House Speaker John Boehner has made what appears to be the remarkably stupid decision to set up a "select" committee of the House to once again "investigate" the 2012 Benghazi incident in which U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stephens was killed.
He apparently believes that another "investigation" of this tragedy will be politically advantageous to Republicans in the mid-term elections -- and somehow tarnish the reputation of the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she prepares a potential run for the White House in 2016.
Already the GOP has bet heavily that its obsession with Obamacare will bolster its political position -- a bet that increasingly looks like a loser. Now, in its never-ending attempts to mollify the tea party fringe, the GOP leadership has turned down another political blind alley.
There are at least three reasons why their renewed obsession with "Benghazi" is politically stupid for the GOP.
Reason #1: There is no "there," there. The Benghazi attack has been investigated over and over and there is simply no evidence that there is any scandal to be had at all.
The latest "revelation" is that Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes wrote an email aimed at helping former ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice frame her description of what happened in Benghazi before she went on various talk shows. Problem is that his suggestions were entirely in line with the talking points produced by the intelligence community -- which believed early on that the attack was mainly the result of reaction to an anti-Muslim videotape and demonstrations that had erupted in Cairo in protest.
Of course, it turned out later that there was more to the story -- though both The New York Times and the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation of the event did in fact confirm that the response to the video tape did play a role -- and Al Qaeda did not.
David Corn of Mother Jones pointed out that The New York Times, after a comprehensive investigation, reached this conclusion:
Months of investigation...centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO's extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.
The Times continued:
Benghazi was not infiltrated by Al Qaeda, but nonetheless contained grave local threats to American interests. The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs...
The violence, though, also had spontaneous elements. Anger at the video motivated the initial attack. Dozens of people joined in, some of them provoked by the video and others responding to fast-spreading false rumors that guards inside the American compound had shot Libyan protesters. Looters and arsonists, without any sign of a plan, were the ones who ravaged the compound after the initial attack, according to more than a dozen Libyan witnesses as well as many American officials who have viewed the footage from security cameras.
The Senate intelligence committee report released in January concluded that the attack was, "not a highly coordinated plot, but was opportunistic."
It went on to say:
It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attacks or whether extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. Some intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day's violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video.
And is anyone really surprised that the actual circumstances surrounding the attack were unclear at the outset? The same was true of the circumstances surrounding the Boston bombing and the Newtown shootings that took place right here in the United States -- events involving our own law enforcement. That is the nature of chaotic violent events.
The right wing has done everything in its power to turn "Benghazi" into a politically salient scandal without success. CBS' Sixty Minutes even bought into the right wing narrative when correspondent Lara Logan based an entire story on a tale about Benghazi that turned out to be entirely fictional. The story was fabricated by contractor Dylan Davies in order to sell his book. Ultimately CBS suspended Logan as a result.
On its face, the loss of life at Benghazi demonstrated a breakdown in diplomatic security. That's why the independent State Department Inspector General did a study of what went wrong and how to prevent a future loss of life. Procedures needed to be changed. But there was never a shred of evidence that any U.S. official did anything intentionally -- or because of some political motivation -- that caused this event.
And what did the Republicans who are so fixated on embassy security do in response? They actually cut the budget for State Department security.
If you were in the position of making it harder to prevent future attacks like the one at Benghazi would you really want to focus attention on the subject?
Reason #2: The "Benghazi scandal" does not resonate with most voters -- except, of course, the extreme right wing.
Republicans counter that polls show a plurality of Americans disapprove of the way the Benghazi attack was handled. In fact, a Huffington Post/You.gov poll show showed 42 percent disapprove and 27 percent approve of the way "Benghazi" was handled by the administration. But of course people are dissatisfied with the way the event was handled -- four people were killed.
The real question is whether "Benghazi" is an issue ordinary people care about. The fact is that the Benghazi issue has no political saliency. It never appears on the list of major concerns the voters express might affect their choices in the 2014 mid-terms. That is partially because there is no real "Benghazi scandal." It is also because ordinary people have much more important questions on their minds like the need to increase their wages and standards of living.
The fact is that "Benghazi" does not have the elements that have made "scandals" of the past -- like Watergate or the Monica Lewinski affair -- relevant to the voters.
To be politically salient, a "scandal" must include two key elements that are not present in "Benghazi":
- Real "scandals" do not involve flawed procedures. They must involve actions taken -- or not taken -- for improper or immoral reasons. There is no indication whatsoever that the American ambassador or anyone in the administration short-changed security in Benghazi to advance their political fortunes or to make money. Instead you have a brave American Ambassador who was willing to risk harm to himself to accomplish his mission but with inadequate security procedures. The ambassador was President Obama's personal emissary -- the last thing he wanted to do was risk his death.
- To have staying power, real "scandals" generally involve a cover-up. The Republicans argue that the administration's taking points after the event somehow constituted a "cover-up." But instead they reflected the best information from the intelligence community at the time. Instead of a "cover-up," what followed was an independent State Department Inspector General report that was very critical of procedures and proposed changes -- but found no "scandal" whatsoever.
Reason #3: Do the Republicans really want to turn the conversation to foreign policy?
The GOP launched the Iraq War -- the most disastrous foreign policy catastrophe in the last half-century -- and they want to talk about competency and honesty in foreign policy?
In fact, some of the same people who regularly go on Fox News to rail on about the "Benghazi conspiracy" helped promote the notion that we were invading Iraq because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction -- the most pernicious lie ever used in recent American politics.
The War in Iraq was an unmitigated disaster -- killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, costing thousands of American lives, costing our economy trillions of dollars, and spoiling America's reputation throughout the world.
Frankly, no self-respecting media outlet should allow any of the people who intentionally lied to the American people about Iraq on the air ever again.
If you were the political party that presided over such a horrific foreign policy disaster would you really want to turn the political conversation to the question of who is best equipped to conduct America's foreign policy?
Apparently so. It appears possible that the Republican leaders are just as inept at formulating their own political strategy as they were at conducting America's foreign policy.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.