Benghazi Blues: Political and Media Non-Seriousness on Dramatic Display

What a great dozen-day stretch Hillary Clinton has just had. First a very impressive performance in the first Democratic presidential debate. Followed by the rapid-fire sequential cessation of the presidential hopes of Vice President Joe Biden and the actual presidential campaigns of former Virginia Senator and Navy Secretary Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee. Then her mostly masterful 11-hour appearance before the House Get-Hillary, er, Benghazi Committee, followed by a strong Saturday night performance at the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, where she has regained the lead over principal challenger Bernie Sanders.

Hillary Clinton looks more like the next President of the United States than anyone else. And that's something to take very seriously, as it's no unalloyed prospect.

What is not to be taken seriously is the treatment of the Benghazi disaster by the political and media communities. Yes, the hapless House Benghazi Committee has been revealed to be the cynical, intellectually lightweight, hyper-partisan clown show many of us figured it was all along. But that's thanks to the stupidity of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican and wannabe Speaker who so helpfully revealed the true purpose of the committee on Fox News.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton turned in a very strong performance before the House Get-Hillary, er, Benghazi Committee. But stress and fatigue do add up in politics, as this coughing jag demonstrates.

Lost in all the partisan ping-pong around this spectacularly dismal fact is that we still don't really know that much about the Benghazi disaster itself.

Let's be clear up top. What went down there on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 is not about Hillary Clinton. It never was. Which is why the Republican strategy to use Benghazi to destroy her front-running presidential candidacy was always doomed to ultimate failure. Innuendo alone, especially when endlessly repeated by a complicit or complacent media, is enough to significantly damage a politician. But in the end, it can't all be smoke. There has to be a significant fire linked directly to the politician. And in Hillary's case, there is none. Because she was just the secretary of state.

Not that Hillary has much to be proud of on the, despite incongruously describing our Libyan involvement, during the Las Vegas debate, as "smart power at its best." Our Libyan intervention, which I supported -- accounting for my particular interest in why the Benghazi disaster occurred -- boomeranged on us in spectacular fashion.

But even though Hillary was the principal mover in getting the U.S. government to back the French and British in their quickly sputtering drive to depose longtime Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi after he promised to to massacre his Arab Spring protest opponents, she's not responsible for what happened in Benghazi. For it was the CIA, not the State Department, that took the U.S. government lead in the Libyan coastal city which had become a hotbed of Islamist intrigue following Gaddafi's ouster and murder.

Nor was Hillary responsible for then UN Ambassador/now National Security Advisor Susan Rice's ludicrous statements on the Sunday TV chat shows five days after the attack that it was a protest against a vicious hate-Islam video produced in the United States that got out of control.

Hillary is far too smart to say something like that. Rice didn't really work for her as ambassador to the UN, she is a longtime partisan "attackademic" who was carrying water for President Barack Obama's re-election. In the 2008 campaign, she savaged Hillary on Obama's behalf.

The Obama political line at the time of the Benghazi disaster was that terrorism had been defeated by the Navy SEAL raid which bagged Osama bin Laden four months earlier. An incongruous line, of course, since Obama was actually conducting a secret war of drone strikes and special ops raids around the world, any one of which might have incited a retaliatory attack. So Rice, buttressed by a politically spun-up "intelligence memo" of talking points, sallied forth saying that the Benghazi attacks were part of a protest that emerged the same day in Cairo against Innocence of Muslims.

In reality, the hate-Islam video had been playing repeatedly in Cairo, where Islamists were whipping up anger. Later it spurred protests across the Islamic world. But the video was not playing in Benghazi, and it was quickly apparent that there had been no protest there, only a series of attacks on the supposed U.S. "consulate" and on a secret CIA base nearby.

That didn't stop the usual hyper-partisan ping-pong around Rice's silly statements which was directly contradicted in real time on one of the shows she appeared on by a senior Libyan official. But as I wrote at the time, the Rice statements were deeply non-serious, and foolishly non-serious at that.

For the supposed "consulate," at which Ambassador Chris Stevens encountered his fate, was not a consulate. It was a "temporary" facility which actually was used mostly by CIA personnel. The "consulate" was cover.

In fact, of the more than 30 Americans evacuated from Benghazi, only seven worked for the State Department. The rest were CIA. And most of the American casualties in the Benghazi disaster were CIA as well.

Why was the supposed "consulate" and the so-called CIA annex nearby attacked?

What were all those CIA folks doing in Benghazi?

We still don't know.

To be clear, without addressing the CIA role in the Benghazi disaster, this is like watching a movie with most of the characters edited out. It's incoherent and simply incomprehensible.

Yet the media basically accepts this nonsensical lack of credible narrative, focusing instead on the shallow partisan ping-pong of it all.

For those who are overly excited about the exposure of the Republicans' House Benghazi Committee gambit, let's not forget that it was only the stupidity of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy amazingly giving away the game to a goofily approving Sean Hannity on Fox News that allowed Hillary -- cool, tough, and smart though she proved to be under sustained pressure -- to emerge such a clearcut winner in her high-stakes appearance.

And now it is retroactively clear that the controversy over her private e-mails -- which the House committee discovered and spun up into an ongoing issue -- is really just part of an endless media gotcha game. Which, ironically, Hillary had tried to short-circuit by privatizing her e-mails in the first place.

The whole business about the e-mails never had anything to do with finding out how and why the Benghazi disaster happened. Or why no one has been punished for the attacks more than three years later. Hey, at least Obama never said, as George W. Bush so notoriously did: "You can run but you can't hide."

With regard to the bigger picture, in retrospect it was probably a mistake for those of us who supported Hillary et al in the Libyan intervention to do so. Even though Gaddafi provided the most blatant sort of provocation.

Because removing Gaddafi created a vacuum into which inordinate amounts of chaos were injected. And the US -- despite Hillary's cheerleading for the "Friends of Libya," a swiftly evanescent coalition of world leaders -- again lived down to its ADD standard of geopolitical focus and follow-up.

I don't know what the CIA was doing in Benghazi that might have led to the disaster there, though I've heard stories and read stories. In some versions, it was doing something good. In other versions, not so good.

It may well be that the CIA is not to blame, either. Bad things sometimes happen, especially in places that are spiraling out of control.

But the reality is that despite, or perhaps more accurately because of, years of hyper-partisan fighting and media coverage that provides much more heat than light, we still don't have a clear picture of the Benghazi disaster beyond the most basic results. And without that, we won't learn anything useful.

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