Well, good morning people, and welcome once again to the chronicle of American colony collapse disorder known as your Sunday morning liveblog of the twit-patter of the Sunday political shows. My name is Jason, and I'll remind you also that it is Mother's Day, so don't forget to celebrate wombs today! It was the last place you were ever really happy, you realize. Man, it would be great to get to lay in the fetal position whilst being lapped by warm amniotic fluid again, wouldn't it?
Anyway, today we will have a lot of the OMG BENGHAZI argybargy. If you are not familiar with OMG BENGHAZI, it is sort of like OMG BEN KINGSLEY, but you should pay attention to the differences, more than the similiarities. Probably you should also assume that the 2016 attack ads are being crafted, as well, but we might all be living in the woods by 2016, so it shouldn't be your immediate concern. Max Read has explained all of this pretty well; I am going to quote his list of possible/proposed scandals, in "increasing order of craziness":
- The scandal is the State Department's failure to adequately protect and secure the Benghazi compound, despite requests to do so from Ambassador Stevens. This is an actual, documented failure, and basically everyone agrees that it is a scandal, and it is what the State Department's own report, released in December, found: "Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels…resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place." It's also not what anyone in Congress seems to care about.
- The scandal is the administration's failure to undertake immediate military action as soon as it heard that attacks were taking place. This week House Republicans paraded a series of witnesses in front of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to testify that the Obama administration and the Pentagon didn't do everything they could have to save the Benghazi consulate. The idea seems to be that there is some badass special operations team that could have been instantly deployed to rescue the Benghazi personnel—but the Pentagon has flatly denied this, and the numbers don't add up anyway.
- The scandal is that the administration attempted to cover up the fact that Benghazi was a terrorist attack, so the news wouldn't harm Obama in the election. This is the one that has mainstream conservatives salivating. They're specifically interested in the talking points used by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who (during appearances on Sunday talk shows) said that the attack grew out of spontaneous protests; today, ABC's Jonathan Karl released a series of a memos showing how the State Department successfully lobbied for the removal of some references to terrorists. This, Republicans claim, proves—uh, well it proves that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney lied about there being no "substantive" revisions to the talking points, depending on how you define "substantive." The memos don't make the State Department look noble, but they also show that before and throughout the revision process the top talking point across all memos was still about spontaneous protests—and that the motivation was more inter-agency cover-your-ass jockeying than protecting Obama.
- The scandal is that the Benghazi consulate was a CIA front being used to sell arms to Syrian rebels. This is what, uh, Senator Rand Paul seems to believe (or at least seems to think it's convenient for him to seem to believe): "I’ve actually always suspected that, although I have no evidence, that maybe we were facilitating arms leaving Libya going through Turkey into Syria," he told CNN. In fairness to Paul, part of whatever confusing and misdirection was happening around Benghazi was the CIA lying because the CIA lies without regard to party. (One thing those ABC memos do show is the CIA trying to foist all blame off on the State Department.) But as Paul himself acknowledges, this particular conspiracy theory has almost nothing to do with the mainstream "Obama was unready and tried to cover up the terrorism" line—it's more of an InfoWars thing than a Daily Caller thing. Nevertheless, it insinuates that something bad happened, so it gets play.
- The scandal is that the Obama administration colluded with terrorists, possibly to fake a kidnapping that would result in the release of the 1993 World Trade Center bomber Omar Abdel Rahman, as an October surprise. The Atlantic Wire's Elspeth Reeve runs this one down. I don't even know.
Most of that tracks, in that the bulk of what appears to have gone on here are the bog-standard intra- and inter-agency CYA misadventures on which Washington is built, with a generous soupcon of clandestine chicanery. We will probably have to wait a few years for Jeremy Scahill to write the book about how Benghazi was lousy with CIA spooks and JSOC operators, all providing a ripe target for that cohort of the Libyan rebels who like to earn merit badges for pulling a Mogadishu.
The salient thing I'd point out though is with all this in mind, hearing that focus on these things won't actually solve a problem. To actually be of value, our dimestore Jacobins must ask the most pertinent question of all: "So, that Libyan intervention didn't work out, did it?" That's really the policy that we should be putting on trial, here -- going into Libya at all. Four dead Americans in Libya are a natural consequence of being in Libya. Be sad, sure, but don't pretend to be surprised.
The reason this question doesn't get asked is because most of the Benghazi critics want to do the same stuff in Syria, amid the same strange promises that there won't be "boots on the ground" and "only the good rebels will get lethal weapons."
And that's why you can't have nice things! So, let's start not having them, right now, so we can finish sooner and get on with our day. As always, the usual -- feel free to converse in the comments, drop me a line if you need, follow me on Twitter if you want, check out my Rebel Mouse page if you're bored.
FOX NEWS SUNDAY
Today, Chris Wallace will Benghargle with Representatives Mike Rogers (R-Mich) and Adam Smith (D-Wash) and then he'll let Mark Sanford get handsy, and then there will be a panel, probably.
