On CBS’s Face the Nation this week, GOP Congressman Darrel Issa held forth once again on the Obama Administration’s “failures” surrounding the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya last October. Later this week his Congressional Committee will open hearings.
Other Republicans pontificated about the President’s failure to “move decisively” to intervene in the civil war in Syria.
It is increasingly clear that some in the GOP have decided to launch a frontal assault on the Obama Administration’s conduct of foreign policy.
Their behavior pretty much defines the term shameless since it comes from the Party whose ideologically-driven agenda very recently created some of the greatest foreign policy disasters in American history.
Why are these attacks so brazen and outrageous?
Let’s take Issa’s revival of the Benghazi “scandal.”
The original Republican narrative about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was premised on the assumption that President Obama failed to recognize that the attack involved “terrorism.” This charge is still being made today despite the fact that the President himself – several days after the event – referred to the event as “act of terror.”
GOP critics persist in this criticism, not withstanding the fact that the issue was at the center of one of the most memorable moments in one of last year’s Presidential debates when Mitt Romney made a major gaff by arguing that the President had failed to recognize the attack as “terrorism” and was then corrected by moderator Candy Crowley who pointed out that the President’s account of events was correct.
The GOP critics persist in criticizing UN Ambassador Susan Rice for delivering “talking points” on the Sunday talk shows immediately following the attack that concluded the attacks had resulted from a spontaneous demonstration rather than a planned assault. But those critics continue to ignore that at the time, that was the conclusion of the intelligence community – a conclusion that was later changed based on more complete information.
All you need to do is look at the changing contemporary accounts of the Boston Marathon bombings or the Newtown shootings to understand how first reports concerning violent events often change.
But more to the point, what benefit would the Administration have gained by lying about the circumstances surrounding the events anyway?
Now Congressman Issa seems intent on arguing that the Administration failed to properly secure the Benghazi compound from attack. Of course there is little question that the compound did not have enough security, since several of its occupants were killed. And there are certainly operational lessons that can be learned from these events. But the Republicans conveniently ignore that they had been the authors of cuts in the State Department’s security budget – and that the person ultimately in charge of decisions involving the diplomatic mission to Libya was the Ambassador who himself was killed.
What possible reason would the Obama Administration have to intentionally provide too little security to its own Ambassador?
You have to assume that by continuing to pursue the Benghazi “scandal” story the GOP is trying to imply that President Obama is “soft on terrorism,” when in fact he has done more to destroy the Al Qaeda terrorist network than the Neo-Cons who surrounded George W. Bush could ever have dreamed – including the demise of Osama Bin Laden.
And Syria? Every day you hear some new GOP spokesman attacking the President for being “indecisive.” But as Cokie Roberts pointed out on ABC last Sunday, the moment you ask them what they propose to do, they start dancing around anything specific.
The problem is that there are no great options in Syria. The war in Syria is a battle between the Alawite Shia minority of President Assad and various factions of the Sunni majority. It is also a multi-polar proxy war between Iran and its ally Hezbollah – the Gulf State monarchies –the Muslim Brotherhood political parties that have come to power in Egypt – the moderate Islamic Party that rules Turkey – the Russians – and the United States and its European allies.
In fact, the polling shows that most Americans are thrilled that President Obama has not precipitously thrust America into another war in the Middle East.
America certainly does have an interest in helping to prevent the conflict in Syria from spinning further out of control – and to protect any more innocent civilians from being killed or made into refugees. But all you need to do is look at the unforeseen consequences of previous interventions in the Middle East to understand why the President should be very deliberate in his choice of options.
You can go all the way back to the “brilliant” CIA sponsored coup against Iran’s progressive democratically-elected Prime Minister Mosoddegh. That coup restored the monarchy – the Shah of Iran – whose oppressive rule ultimately gave us all the Ayatollah Khomeini and the theocracy in Iran.
Or there was the completely unnecessary, elective War in Iraq that drained our economy of trillions of dollars, cost thousands of American and Iraqi lives, made millions refugees and put an Iranian ally in power in Baghdad.
And it would probably be a bad idea to repeat the Reagan Administration’s ill-advised intervention in Afghanistan to support the Mujahedeen fighting the Soviet-backed secular government. By arming the insurgents with Stinger missiles that could down Soviet helicopters we certainly did help hasten the fall of the Afghan government and the withdrawal of the Soviet troops that were backing it. But at the same time we helped to create the Taliban that provided safe haven to Al Qaeda, that not too many years later attacked the United States on 9/11 – and with whom we have been at war ever since.
The United States has no interest in providing arms to factions of the Syrian insurrection that may one day be turned against us, or our allies.
There is some evidence that the secular, democratic forces within the insurgency have become better organized and have begun to consolidate in the Syrian Free Army. And you can bet, that the Administration will pursue additional policy options as a result of the reported use of chemical weapons by Assad's forces. But Al Nusra – an affiliate of the Al Qaeda in Iraq – is still a major presence. The Administration wants to assure that any military aide intended to hasten the departure of Assad increases the likelihood that after Assad’s departure, Syria has a chance at becoming a peaceful, democratic society instead of a failed state or hotbed of Radical Islam. That’s not “indecisive,” that’s smart.
Is this President decisive? Just ask the late Osama Bin Laden. Or, speaking of Benghazi, ask the former dictator of Libya, Muammar Qadhafi, what happened when he threatened to annihilate that city’s entire population.
In fact, this President has shown himself to be precisely the kind of decisive, smart, cool-under fire leader that you want when the stakes are really high. He has rejected the kind of bull in the china closet bluster that led America into the War in Iraq – and provided a better recruiting poster for terrorists than they could ever have created on their own. Instead, he has focused on developing true multi-national coalitions to accomplish critical missions. And in addition, he understands that the last thing America wants or needs is another war.
There are certainly elements of this Administration’s foreign policy that should be changed. But most of those, like following through on his commitment to close the Guantanamo prison, are not the targets of Republican criticism. Rather they result from obstacles erected by Republicans themselves.
In the end, recent Republican attacks on President Obama’s foreign policy may be brazen, outrageous and infuriating. But they will have very little lasting political effect. In fact, try as they might, the Neo-Cons who still dominate Republican foreign policy are swimming upstream against a very strong current of public opinion that opposes more wars.
In the last election – for the first time in a generation – Democrats had the political high-ground on foreign policy – both because of the dismal failures of the Bush years, and because of the crisp, decisive and effective performance of President Obama, Hillary Clinton and their foreign policy team during the Administration’s first four years.
The next time you see Darrel Issa or Lindsey Graham or Liz Cheney on television attacking Obama Administration foreign policy, ask yourself if we confronted a major international crisis in the Middle East, or Korea, or somewhere we have never dreamed about – who would you rather have responding to that 3AM phone call – George Bush, Dick Cheney and their gang -- or Barack Obama?