Campaign 2016 Begins In Benghazi

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Darrell Issa, who made a fortune in car alarms, is now blaring his sirens before the start of a Wednesday hearing on the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. The California Republican and his staff are promising a parade of whistle-blowers, who they say will expose inconsistencies, contradictions and unanswered questions in the Obama administration's account of the attack that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

"Jay Carney said that there are no new questions about Benghazi," said Issa spokesman Fred Hill, referring to the White House press secretary. "But after this hearing and what the witnesses have to say, the public will conclude that there are lots of new questions."

Maybe so, but Wednesday's session of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee isn't really meant to be -- and won't be -- a sober reexamination of what the administration did or did not say or do.

The hearing and the leak fest leading up to it are mostly about political payback, Hillary Clinton and the 2016 presidential campaign.

Issa is happy to play point man in a wide-ranging, coordinated GOP/conservative effort to diminish the president as a terror-fighting commander-in-chief, tarnish Clinton's lofty image as the early 2016 frontrunner, and recapture for Republicans an advantage they enjoyed for decades as the "tough on defense" party.

It's a long way from here to there, but that is where Issa is headed.

Hill indicated that Issa is likely to convene at least one, if not several, more hearings, and he wouldn't rule out the possibility of calling former Secretary of State Clinton, who is now in private life.

"We can't rule anything out, and there are other names of interest that are surfacing from the State Department as we go through this," Hill said.

Democrats are quick to point out that the department under GOP scrutiny was run by a possible future standard-bearer of the Democratic Party.

"I doubt that they would be pursuing this with as much fervor if Hillary were not the prohibitive frontrunner for '16," said David Axelrod, a leading Democratic operative who was President Barack Obama's top political strategist.

Even conservatives concede that Clinton's central role in the Benghazi saga -- or at least in questions about it -- make further investigation politically irresistible, certainly to the conservative core of the Republican Party.

"The witnesses are going to raise questions," said Keith Appell, a conservative GOP media strategist who is working on the issue, "but Hillary is at ground zero, and that elevates it. There is no getting around that."

The Benghazi bandwagon has attracted the usual suspects on the right: from Rush Limbaugh to The Weekly Standard, as well as GOP lawyers experienced in political-legal scandal agitation, such as the husband-and-wife team of Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing.

But apart from scuffing up Clinton -- and finding a way to tarnish Obama as well -- the GOP has a larger goal: to reestablish some version of preeminence as the party of toughness and savvy in military and global affairs.

"There is no doubt that they are eager to grab back the national security cloak," said Axelrod.

From Richard Nixon through George H.W. Bush, Republicans had the upper hand as the pro-Pentagon party of military preparedness and vigilance. President George W. Bush's mistakes and President Obama's success in killing Osama bin Laden changed the equation.

The results were plain in the exit polls of the 2012 election between Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney. The president led Romney by a striking 56 percent to 33 percent among voters who said they cared most about foreign policy.

Asked whether they would trust Obama in an international crisis, voters responded "yes" by a margin of 57 percent to 42 percent -- a net 15 points. Asked the same question about Romney, voters also said "yes," but only by 50 percent to 46 percent.

"Bush got hammered for the 'Mission Accomplished' banner by Democrats and the media," said Appell. "Well, it turns out that they were throwing stones from a glass house. Obama was going around in 2012 saying 'mission accomplished' on al Qaeda and terrorism after Osama was killed, and it wasn't true. That's the point."

In other words, the 2016 campaign has begun, more than three years before Election Day -- not in Iowa or New Hampshire, but in Libya.



Hillary Clinton Benghazi Testimony - The Faces