Friday, October 23, 2015

What I Learned From Watching the Benghazi Hearing

Yes, I watched the entire 11 hours - although I must admit that my attention lagged every now and then. The Republicans on the committee threw everything they had at Hillary Clinton. Here are my two big take-aways from all that.

The line of questioning that came from Rep. Jim Jordan wasn't new...it's been the big accusation against President Obama, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton from the get-go. The claim is that all of them tried to fool the American people into believing that the anti-Muslim video that was sparking demonstrations all over the Middle East (both peaceful and violent) was the cause of what happened in Benghazi, when it was really a "terrorist" attack. I guess they forgot about the shellacking Romney took during the 2012 presidential debate when Obama allowed him to dig a disastrous hole with, "Please proceed, Governor."

But overall, this argument tells us a lot about Republicans. Clinton got into a lot of trouble during a previous Congressional investigation about Benghazi when she basically asked why all that mattered. From a reality-based perspective, she had a point.

It seems that for Republicans, the death of a U.S. Ambassador and 3 other Americans wouldn't matter as much if they were the result of protests rather than a terrorist attack. That kind of thinking is exactly why they get so perturbed that President Obama won't call ISIS "radical Islamists." It's all about the words you use rather than the actions those words describe.

For as long as I can remember, Republicans have been trying to scare us with the words they use to describe our adversaries. During the Cold War and McCarthy hearings, it was all about "communists." Reagan called the Soviet Union the "evil empire" and George W. Bush talked about the "axis of evil." And instead of going after those who were responsible for 9/11, the Bush/Cheney administration launched the "global war on terrorism."

Given all that, Republicans know that Benghazi isn't an adequate vehicle for fear mongering unless we call it a "terror attack." If, instead, it was the result of an angry mob reacting to an anti-Muslim video, that dilutes the message. But in the end, as Clinton said, what difference does it really make? Would our response be any different if there was a slight change in what we learned about what motivated the attackers? I'd suggest that a reasonable response (not the kind we got from Bush/Cheney to 9/11) would not.

As is often the case, reality is a bit more nuanced than Republicans try to paint it. We learned that when one of the leaders of the Benghazi attack - Ahmed Abu Khattala - was captured.
Despite extensive speculation about the possible role of Al Qaeda in directing the attack, Mr. Abu Khattala is a local, small-time Islamist militant. He has no known connections to international terrorist groups, say American officials briefed on the criminal investigation and intelligence reporting, and other Benghazi Islamists and militia leaders who have known him for many years...

On the day of the attack, Islamists in Cairo had staged a demonstration outside the United States Embassy there to protest an American-made online video mocking Islam, and the protest culminated in a breach of the embassy’s walls — images that flashed through news coverage around the Arab world.

As the attack in Benghazi was unfolding a few hours later, Mr. Abu Khattala told fellow Islamist fighters and others that the assault was retaliation for the same insulting video, according to people who heard him.
In other words, one of the leaders of the attack had no known connections to international terrorist groups and used the video as a tool to recruit fighters to join in the attack. On the other hand, it was not a spontaneous reaction from protesters. It was a planned attack. People like Rep. Jim Jordan seem incapable of grasping that kind of nuance. Here he is lecturing former Secretary Clinton:
"You picked the video narrative. You picked the one with no evidence. And you did it because Libya was supposed to be...this great success story," he said during one of his filibusters. "You can live with a protest about a video. That won't hurt you. But a terrorist attack will."
That, my friends, is the best distillation of Republican confusion about Benghazi that you'll find anywhere.

The other thing I learned from watching these hearings is all about Hillary Clinton. I've always known that she is smart. But two things I've heard about her - especially during this campaign - is that her age is an issue and she tends to be evasive rather than direct when she feels challenged. Those two critiques were banished as completely irrelevant yesterday.

The kind of stress a president is under is only secondarily physical. It is mostly emotional. We need to know that the person we elect to that position is capable of keeping their cool when a lot of difficult things come their way. At 67, Hillary Clinton just withstood 11 hours (minus breaks) of people coming at her with every kind of attack and negative insinuation they could find. She did something I'm pretty sure I couldn't have done under those circumstances...kept her cool and answered every question with intelligence and patience. Here's how Jeb Lund summarized it:
She didn't lose her cool under circumstances that would have sent any of us screaming for the exit or climbing over the dais to try to brain someone with a shoe. She was by far the most prepared person at the hearings and the most fluent in the details. She said the two funniest lines of the day, broke into a big natural grin, delivered a fairly riveting account of the fog of war during the events of the compound attack, and became visibly affected when talking about those harmed during it. The Republicans on the Benghazi committee just inadvertently put her through an 11-hour stress test of her intelligence, patience and composure as a leader. They just vetted their own opposition, and they did it through such a protracted, disingenuous, confused and obnoxious display that even people who have every right to feel ambivalent about her doubtless felt a twinge of sympathy.
People will continue to have their policy differences with Clinton. But no one can doubt that she's got what it takes to do the job.

2 comments:

  1. I did not see every moment - it was incredibly repetitive so took breaks when I could - but was awed by her poise, calm, mastery of detail. The GOP were as ludicrous as they had been questioning Cecile Richards. The one moment I dearly loved yesterday was when, as she answered a stupid question, the questioner tried to interrupt. She simply held up her hand as you would to whiny small and unruly children, and carried on. I thought it interesting that this "mom" moment actually worked with the rude GOP questioner, but it did. That told me so much about her calm, their insecurities. Loved it a lot!

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  2. I have watched a lot of Congressional hearrings in the past, even as a child, Watergate. But I have never seen anything so disorganized and abusive as this was. Gowdy's arrogance and pettiness and childish snarkiness was for a lot of people the epitomy of everything wrong with Congress.There's so much hypocrisy involved it is hard to find only one aspect.

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