11/28/2012 07:01 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2013

Benghazi, Susan Rice and Shameless Republicans

Some Republicans have no shame, especially Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. The senators' attacks on Ambassador Susan Rice over Benghazi are relentless. Why? Because of something she said on Meet the Press? Really?

They are attacking Ambassador Rice because they're integrity-challenged and are fearful of attacking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who polls consistently show is one of the most popular political figures in the United States, and to which criticism is more appropriately aimed (along with the Defense Department, CIA & White House).

Yesterday Ambassador Rice went to Capitol Hill to meet her strident attackers in a private 90-minute, closed-door meeting. While the two senators -- white, aging males -- may be shameless, they are not stupid, and sensing their attacks against an African-American women might be perceived as racist, they invited Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, to join the meeting.

Did having a woman senator in the room make a difference? Probably not. Because Ayotte is still a senator from New Hampshire, the state that gave us John Sununu, whose barely disguised racism -- Colin Powell endorsed Obama because both men are black -- was among the many reasons Mitt Romney lost (there must be a particular well from which New Hampshire Republicans draw their water).

The meeting may have had the promise of détente being struck, but not really. Senators McCain and Graham were just as obnoxious after the meeting as they had been before.

Are their legitimate questions over what happened in Benghazi? You bet. I wasn't alone in thinking the day our ambassador and three others were killed on 9/11: "Why were they there and where was their security?"

Those are questions that demand answers and we will have them because Admiral Mike Mullen, former head of the Joint Chiefs, and others are looking into what happened and will shortly report on their findings. Will that end the debate? Not as long as Fox News is still broadcasting and John McCain feels obligated to be in opposition, but it likely will end the attacks on Ambassador Rice, which would be a good thing.

However, I want to take us back to that terrible, terrible, day, October 23, 1983, when 299 Americans died when a two-truck bomb exploded in a poorly defended U.S. post in Beirut, including 220 U.S. Marines. Remember? It was such a horrible moment for our country and the families of the dead.

That awful tragedy occurred on the watch of President Ronald Reagan.

Admiral Robert L.J. Longo was named by the president to investigate. His committee later reported what seemed obvious to some at the outset, "there might have been many fewer deaths if the barracks guards had carried loaded weapons and a barrier more substantial than the barbed wire the bomber drove over easily."

Did you read that? Those guarding our troops carried unloaded "weapons" and the only parameter "barrier" was "barbed wire."

In the aftermath of the Beirut bombing, I couldn't remember organized attacks from Democrats on Capitol Hill against President Reagan. Yes, there was great anger against the perpetrators and enormous grief over this moment of infamy, but no partisan attacks. (If you think Benghazi was poorly defended, tell me what you think about Beirut.)

But memories are tricky so after a Web search and finding lots on the bombing but little on subsequent political fall out, I called former New York Times editor Max Frankel, to ask if Democrats had attacked Reagan over this inexcusable security lapse.

Who better to ask than Frankel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, but more pointedly the Times' editorial page editor during six of Reagan's eight years as president? But Frankel, thinking about events 29 years past and no less human than we, couldn't recall a storm rising from Capitol Hill and rolling across the nation and creating the political equivalent of Sturm und Drang.

He did point to the fact that some Democrats demanded of Reagan he withdraw our troops, which the president did, but there was nothing then approximating now.

Frankel lamented what he sees as McCain's "malevolence" against Susan Rice, but also the sadness he feels witnessing the senator's decline from the heights of American politics and a justifiable standing as a true war hero to a place where the John McCain we once knew is barely recognizable.

In due course, this ugly political episode will pass, but given the state of the Republican Party, others dubious causes will be joined and shameful acts will ensue. If you try to understand this in any rational context, you will fail. The rational mind cannot comprehend the irrational.

George Mitrovich is a president of two leading American public forums.