When Americans are killed in a terror attack, there’s a natural, righteous need to find out what went wrong. And the trick is to do it in a way that doesn’t debase the human loss with a nasty political scrum.
For the right way, you can look at the 9/11 commission.
For the wrong way, there’s the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which has spent the last few months as a walking disaster. Well, actually, a sitting disaster. Or a hardly-ever-bothering-to-show-up disaster. In all its postures, it’s been a textbook for bad intentions.
And then there’s the ad a group called Stop Hillary PAC aired in a number of American cities during the Democratic debate last week. It featured photos of the four men who died in the attack on the U.S. compound, seemingly speaking from the grave to Clinton. “I’d like to ask you why you ignored calls for help in Benghazi and then four Americans were murdered,” says a voice, while a picture of CIA contractor Glen Doherty is on the screen. In the end, a picture of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens appears, while a voice says: “But Mrs. Clinton, I can’t. What difference does it make?” And then there’s his headstone.
The relatives were, of course, horrified. “It’s an insult to someone who is dead,” Stevens’ mother told The Washington Post, adding that she’d sue the makers if she could.
But she can’t. The only thing that controls people like Stop Hillary PAC is a national consensus that there are places you just don’t go when it comes to political exploitation of American deaths. We’ve been through a lot of that lately, including the Jeb Bush-Donald Trump argument about George W. and 9/11. “Next week Mr. Trump is probably going to say that FDR was around when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor,” Jeb blurted out in a TV interview.
Say what? People, do you remember the days of yore, when you thought Jeb Bush was the adult in the Republican room? Now he’s nothing more than political toast and Donald Trump could actually get the Republican nomination. Or Ted Cruz. Jeb, you have a lot to answer for – just please, don’t try to say anything.
The first step on the road to national sanity is to acknowledge that our leaders all want to keep the people safe. There is absolutely no reason to worry on that point. But good intentions don’t always lead to safe results, and the second step is to figure out what went wrong in a calm and even-handed manner. The Benghazi committee went into its investigation with a promise to be fair.
“There are certain things in our culture that have to transcend politics, and I don’t mean to sound naive, but the murder of four fellow Americans and an attack on a facility that is emblematic of our country should transcend politics,” said the committee chair, Trey Gowdy.
The very fact that Gowdy thought he might be sounding naive should have been a warning.
That was before the House majority leader bragged how well the committee had done in bringing down Clinton’s poll numbers. Before Gowdy criticized Clinton for forwarding an email containing the name of a CIA source to her aide, and in the process accidentally made the name public himself.
Also before the world learned that the same Stop Hillary PAC which made that appalling ad has been a campaign contributor and all-around political helper to Rep. Trey Gowdy.
How do you know if politicians are transcending their parties when they’re investigating these painful and sensitive matters? Well, do they seem interested in important but unsexy issues like the State Department security chain of command? Or are they flinging themselves in front of the cameras, claiming that the terrible error which was Benghazi is like the criminal conspiracy which was Watergate.
Looking at you, Rep. Mike (“worse than Watergate”) Pompeo. A Kansas Republican who serves on the Benghazi investigating committee, Pompeo has been making the rounds on TV, arguing that Clinton erased way more emails than Richard Nixon did White House tapes. I believe I speak for many when I say that if email had been around during the Nixon administration, we would have seen erasures the size of Mount Whitney.
While we’re reclaiming the even course when it comes to preventing terror attacks, another good step might be for Jeb Bush to say that Hillary Clinton doesn’t deserve to be pilloried any more than his brother. This came up during a Jake Tapper interview on CNN, and Bush’s response was: “Well, I – it’s – the question on then Benghazi, which is – hopefully we’ll now finally get, get the truth to, is, was that – was the place secure? They had a responsibility, the Department of State, to have proper security.”