First, though, OMGhazi, Wallace characterizes this as a scandal rooted in "talking points," so right away you know you can sit back and relax because there will be no inquiry into the wisdom of the Libyan intervention itself. Instead, some random House Committeemembers (Rogers and Smith) will yell at one another.
Did the Obama administration mislead or lie to the American people? Rogers says that all we know is that between the 11th of September and the 16th of September, an incident that went light on mention that terrorists like al Qaeda or Ansar al-Sharia became an incident inextricably linked to terrorism, and not directly to the outrage over that "Innocence of Muslims" YouTube -- which had on the same day sparked protests and attacks elsewhere.
From there, conclusions must be made on a spectrum between two poles -- one on end there is "Confusing thing happens in the middle of the night amid a host of other confusing things and it took a while to get it all sorted out" and "Everyone rushed to pretend that the bad thing that happened was not the sort of bad thing we don't want talked about in the weeks before an election." That's what Rogers is getting at -- he says the question is "Did the White House change the narrative" and why.
Rogers says that he things that it's more on the side of "Everyone rushed to pretend that the bad thing that happened was not the sort of bad thing we don't want talked about in the weeks before an election." But, he says, that's what the inquiry is about. Which is great, but you should be more upfront about the fact that the inquiry won't actually solve a problem. Unless you're stupid enough to believe that these sort of cover-your-ass operations don't go on every day.
As Kris Belisle explains in the book BAILOUT, "The number one goal of most agencies is, frankly, to try and make the principal [Washington-speak for the head of the agency] look good, no matter what the actual facts are, even if it means lying to or misleading the press." This will be true of the agencies in the future Rand Paul administration, too.
Meanwhile Smith says that no one had "conclusions" about what happened by week's end after the incident, both Obama and Rice had referred to "terrorists" and "extremists" by the 18th, and he thinks that the most important question to answer is "who were the extremist elements." Smith also points out the al Qaeda has "metastasized" beyond Afghanistan. That, I think -- al Qaeda's sharpening presence in Africa and the Arabian peninsula -- is the sort of thing that the White House prefers to downplay (for a host of different reasons).
Wallace points out that the State Department's Victoria Nuland wanted references in the "talking points" to terrorism deleted from earier editions. Wallace points out that Jay Carney had initially insisted that the alteration had to do with calling the facility in Benghazi a "facility" and not a "consulate." Wallace is asking Adam Smith of Carney lied, but that's actually not a question that needs to be asked, because Jay Carney is what's commonly known as a "White House Press Secretary," and so of course you know the answer to that one already.
Smith reiterates that he'd rather identify the people responsible for the attacks, than the people responsible for editing a memo. But you know, the one thing you can say about the people who edit memos is that they don't murder a lot of people!
Wallace goes at Rogers, now, noting that the people who claim that OMGhazi is "all politics" have a point, because Dick Cheney is skulking around telling GOP Representatives to subpoena Hillary Clinton and other groups are running attack ads on the matter -- the universal sign for, "We do not take this seriously."
Rogers says that yeah, dumb people will "take advantage and make it political" but he insists that the hearings that are being held are "serious" and not political. He also says that there will be more "whistleblowers," and more hearings to come.
Wallace pivots to the ongoing crisis in Syria and asks if Assad is "winning." Rogers says that Hezbollah fighters, fighting in uniform alongside Assad's forces, indicate that outside forces (Iran proxies, being the salient point) are working to "bolster the regime" and that this is "dangerous."
He calls for "U.S. leadership before this escalates," which means he is calling for a set of steps to be taken that will inevitably lead to Americans dying in the same way they did in Benghazi. It's wonderful when a man pre-emptively tells you that he plans on not learning from mistakes.
LOL, Wallace basically accuses Smith -- who perhaps would rather not see a repeat of OMGhazi in Syria -- of wanting to stand by and watch violence consume the planet. Smith says that he would like to see a "specific military option" proposed, and that no one has convinced him that there's a plan worth supporting out there. "Right now," he says, "my position is if we were to go in there and try to arm rebel groups, it would make the situation worse and there would be enormous risk of us getting dragged into a war we don't know the first thing about how it would come out and, second, that we would wind up arming groups and individuals that would wind up threatening us."
Rogers claims that "no one is suggesting that we'll get involved militarily," and that all anyone wants is for the United States to work with the Arab League on coordinating efforts, blah blah blah. Smith points out that we are already doing that, and Wallace wants to change the subject to the idiot IRS, who were caught out adding layers of needless scrutiny to Tea Party aligned political groups.
Smith says that he won't leap to conclusions until more specific findings are made, but it sounds like it's worth looking into. Rogers says that the IRS's actions are "as dangerous a problem that you can have," and that no matter your political persuasion, the IRS doing this kind of stuff should "send a chill up your spine." And, I mean, it used to? But you guys all voted for American citizens to be subject to warrantless wiretapping, so fearing the IRS specifically has sort of lost its cachet.
