Benghazi – the Partisan Political Game Goes On . . .

Tino Calabia (Peru, 1963-65) who rallied all of us RPCVs in support of Ambassador Christopher Stevens sent me this note over the weekend.

chris_friend1

The 2012 elections are history.  Finally.  Yet the tragic deaths of RPCV/Ambassador Chris Stevens and his three colleagues in Benghazi, Libya remain part of the controversy fueling partisan wrangling on Capitol Hill.  Besides ensnaring U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, the dispute has now dragged in former CIA Director David Petraeus; even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has had to accede to requests that she soon come before a Congressional committee.

Meanwhile, Senator John McCain last Wednesday, Sept. 14th, roundly dismissed Susan Rice as “not qualified” to serve as the next Secretary of State, the post for which President Barack Obama is reportedly considering Rice.  Tying Rice to the increasingly heated controversy over what actually transpired in the 9/11 attack on two diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, McCain further urged setting up a Watergate-style investigative committee to look into a possible cover-up of the facts leading to the killing of RPCV/Ambassador Stevens and the other Americans and the government’s response.

Rice’s earliest September statements during five Sunday TV talkshows were that the attack in Benghazi came during a spontaneous protest of an anti-Muslim video and not because of a premeditated attack by terrorists.  Subsequent information from the CIA revealed that no demonstration had taken place.  Instead, a rogue militia resorted to heavy weapons in a premeditated attack on the U.S. facilities.  Though suddenly retiring from the CIA under a tawdry cloud related to an extramarital affair, the disgraced Petraeus was summoned back to The Hill to disclose what he learned on his visit to Benghazi shortly before leaving the CIA.

Back to McCain, two days after his statement about Rice, the incoming chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Ohio Representative Marcia Fudge, and other female Black Caucus members objected to McCain’s claim that Rice is “not qualified.”  Fudge obliquely referred to McCain’s self-admitted low standing in his Naval Academy graduating class – he had finished fifth from the bottom.  In contrast, Rhodes scholar Rice earned a Stanford University B.A. and an Oxford University Ph.D.  Wisconsin Representative Gwen Moore called into question McCain’s own judgment about qualifications for high office, considering that McCain named Sarah Palin as his 2008 Vice Presidential candidate.

Nonetheless, on Fox News, McCain declared that he will filibuster any nomination of Rice for Secretary of State.  South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said he would do likewise.

Last Sunday’s national newspapers and TV talkshows kept up the drumbeat about what Rice had first reported about the Benghazi tragedy and whether or not being complicit in any cover-up of the facts renders her unfit to succeed Clinton as Secretary of State.

Meanwhile, David Weigel, in his recent column in “Slate,” noted a parallel between Republican objections to Susan Rice’s possible nomination to Secretary of State and objections by Democrats to President George Bush’s nomination of Condoleezza Rice to the same cabinet position.  Weigel wrote:

“Eight years ago, Democrats tried a version of this play with Condoleezza Rice.  She’d been the president’s national security adviser during a period of stunning intelligence failures.  Liberals blanched at the idea of promoting her and wanted to make George W. Bush suffer for it.  But in the end, 30 Democrats voted to confirm the Original Rice.  Among them: Joe Biden and Barack Obama.  They were spared the scorn of a Republican senator who endorsed Rice and accused her opponents of being sore losers.

“‘I wonder why we are starting this new Congress with a protracted debate about a foregone conclusion,’ McCain said [in 2004].  ‘I can only conclude that we are doing this for no other reason than because of lingering bitterness over the outcome of the election.'”

The irony between McCain’s statement after George W. Bush’s reelection and his 2012 statement after Barack Obama’s reelection – embarrasing as the irony might seem – may not quickly cool down the controversy over the attack in Benghazi.  Perhaps more interesting will be how the controversy will eventually affect Hillary Clinton during and after her appearance on the Hill.  Will Clinton, like Susan Rice, end up as damaged goods?  If so, are the potential damages intended to dissuade Clinton from campaigning for the Presidency in 2012 – assuming she accedes to the wishes of many who want Clinton to run?

When, oh when will the partisan politics over the tragedy in Benghazi ever end?  Or is the question really: how long will the politics go on?  Until after a new Secretary of State is confirmed next year?  Or through 2016, if Clinton decides to face off against candidates for the White House at that time?

3 Comments

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  • Speaking of being sucked into a “who struck first debate” over qualifications , RPCV’s ,as a result of this incident ,should be concerned at the extra precautions the Peace Corps will put in place to protect the safety of PCV’s therby limiting field and site effectiveness . Limiting PCV’s effectiveness in the field , due to security precautions, will make volunteering less attractive to the likes of the late Ambassador Stevens and myself.

    Refresh my memory where did Susan Rice serve in the Peace Corps? I remember Stanford and Oxford!

    Dennis Grubb

  • Dennis,

    I am unaware of any note that says Susan Rice served in the Peace Corps. Do you have a reference?

    Also, are you aware of new procedures to protect PCVs?

  • Dennis, Joey: Amb. Susan Rice never served. Had she been a PCV, she might have lost her sharp, ragged edges by working amicably as most PCVs must. At the State Dept., she’s been criticized for hurling insults at colleagues. E.g., during one meeting she appalled other top staff by flipping the bird at Amb. Richard Holbrooke.* No, Rice is hardly the inspiring model diplomat that Amb. Chris Stevens was.

    Thus, though an exceedingly bright woman, Rice might be considered by some as temperamentally unfit for the highest post in U.S. diplomacy. Of course, unfitness is not why her disparagers seek to block her nomination for Secretary of State. Those who announced their fierce opposition to her candidacy accuse Rice of misleading everyone about what happened in the 9/11 Benghazi attack. (As of today, Nov. 25th, both Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have backed off a bit.)

    In any case, Thomas Pickering, named by Reagan as Amb. to Israel who served also as ambassador to Russia and several other countries and was himself the U.S. Amb. to the U.N., co-chairs an Accountability Review Board (ARB) which is required by law to investigate serious matters of embassy security. My bet? The ARB’s eventual findings will clear Rice of the charge that she deliberately misled the public when she said on Sunday TV talk shows that a protest demonstration had occurred in Benghazi, followed by a heavy weapons attack on the U.S. facilities in that city.

    Once the ARB report is released, Secretary Hillary Clinton is expected to answer to a Congressional Committee about Benghazi. Stay tuned. The fireworks will continue.

    *Dana Milbank, Washington Post, Nov. 16, 2012

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