By Josh Jones
The decision of Speaker John Boehner and other House Republicans to establish a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attacks of September 11, 2012, has been predictably controversial. Ever since the tragedy occurred – in the midst of President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, no less – the issue has become increasingly partisan, with Democrats rolling their eyes any time Republicans revisit the “phony scandal.”
It was with not a little exasperation last week that Democrats reminded Republicans of the 13 hearings, 50 briefings and thousands of pages of text already uncovered by prior investigations. And denouncing the select committee as a “kangaroo court,” many on the left have claimed that the select committee is nothing more than an effort to energize the GOP base in a midterm election year.
But this is not a good position for Democrats to take. For one, it would be foolish to deny that a lot did go wrong in Benghazi – before and after the killings. From the seven congressional hearings to date, it is clear that the State Department repeatedly ignored requests for heightened security at the American compound there. It is also evident that as quickly as the day after the tragedy, State Department official Elizabeth Jones informed the Libyan ambassador that Benghazi was an attack carried out by extremists affiliated with the terrorist network Ansar al-Sharia. The CIA and military also believed the same.
Yet even as Libyan President Mohamed Mogariaf asserted that “[t]he idea that this criminal and cowardly act was a spontaneous protest that just spun out of control is completely unfounded and preposterous,” the State Department altered the CIA talking points for U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. Rice, who appeared on all five major Sunday talk shows to explain the Obama Administration’s point of view, maintained: “In fact, this was not a preplanned, premeditated attack[;] what happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video.”
The most recent select committee was formed in response to an email released just this month, which reveals that Rice was specifically instructed to make clear that protests in the Middle East were “rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”
Yes, former Secretary of State Clinton long ago accepted responsibility for the mistakes made on her watch and resigned from her post shortly thereafter. But to this day, not one individual has been fired or properly held accountable for the failures at Benghazi.
Regardless of these facts, there is no doubt that the worst thing Democrats can do right now is exactly what they’re doing. Shortly after the announcement, Democrats threatened to boycott the select committee if, amongst other things, they were not allowed to preapprove all witnesses.
It is hard to imagine a worse strategy. Instead, the Democrats should help the Republicans proceed full speed ahead. If there is truly nothing left to find, the GOP will waste precious political capital chasing a scandal that never was. Few things would be more embarrassing or politically damaging to the Republican Party than holding yet another Benghazi investigation only to come up empty. On the other hand, any attempt to stonewall the process only perpetuates the appearance of wrongdoing or a cover-up on the part of the Administration.
Many are understandably frustrated when lawmakers grandstand or continually rehash the same battles over and over again. In reality, the fact that both parties tend to fixate so much on certain issues – say, the Republicans on Obamacare or the Democrats on the minimum wage – is actually a sign of a healthy democracy. After all, isn’t the whole point of having representative government to elect legislators and administrators who carry out the will of the people?
The priorities of the people should always be the priorities of its politicians. If constituents are urging their representatives to dig deeper into Benghazi – a recent Rasmussen poll confirmed that 51 percent of Americans believe the issue merits further investigation – then that is exactly what politicians should spend their time doing. And if lawmakers misread our true needs or desires, it is our responsibility and ours alone to send that message at the ballot box. Soon we will have the opportunity to do just that.
Contact Josh Jones at jjones5 “at” stanford.edu.