It's a good thing that none of those Tea Party groups had a Bloomberg terminal.
Rogers makes one last overture to Smith to join him in maybe doing more to get quagmired in Syria.
More coffee, please!
Late edition to your Sunday Reads pile: Dexter Filkins on the White House's debate over Syria.
Now, here's weird old Mark Sanford, heading back to the House of Representatives because the South Carolina had nobody else sitting around to run for this 1st District seat. Wallace points out that the big GOP funders wouldn't have anything to do with him, so what does that mean for his coming to Washington? Sanford says that he will be a "Republican with an independent streak," by which he means, I guess, he will occasionally up and disappear for long periods of time, in the nude.
Wallace points out that he once showed up to the statehouse in Columbia with a pair of pigs named "Pork" and "Barrel" to make a point about how it's not like he has extra-marital affairs about ALL species of life, just most of them. "Barrel" wasn't even his type.
Wallace asks Sanford if he has any original ideas on how to rein in the deficits, and the short answer is no, he doesn't. The long answer is "a collection of stuff that everyone always says about it."
What did Sanford learn from his personal scandal. Mostly nothing. He learned that being in a scandal really sucks. He's pretty sure he's learned something about "God's grace." Nobody gets as much "God's grace" as Mark Sanford, Mark Sanford has been claiming all this year. He describes a sermon he listened to, which he interpreted as being all about him. He is pretty sure that he has heroically triumphed over personal failings in a way that outpaces all other humans.
What do his kids think about their new mommy? Sanford mainly says that his son is right there at home with him with a whole bunch of college kids, and that's all he wants to say about that. He will not say when he is getting married to his Argentinian girlfriend. Eventually, this discussion just turns back around to political talking points.
Once upon a time, Wallace points out, Sanford was mulling running for President. He asks Sanford if he's dumb enough to still be mulling it, and Sanford smartly says that he is not quite that dumb, saying that he wants to be the best representative of the First District that he can be, really strive over the next two years to not run away and sleep with other districts, in other states.
"I would liken a party to a brand," says Sanford, who's new girlfriend got him a subscription to FAST COMPANY, or something.
Okay, let's jack it with the Fox News Sunday panel of Bill Kristol and Dennis Kucinich and Kim Strassel and Juan Williams.
Kristol says that Jay Carney's "credibility is shot" over OMGHazi, and that OMGghazi is now fundamentally what Obama's foreign policy is. (Actually, it's more about unlicensed drone attacks, but nevermind.) He then goes on to describe a foreign policy that will be the precise set of things he'll probably call for, in Syria.
Kucinich says that it "was wrong for us to intervene in Libya" and that OMGhazi proves that the policy was wrong from the beginning. He also essentially says that four deaths in Benghazi were a natural consequence of being in Libya in the first place. He goes on to say that "Look, we went into Benghazi under the assumption that somehow there was going to be a massacre in Benghazi, so we went there to protect the Libyan people. We couldn't go in to protect our own Americans who were serving there? I'm offended by this, and there has to be real answers to the questions being raised."
Especially before we are restaging OMGHazi in Aleppo!
Wallace questions whether the administration actually did anything wrong before or during the attack. Strassel says that we don't know, so there will probably be a "select committee" that will be empaneled and chances are, like the Super Committee, the end result of their work will be to make things worse.
Williams says that people should not be surprised at bureaucratic ass-covering in Washington. Wallace wants to fight him on that, because he is a newborn foal.
There is some cross-talk. Bill Kristol is glargling some glargle. Juan is juanning. The Kooch says it "remains to be seen" how much, if any, damage is done to Hillary Clinton's 2016 "brand."
"Forget about politics for a minute," Wallace says, which teaches you everything you need to know about OMGhazi -- your last question as you head to commercial will be the one that tries to not be steeped in "politics."
More panel. The IRS Inspector General will report that the IRS will flagging groups with the names "Tea Party" and "patriot" and "9/12 project" in their names and subjecting them to extra levels of scrutiny, which is, on the level of civil liberties, pretty gross. Kucinich basically says that, speaking as a liberal Democrat who nobody in the Tea Party particularly likes, the IRS can go hang. That sounds about right to me!
Wallace presents the notion that maybe this was all just bureaucratic nonsense, but Kucinich reckons that it's political targeting. The only way to settle the issue is to see if ALL NEW political organizations coming online during that timeframe were subjected to equal levels of scrutiny, or just the conservative ones. (We can also try to find out if some genius just thought you were going to catch up the lions share of new political groups just be using terms like "Tea Party" and "Constitution" and what-not.
Kristol says that he'd prefer all the groups running attack ads on various matters -- like OMGHazi -- to shut up for a while and let investigators get actually answers, if in fact that's what investigators are doing.
Williams says that the IRS is the "most pernicious tool that can be used against a political opponent," but I'm going to nominate "a gun" as the "most pernicious tool that can be used against a political opponent."
