The Downside of the Republican Benghazi Game

In the latest issue of the Washington Monthly, our fearless editor in chief Paul Glastris makes an astute historical point about the Iranian Hostage Crisis:

In the eleven years prior to the hostage crisis, five U.S. ambassadors were murdered by militants and terrorists in places like Lebanon, Guatemala, and the Sudan. None of those losses, which occurred under presidents of both parties, was seen by the public or in Washington as a grievous insult to America generally, or through a partisan filter, or as evidence of systematic failure by the U.S. government requiring root-to-branch investigations with presumptions of perfidy at the top. Rather, they were treated the same way [Libyan ambassador] Chris Stevens’s murder (the first of a U.S. ambassador since 1979) should be seen: as brave diplomats killed in the line of duty.

To explain why Steven’s murder wasn’t treated the same way as previous ambassadorial losses, Glatris goes further back than I did in my piece: The Origin of Benghazi Fever.

…because [the Iranian Hostage Crisis] happened on Jimmy Carter’s watch, in the midst of a presidential race, and ended at the very moment Ronald Reagan was sworn into office, the crisis validated Republicans’ inner sense that they and only they could be trusted to protect America’s security. Second, the crisis turned the general subject of the safety of U.S. diplomats into a political and ideological issue in a way it never had been.

So, in this telling, the seeds of Benghazi! outrage were sown in the way the Iranian Hostage Crisis went down– particularly in how it ended.

The effect of this outrage, however, has been to make the State Department and our diplomatic corp incredibly cautious lest another tragedy happen which, we now know, will be exploited to the final ends of the Earth by Republican mouth-breathing congressmen.

Stevens, who spoke the Libyan dialect of Arabic, lived openly in Benghazi with minimal security. His actions during that period became legendary among U.S. diplomats. It was an act of patriotic bravery, repeated a year late when, as ambassador, he returned to Benghazi, knowing as well as anyone the poor security situation there. We need more Chris Stevenses in our diplomatic corps. The Republicans in Congress are doing everything they can to make sure we have fewer, even if that isn’t their intention.

In today’s New York Times, Congressman Adam Schiff calls for an end to the select congressional committee investigating Benghazi. Schiff is a minority member of that committee, as well as the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

His rationale for shuttering the committee is primarily that it has broken its promises to be evenhanded and gone on the exact kind of partisan fishing expedition that Democrats assumed it would become. But another reason it should close is the one that Glastris pointed out: this kind of gotcha politics is actively harming our diplomatic mission in the world by making the State Department too gun shy to do its job the way it should be done.

We need to be talking to people, not worrying that the Republicans will exploit any tragedy in a conscienceless and opportunistic and wholly partisan way.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.