The Trump administration spent days lying about what led up to the decision to assassinate Soleimani. They insist that there were intelligence reports of “imminent” attacks, which they are unwilling to share with anyone. As all of those rationales began to fall apart, the president told us that it doesn’t really matter.
In other words, as Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy claimed, the president is free to assassinate “bad people.”
IOW, according to Republicans, the the president is free to assassinate “bad people.” https://t.co/6xbYuBNUsX
— Nancy LeTourneau (@Smartypants60) January 9, 2020
But the president’s claim that the intelligence doesn’t really matter reminded me of another story.
Back in 2012, Republicans became determined to find fault with the Obama administration over the attack on our government facility in Benghazi, Libya. Initially, they focused their blame on National Security Advisor Susan Rice. But as it became apparent that Hillary Clinton would run for president in 2016, they set their sites on her.
Most of us remember the admirable way that the former secretary of state handled herself during the 11-hour grilling she received from Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi in 2015. But prior to that, she testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January 2013, less than three months after the attack occurred. Under questioning by Senator Johnson, she responded angrily.
Here is the pertinent exchange:
Johnson: No, again, we were misled that there were supposedly protests and that something sprang out of that—an assault sprang out of that—and that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact, and the American people could have known that within days and they didn’t know that.
Clinton: With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator. Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information. The IC has a process, I understand, going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out. But you know, to be clear, it is, from my perspective, less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice, and then maybe we’ll figure out what was going on in the meantime.
The issue at the time was whether the attack began as a protest in response to an inflammatory anti-Muslim video or if it was a planned terrorist attack. What we eventually learned from those involved is that it was both.
To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck the United States Mission without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as members of a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.
Clinton’s point was that, at that moment, understanding what motivated the attack was not the priority. Four Americans were dead and the important issue was to find those who were responsible and hold them accountable.
None of that stopped Republicans from twisting Clinton’s words in order to launch vicious attacks. As a matter of fact, they made it a theme at the 2016 Republican Convention. For example, here is Mike Pence.
It was Hillary Clinton who left Americans in harm’s way in Benghazi. Then she said, “What difference at this point does it make?”
As the proud father of a United States Marine, let me say from my heart: Anyone who said that, anyone who did that should be disqualified from ever serving as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the United States of America.
Ted Cruz suggested that Democrats are the party “that responds to the death of Americans at Benghazi by asking, ‘What difference does it make?’”
Now, those same Republicans are defending a president who says that “it doesn’t really matter” why his administration decided to assassinate Soleimani and escalate tensions with Iran. The GOP has perfected the art of hypocrisy and employs it shamelessly.