MEET THE PRESS
We're going to see what happens to my body and mind if we get the worst Sunday show out of the way early, rather than leaving it to the end.
Anyway, second verse akin to first with usual warnings of louder and worse. Darrell Issa and Thomas Pickering and Dianne Feinstein will yell at each other and then a panel discussion will be held to determine what pundit's doing the best job staving off senile dementia this week.
First, however, we'll start with Representative Darrell Issa and OMGhazi. Issa says that the inquiry needs to find out why requests for more security went unanswered, whether the response during the attack could have been better, and the talking points and why they were revised. No one is apparently concerned with whether or not the intervention was a good idea, because if it's determined to have been a dubious undertaking it could get in the way of those whose ambitions include undertakings that are even more dubious.
Gregory wants to start with the talking points, and the revisions made by Victoria Nuland, which included cuts to the text to omit any mention of terrorism specifics. Gregory suggests that it's the CIA who gets to have the final word on the "what happened" aspect of the attack, not the State Department, and Issa says no, the CIA got manipulated.
They tussle over this, and Issa finally decides that the play is to go full melodrama and so he declaims about how the "definitive statement" is Ambassador Stevens statement, "Greg we're under attack," which, you know -- I feel bad for the dead guy here, but that's not actually "definitive." Good play, though, to weep atop a corpse, I gotta try that some time.
Gregory tries to reclaim the conversation and points out that no less than Saint David Petraeus Of The Holy Surge said that there was definitely a "spontaneous" element to the attack and that there was no way of determining the "who" and the "why" right away. Which is pretty standard, fog-of-whatever-the-hell-just-happened stuff, by the way. As Richard Clarke wrote:
I dealt with scores of incidents and military operations over 30 years in the Pentagon, State Department and White House. I never saw a case where there was initial and accurate clarity about what happened.
In the case of TWA 800, the FBI thought for months that it had been shot down by a missile, only to learn much later that it was a maintenance problem that caused the fuel tank to explode. When the destroyer Cole was attacked in Yemen, it took the CIA director weeks to decide that the attackers were from Al Qaeda . The Iranian hand in the attack on the U.S. Air Force barracks at Khobar, Saudi Arabia, did not emerge for months.
News media and members of Congress may want instant answers when something explodes, when Americans die, but national security professionals know that "first reports are always wrong." That is why, when pressed by reporters to say what had happened, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice qualified her response by saying that the investigation was ongoing. She then said what the intelligence community had reported to her at that time.
Gregory asks if there was any credence to the notion that this was "fog of war" stuff, and Issa says that the day that Susan Rice came on Face The Nation saying one thing about the attack that just happened, and the President of Libya was saying another thing, that it "should have been a wake up call." Sure! But the "wake up call" should have been, "Everyone needs to wait a few weeks before this stuff gets sorted out."
Issa says, "We were effectively calling the President of Libya incompetent or a liar." First, I don't think that's true. Second, what the hell do I care what the "President of Libya" thinks?
Gregory seems rather unsure about any of this. He asks if Issa is "charging" that the CIA got pushed around here, and Issa says that "we're not making any charges." He's just pointedly leaning in the direction of charges. "The American people were effectively lied to," Issa says...not making a charge, I guess?
Issa says that he will ask Thomas Pickering to provide a deposition in an overall exploration if the State Department's ARB investigation -- which was damning enough -- "got it right." If they did, Issa says, "we can put it to rest." I am left with the distinct impression that Issa's decided on the ARB report's insufficiencies in advance.
For some reason, we are talking about President George W. Bush and his emails? Oh, Bush says that he was worried about "Congressional intrusion into his emails." We're bringing this up because Issa is looking through a slew of interagency emails, and Gregory wants to know if he's reading some sort of malfeasance/malevolence into these materials that does not exist. Gregory, not being a particularly smart interviewer, just asks Issa, "Are you overreaching." The short answer Issa gives is, essentially, "No."
Nice try, Davey! I'm guessing that one of these days, you'll get a guest who just answers, "Wow. You got me, yeah, I'm totally abusing my platform. Nice job."
Issa says, "Hillary Clinton's not a target, President Obama's not a target, we're trying to find out, 'How did we fail.'" The answer is, "We went into Libya, the end."
Gregory continues with his Fisher-Price My First Interview style, asking Issa if he's "hurting his own fact-finding mission by overreaching." Issa answers, "Well if I was, I would be, but I'm not."
I'm really not sure what I'm supposed to do with a Sunday show host who believes that, "Aren't you wrong?" is a good way of holding people accountable. Especially when the answer is always "No," and then we move on.
Issa says that "we are not really prepared for the attacks we are getting," in Northern and sub-Saharan Africa, which sounds to me like the takeaway should be, "Don't launch an intervention in Libya."
"Let's not blow things out of proportion," says Issa, improv comedian.
