get into the mindless spirit of the moment.

It's the moment when Americans finally choked on politics and became a trivial people. It's the moment when partisanship made even the deaths of brave men just more political fodder. Just when you thought it was safe to go outside, a new House committee is taking another look. "Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi," because you can't get enough of it.

All this because the terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound and nearby CIA annex in Benghazi -- starting on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, and lasting into the next morning -- provoked conservative Republicans into endless political obsession. For them, Benghazi is the shorthand term for all that is wrong with the Obama administration.

In their furious rush to assign blame, some seem to have forgotten that while President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bear some responsibility, it's but a small fraction compared with that of the Libyan gunmen who were the perpetrators.

Republicans do call for the terrorists to be brought to justice, but even this comes packaged in criticism of the administration -- more than a year has gone by and justice hasn't been meted out, which, of course, is easier said than done. (Osama bin Laden didn't get his justice until President Obama came into office.)

The real villains are bit players in this saga. The point of the investigations is to blame the White House, and it was so from the beginning, when Mitt Romney immediately seized upon the attacks to try to turn the election campaign in his favor. That he did not succeed is the continuing excuse to ask questions until an acceptably damning answer is found. (All other answers don't count.)

No sensible person thinks that the attacks that claimed the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were anything but a shocking tragedy, and everyone now knows they should have been avoided. But disproportion and hypocrisy have steered the selective anger.

Diplomatic posts have been frequently attacked with loss of life in recent years, many of them during the George W. Bush years. Republicans then offered no critique of failure. On President Ronald Reagan's watch, 241 American servicemen were killed in a terrorist attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut. Again, conservatives drew no damaging conclusions, embarked on no witch hunt.

Perhaps Americans back then were a more mature people and better understood what war -- conventional or unconventional -- is about. Mistakes are made. Good people die. Congress doesn't have to hold multiple inquiries every time they do.

Benghazi, with four deaths, has already been investigated with a zeal that has inflated it to the importance of the terror attacks of 9/11, with almost 3,000 dead. The last word of it should have been in January when the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued a bipartisan report critical of the administration for not acting on clear warnings of trouble brewing.

But that report, a fairly clear window onto a complicated situation, also debunked the various lies told about Benghazi. There was no stand-down order. Help was sent from Tripoli (but was delayed at the Benghazi airport). Other U.S. forces were too far away to assist, although some were dispatched.

The report also refuted the notion that the attack on the mission started as a protest inspired by an anti-Islam video, although it is possible the attack was hastily planned. Nevertheless, it's true that the protest claim was repeated in early intelligence reports because of insufficient information.

That takes this into the discussion of talking points, where the fog of war is enveloped in the fog of politics. First and last, conservatives are mad because the administration said at the time it was a protest and not a terrorist attack. The suggestion was that the White House didn't want to refer to terrorism so close to the election.

Indeed, a new memo from a White House that should have been given up long ago --stupid! -- gives some credence to this theory, which is why the new House committee is being empaneled.

But consider what this is about: talking points. That's it. It's not about why brave men died anymore. It's about people who immediately politicized the tragedy accusing people in the administration of immediately politicizing the tragedy.

Get back to me when you find out something substantive about the tragedy.


Reg Henry: rhenry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1668.

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