It's tragic, and senseless, when innocent Americans who are sent abroad in the pursuit of peace are killed by terrorists, warriors of a hateful ideology. But when it happens, it's also natural -- indeed, necessary -- that we ask questions of our leaders. Because sometimes, soldiers or diplomats are sent abroad with an ill-defined mission, that starts as one thing and ends up something else altogether. Sometimes, our top leaders ignore warnings that security needs to be beefed up. A fact-finding commission typically finds serious mistakes. Sometimes the administration is even accused of trying to divert the public's attention -- perhaps because a presidential election is coming up.
All of those things happened...in 1983, when Ronald Reagan was president and when a shocking number of American Marines and other service members -- 241, to be exact -- were killed in the terrorist car bombing of their compound in Beirut, Lebanon, where they'd been dispatched in a muddled peacekeeping mission. The parallels between Reagan, and what happened in Beirut some 30 years ago, and what happened in Benghazi under President Obama are rather striking, though.
Both presidents were struggling in their first terms, with high unemployment and low approval ratings. Their missions -- to Lebanon then and to Libya more recently -- were rooted in similar instincts to avoid genocide, then clouded by the difficulty in knowing just who the good guys were, in violent, chaotic failed states. But there were differences between then and now, however. After a not very long interval of time after the deadly bombing, Reagan brought U.S. troops home from the region -- a decision that nowadays would be called "cut and run" cowardice to be avoided at any price..
Yes, 1983 was a different time in America. It was possible for a president to acknowledge -- in his deeds and sometimes even in his words -- that despite good intentions, "mistakes were made," and that we'd try to get it right going forward. People respected that. Reagan's Middle Eastern policy had its critics (one of them was a new GOP congressman from Arizona named John McCain) as you would hope in a democracy, but there was no national witch-hunt to take down the president, despite the massive loss of life in Beirut Instead, people rallied around Reagan, who won 49 states in 1984.
Obama was also re-elected, less than two months after the murder of four Americans in Benghazi, but that's where the similarities end. A year later, millions of Americans -- the people I once called the 26 Percenters -- are rallying...against their president. That makes sense -- after all the Gipper didn't have a 24-hour cable news network frothing conspiracy theories about him, with a supporting chorus of radio voices, back in the Big '80s.
But Barack Obama has that -- and a Republican faction that will say anything, now matter how stupid it sounds, to appeal to that constituency of dittoheads. Said Iowa GOP Rep.Steve King: "If you link Watergate and Iran-contra together and multiply it times maybe 10 or so, you're going to get in the zone where Benghazi is."
That's just...silly. Watergate was a conscious, illegal scheme hatched in the Oval Office to subvert the Constitution through spying and dirty tricks on political opponents. If you'd rather pick on a Democratic president, think about Lyndon Johnson, who misled and often outright lied to the American people about the 1964 incident that sparked the wider war in Vietnam and then about how the war was going. That was different from Benghazi, not just because it wasn't four people who died, but 58,000 Americans and many, many more Vietnamese. The difference was also the matter of intent.
As I noted back in September, the loss of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods was beyond heartbreaking. When a tragedy of that proportion takes place, Americans want all the facts to come out...and for the most part that has happened. Government officials who make mistakes should be reassigned, or resign...and this has happened. You want whistleblowers? Me too. I'm grateful for the U.S. officials who's spoken freely this week, even if they've added little to what we already know. To be less hypocritical going forward, please join with me in supporting John Kiriakou and the other whistleblowers wrongly prosecuted by the Obama administration.
Because the thing that really gets to me is what a colossal waste of time and energy this Benghazi witch-hunt really is. Ironically, Obama's second term is off to an underwhelming start. Some of his actions -- the expansion of spying on American citizems, or his lack of urgency in dealing with a humanitarian crisis at Gitmo -- are truly outrageous. And besides, America's real problem at this moment isn't what happened in Libya but what is still happening in places like Youngstown, Ohio -- and the lack of jobs. Imagine a world where the likes of McCain or Sen. Lindsey Graham spent even half as much time looking for a jobs solution as they spent looking for a conspiracy 9,000 miles from home.
But hey, all of this is just bouncing off that tin-foil party hat that Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck handed you at the front door. But maybe you could take it off and think for yourself, just this one time. Is Benghazi really a crime? Like Watergate. Or is it a tragedy wrapped in human error?Like Beirut.