Oh, ha, so this whole time Issa's been sitting here throwing shade on Thomas Pickering, Pickering's been sitting right there off camera and he finally says, that he's been offering to come to the very hearings that Issa has been "excluding me from." Issa gets shirty on that, and Pickering says that the majority on his committee told him he wasn't welcome. Issa says that the Democrats on the committee could have invited him as their guest. Issa then does his best to kiss Pickering's ass, now that the illusion that Meet The Press was trying to erect -- that they weren't actually at the same table together -- has been shattered, for some reason.
We're going to go with that, actually. Now we turn to Pickering. Gregory asks him if he went far enough in the ARB investigation, by not questioning high level members of the State Department. Pickering says that he prepared a report with 29 recommendations for how to fix what's broken. He says that State has not tried to deflect responsibility, they've taken it and have tried to explain how they'll correct the mistakes, and so he's confused as to why Issa keeps making charges.
He says that the events of the night of the attack were pored over by State and the Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs, and all were in agreement that there was no extra-special contingency plan or rescue mission or operation that could have been executed to prevent the bloodshed.
Issa says that his committee has been denied the opportunity to speak to all of the witnesses who talked to State/Pentagon about the night of the attack. He wants Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen to "show their work."
Pickering sort of throws a hint at Issa, saying that he should have access to "classified" information. I think the suggestion here is that Issa is using what he can't say in public as a duckblind, behind which he can "raise questions."
Gregory asks Pickering if he paid enough attention to Hillary Clinton's testimony and Pickering, unsurprisingly, insists that the ARB spent a sufficient amount of time with Clinton. He says that the ARB determined the two people were found lacking in their performance and were "separated from their jobs."
Meanwhile, Jay Carney did not tell the truth when he said that "the talking points" from the State Department went a lot further than removing the word "consulate." Pickering says that the ARB did not have purview over the crafting of talking points, they were responsible for investigating security failures.
Issa, as you might expect, is aggrieved at the IRS's targeting of Tea Party groups for special scrutiny, but says that the inspector general report will probably offer greater specifics, and point the way to the institutional changes that need to happen so that political groups are not targeted by the IRS.
I'm not sure if we've started the panel discussion or if this is just an interview with Dianne Feinstein but I don't really care. DiFi is generically objecting to the Benghazi inquiry, and assailing it for being a hodgepodge of "ulterior motives alleging" and that there was no "malevolence" from within the State Department or the White House.
But the talking points, DiFi, the talking points! "I think the talking points are wrong...I think the intelligence community should not be writing talking points and our report" -- there is a bipartisan investigation of some sort going on in the Senate -- "will say that."
I think one takeaway should be, "Do not try to disseminate important information related to national security on a Sunday morning chat show," but we'll see.
Apparently the "painful learning lesson" is that the Libyan militia they tasked with guarding the facility all took it on the arches the minute trouble came down the street. This is the painful lesson we should have extracted from similar situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, right?
"Every effort has been made to turn this into something diabolical," DiFi says, "I don't see it." She says that she hopes that the Senate Intelligence Committee report will put a lot of things to rest.
Gregory moves to immigration, and she insists that the border-security trigger will be effective and in place. She is probably not selling it very well when she talks about it in terms like, "100 percent to ninety percent guaranteed." 100% and 90% are two very different guarantees.
Now David Gregory turns to David Brooks, to figure out OMGhazi. He says that his reading of the evidence is that "a terrible event happened at the CIA facility" and the "CIA went into blame-shifting mode" and tried to pin the blame on the State Department and State was all, "OH NO YOU DI'INT!"
"The CIA was super-aggressive, there was some pushback, out of that bureaucratic struggle, all of the talking points went to mush, and then politics was inserted," says Brooks. And that's actually pretty plausible.
Some white-dude Congressman who I don't recognize says that he's not out to blame anyone, but Susan Rice said stuff about a YouTube video, so burn the witch BURN HER BURN HER!!
Wes Moore, who is an author of books and Army veteran, says a bunch of stuff about timelines and contingency plans and "you don't want to overstate the argument because it undermined the argument" and "the truth becomes muddled," and basically another paragraph of very safe profundities.
Katty Kay is also here, and Gregory reads at her for about five minutes before asking her what the difference between tragedy and scandal is. That sounds about like the kind of thing Gregory can't figure out on his own. Kay says that the "insertion of politics" is a feature of scandal. "I think for the American public, the changes to talking points is not what concerns them, or perhaps what should concern them," says Kay, "The bigger picture here is about missing intelligence in Benghazi in the run up to the attack" and why the facility wasn't adequately secured. The talking points discussion, she says, is just becoming "intensely political." It's activity masquerading as achievement.
DiFi says that the lesson is to more quickly say that attacks like this are terrorist attacks, and she says that what's at work here is that "this is a cautious administration" and this is "one instance" where being cautious was a dumb idea.
Yeah, let's recall that the "cautious administration" still intervened in Libya, for some reason. So very, very cautious.
THIS WEEK WITH AN ABC NEWS PERSON
Martha Raddatz is here to do George Stephanopoulos' job today, and we'll have Senators Jack Reed and John McCain doing the Benghargling today.
We start with John McCain, who objects to the White House on the grounds that he is not the occupant, and also that they didn't call the Benghazi attacks an "act of terror," which Raddatz points out isn't exactly true. McCain says, "What he did say the day after was he condemned acts of terrorism, but then that night, within the, I think it was “60 Minutes,” I’m not sure, interview, and then throughout the next two weeks, he kept saying that it was caused by a spontaneous demonstration sparked by a hateful video. He kept saying that over and over again and condemning that."
Everyone knows, of course, that you have to use the right magic words at all times, because that brings people back from the dead and solves everything.
McCain continues: "We are in the midst of a presidential campaign. The narrative by the Obama campaign is that bin Laden is dead, that al Qaeda is on the run, not to worry about anything, and her comes this attack on Benghazi. And there are so many questions that are unanswered. We need a select committee."
Right, maybe the select committee will help "change the narrative" from six months ago.
Would McCain "call it a cover-up." Yes, he would. And he'd do so on the basis that he already has a pretty great quip about people bringing RPGs to a protest. It's just not done.
Does McCain want to impeach the president? Because some of his colleagues are tossing around the notion. McCain won't go that far. Hemming and hawing begins. "I will give the President the benefit of the doubt," McCain says. "I think the Secretary of State played a role," he adds. "We need a select committee that interviews everybody," he suggests. "Why weren’t there forces capable of going to defend that consulate?" he wonders.
Now we move on to Syria. Where McCain's position is for the United States to repeat all of the activity that led up to the Benghazi attacks. A magical no-fly zone that requires no "boots on the ground." Raddatz points out that Assad has a more sophisticated array of anti-aircraft defenses. McCain waves it off, insisting, "We can provide [the rebels] with a safe zone, we can provide them a place to organize inside Syria."
A couple things that Daniel Larison points out about no fly zones, if you are interested in Real Talk, and not the marblefoof that's dribbling out of Senator Scrambles cakehole:
Destroying Syrian air defenses is essential to creating a no-fly zone. A no-fly zone cannot be enforced successfully without doing this. A no-fly zone can’t be imposed until after that has been done. Doing that means that the U.S. must start a war against the Syrian government.
Pretty simple concept. Moreover:
Last week, Gen. Dempsey explained that destroying Syrian air defenses was possible, but that it would require a longer, more difficult effort than we saw in Libya:
"Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says sorties over Syria are a daunting but feasible prospect, and doubts the virtue of the likely outcome.
'The U.S. military has the capability to defeat that system, but it would be a greater challenge, and would take longer and require more resources' than in Libya, Dempsey said during a lunch meeting with reporters.
'The air defense picture in Libya is dramatically different than it is in Syria,' he said. 'Syria has five times more air defense systems, some of which are high-end systems, that is to say higher altitude, longer range.'"
"No boots on the ground, no American boots on the ground," says McCain, moments before committing American boots on the ground, "We can give them the heavy weapons that they need." Unless, of course, there are new magicks that prevent us from putting boots on the ground in order to keep these weapons from falling into the hands of al Qaeda. What does McCain know about the cutting edge magicks? Anything?
RADDATZ: But how do you pick out good rebels and bad rebels? You’ve got al Qaeda rebels running around.
MCCAIN: Martha, these are legitimate questions you’re asking, but [the good rebels] are there. And you put them inside Syria. Then they have a Benghazi, then they have a place to organize, to identify the right people.
I mean. Yes. Then they -- the "good guy" rebels and the al Qaeda rebels -- have a Benghazi. I really couldn't have put it better myself. Yes, Scrambles, you are in fact advocating the very same set of steps that led to four dead Americans in Benghazi. Well done, you.
"Look, we can do this," blurts McCain.
Well, I'm convinced! Let's go die in Syria!
Now here is Jack Reed.
RADDATZ: You heard Senator McCain call Benghazi and those e-mails a cover-up.
REED: Absolutely not. The congress has already had 11 hearings on the topic, over 25,000 pieces of documentation have been provided to the Congress.
Yeah, it's a pretty bad cover-up, if that is the intention. Reed goes on to say that the Pickering/Mullen report which has so far failed to satisfy anyone is satisfying. But Raddatz points out that Pickering's ARB report didn't actually touch on the interagency emails and their changing talking points. Reed wants to downplay the notion that this was about 2016, or politics in general: "I think what I would suggest in looking at the play-by-play, is what was going on was not so much the politics of electioneering, but the institutional sort of positioning."
REED: Victoria Nuland, who was representing the State Department, had a long career in public service. She's not a partisan. In fact, she worked for Dick Cheney. She was, I think, very much interested in making sure that the State Department's position and their perceptionÉ
RADDATZ: So, you're saying this is an interagency problem?
REED: I think this is the classic issue of interagency battle about who will say what.
Raddatz, asks if it's acceptable for Jay Carney to claim knowledge over the talking points revisions, assessing them as cosmetic changes, only to have to backtrack later when it was very clearly a complicated matter of inter-agency conflict over the basic premises of the attack. Reed sort of punts. Raddatz tries again in a different way:
RADDATZ: But let me go back to the act of terror that you say President Obama talked about the next day in the Rose Garden and that Senator McCain disputed. If the president said it was an act of terror, then why didn't that appear on the talking points? Can the White House really have it both ways, that they say, oh wait a minute, he said act of terror, but a few days later, they take out those references. So they felt pretty confident about it if they sent the president out to say that.
REED: Well, I think -- again I think they created, through an intra-agency process, a document that everyone could agree upon. And that's almost by definition in Washington, something that is not as specific or as conclusive.
RADDATZ: So, what they did is acceptable to you?
REED: Well, what they did, I think, was try in a very chaotic situation, to come up with points that they felt confident of. They didn't want to go too far in two concepts. One, our intelligence resources or assets that you might not want to disclose. Second, there's an ongoing investigation was just beginning. Those two factors also framed the response.
I think if those two factors frame the response, then the thing to do going forward is simply say things like, "We don't want to go too far or make conclusions until we know more, there's an ongoing investigation," and not, "Hi, I'm Susan Rice and I'm going to throw everything we think we know at the wall as quickly as possible."
And don't use the Sunday shows to say anything important.
Reed is more skeptical about intervening in Syria. A "no fly zone," he says, "might not accomplish" anything more than drawing us "a step further" into Syria's civil war.
BUT OMGZ RED LINE! "Should the President do something since it appears they used chemical weapons?" Reed urges caution. Raddatz says, "Should [Obama] have drawn that red line, frankly?" The answer is no, I guess? Reed says, "Well, I think frankly he should have made it clear, as he did, that the use -- the systemic use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people is something the international community cannot tolerate." He goes on to say that what comes next should be done in a deliberative fashion.
Now we'll have flopsy mopsy roundtable discussion of feelings and we can all turn off the teevee.
Joining Raddatz for today's exercise in gumflap are George Will, Ruth Marcus, General James Cartwright, and Jonathan Karl.
Karl says that the White House has to deal with the fallout of these talking points and the revisions, but the important thing is that the talking points "began by saying that the attacks were related to the protests in Cairo" and that this was "demonstrably false."
I'm very curious as to what Karl thinks this proves. The more damning revisions are the ones that went from "this was a terrorist attack" to something more vague. It's not surprising, not at all, that the first revision of a talking point may have asserted an incorrect causation. This is to be expected. An attack happens in the middle of the night. What's going on? "Oh, well, there are all these other protests happening, like the one in Cairo -- people have been hurt and in some cases killed and maybe this is an example of one getting even more tragically out of hand? Oh wait, we're learning more, now? Okay, let's revise our previous contention."
I think we really should not assert some new standard, in which you better have the tragic and confusing thing that happened totally sorted out within an hour after it happened. In the meantime, I'm sorry to say that every time a "Benghazi"-like incident happens, the first impressions of what happens will ALWAYS be "demonstrably false" because the way you solve a mystery is you gather information and test assumptions and get things wrong until you get them right. The process is called "trial and error," which means you are allowed to make errors.
Will says that the incident will be "lasting" and that "we need a select committee" to sort things out. Marcus agrees with the select committee thing. Will thinks the egregious sin was the State Department shenanigans and not a security strategy that probably wouldn't have helped. Marcus takes the opposite position. She says, further, than there is no impeachable offense here, and that part of the scandal is "manufactured" -- but it was "manufactured" from materials that the White House inexplicably provided their opponents.
Raddatz talks shop with Cartwright:
RADDATZ: General Cartwright, I want to ask you some practical questions here, because one of the things the committee looked at, or the review board, rather, was whether they could have gotten assets in there, whether they could have gotten airplanes in there.
You heard Senator McCain say why didn't they shoot a fighter jet over the area to warn them. Was that feasible? And if not, why not?
GEN. JAMES CARTWRIGHT, (RET) FRM. VICE CHAIRMAN JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: It probably wasn't feasible. I don't know the exact conditions. But to get an aircraft ready, to get crews ready, to get maintenance people out. You don't walk up to one of these and put the keys in, to provide ordinance for those aircraft so they could at least defend themselves. And then to find the route down there, get the clearances to go in, et cetera. That's a day or two of activity. So, we've heard a couple of different estimates from a couple of hours. That's the flight time to get there. And then, we've heard 9 to 20 hours to have the aircraft actually make it. That's talking about getting them ready and getting people in position.
RADDATZ: But is there something to be said that they didn't have anything ready, in an area like Libya? In an area that was still hot?
CARTWRIGHT: And I think that's where the review committee, Mike Mullen, and Tom Pickering, took a look at. You know, were the measures that were available at the embassy itself sufficient? And were the measures of the forces that could come to the aid of some kind of an infraction, whether it be an IED, an explosive device, or whether it be an attack on the embassy or its people? Those types of capability were set back in the States, in Europe, in northern Italy for aircraft.
Were So the question is were they close enough? Were they ready enough to do that? That's worth going back and reviewing.
Raddatz says she wants to move to Syria. Not literally, hopefully. Raddatiz asks if there should have been an "OMGZ RED LINE" drawn over Syria. I was hoping that the actual person from the military would field the question, but instead Pundit Marcus opines, "Every parent knows, if you're going to make a threat, you need to be willing to follow through on it or else you lose credibility not just with the child that you're threatening, but with the other kids you have in your family."
I am pretty sure that U.S.-Iran relations are not the equivalent to telling your dumbass kid to drink his milk or he's grounded.
Karl says that a "senior White House official" says that the intelligence on Syrian chemical weapons was not as solid as the "Iraq has WMDs" intelligence.
Cartwright sort of pooh-pooh's the no fly zone: "The question is, why do you want a no-fly zone, to do what? A no-fly zone in and of itself is probably not going to change the dynamic drastically. The no-fly zone, if you could in place one and you are willing to take the risk of doing it?"
Will joins the pooh-poohing:
WILL: It seems that you're absolutely right that there's an illusion here that a superpower can tiptoe on little cat's feet into a sectarian civil war and not change the dynamic fundamentally and not become a chief protagonist. As soon as we intervene, we are the chief protagonist. And we'd be intervening in this context, as Secretary of State Mr. Kerry's policy, it seems to me, is to get a negotiated transition of power.
There are two problems with this. Assad isn't interested. He doesn't want to go anywhere. And the other side isn't interested. And the Russians, who have to be involved in this, aren't interested. So, no one's interested in our policy. So, we fall back on the illusion that some surgical tiny intervention can be kept both surgical and tiny. And that's dangerous.
It's at least as dangerous as the danger we're all apoplectic about in OMGhazi.
Wait, there's more panel discussion? Yes. But thankfully, it's not particularly serious.
Will and Karl remain and are joined by Donna Brazile and Matthew Dowd, and for some reason, Olympia Snowe.
Will says that the IRS scandal is a "jaw-dropping moment," especially in that the revelation came from some IRS lower functionary. Will then reads the impeachment articles levied against Nixon because of Watergate, just to sow a little drama.
Brazile says that this was "something that should have been revealed," and now there needs to be an investigation.
Olympia Snowe says that this scandal, "won't go away until it is resolved." Great input, Olympia. This is what Sunday mornings are made of.
Dowd, realkeeping, sums up the OMGhazi and IRSGhazi simply by noting that maybe what's happening in Washington isn't so much that everyone is evil -- maybe just everyone is really, really dumb and bad at their jobs.
DOWD: There's a great quote by Napoleon who says "Never ascribe to malice that which can be easily attributed to incompetence." And every time something like this happens, and I'm not saying there's not stuff involved in here that has to be explained and all that. And Benghazi to me is another example. We jump to scandal long before we settle on stupidity. And each of these, there's things involved, they shouldn't have done certain things. But I'm amazed at a situation where there's constant, especially on the Republican and Conservative side of this, who constantly say, governments incompetent, government can't do anything, they don't know what they're doing. But oh by the way, if Barack Obama wants to make it work badly on their behalf, they can do it really well and really effectively.
Snowe plugs her book for about five minutes, and says the bipartisanship is great. Will says that bipartisanship is not as great as she makes it out to be. "I think Senator Snow wishes the American people were less cynical about Washington and more trusting," Will says. He would prefer that people were more cynical about Washington, and less trusting.
I have to admit, not being cynical about Washington is for the birds.
Now they are talking about Chris Christie's lap band surgery. I'll let you know if they shift to a more substantive topic.
Yes! They do! Very briefly:
RADDATZ: I want to very quickly here at the end, we just have a couple of minutes, talk about this week's hearings on military sexual assault. It is an unbelievable problem. And I'm just going to say right now, I've heard for 20 years, officials at the Pentagon say they have zero tolerance for this. And it's worse than ever. Matt you have a son who served.
DOWD: Yes I have a son who served in the Army and who was in Iraq for almost 18 months. It's a problem and a systematic problem. He talks about it, he talked about it, it goes on all the time...there's a quote, Dostoyevsky said, It's how we treat our prisoners is how civilized society is. To me, it's how we treat women is how civilized our society is. And when we allow this, and we allow abuse at many different levels, and things, we don't report it, police don't investigate it. What we've seen that came out of Cleveland actually, where the guy had a history of abuse, nothing was ever done about. And then look what happened. The military has not dealt with this.
Will submits that part of the story may be that reporting of sexual assault may have increased as well.
Okay, that's going to do it for me. Everyone have a lovely Mothers Day and a happy week!
[The Sunday morning liveblog returns on May 19. While you are waiting, check out my Rebel Mouse page for some of the more fun and intriguing stories from around the web.]