Today the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on Benghazi.
In case you’ve missed all the scuttlebutt, Wes Pruden, editor emeritus of the Washington Times, has an excellent curtain raiser in his paper this morning (http://tinyurl.com/ccrzea2). The committee will hear that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cut out her department’s counterterrorism experts from any input on the night of the attacks. They will also hear that everyone in the State Department in a position to know did know that Ambassador Chris Smith and his entourage were, as Pruden puts it, “under attack, not under protest.” And there will be testimony that in the aftermath Mrs. Clinton’s office conducted a concerted campaign to remove any reference to Islamicists and terrorists from all talking points. Perhaps the representatives will also learn how the administration came to finger some poor, fringe Internet filmmaker to serve as their stand-in for al Qaeda as the cause of the attacks.
There is much at which to be alarmed here. Apparently Mrs. Clinton’s reason for lying about the terrorist character of the affair and for her now famous (and in its way brilliant) diversion — “What difference does it make anyway” – when she testified on the incident some months ago was politics. The administration had built its case for reelection around Vice President Joe Biden’s soundbite on the eve of the Democratic Convention, “General Motors is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead.” Acknowledging that the Benghazi attacks, which occurred only a few week before the election, were the work of al Qaeda or a related group would have demolished the second half of their case.
So the motives for lying about the character of the attack are clear enough. But what about the failure to send help that night? To me, that lapse suggests something more than politics. Here is a bit of ancient history to explain.
On the second floor of what is now call the Eisenhower Executive Office Building – that big grey wedding cake of a structure to the immediate right of the White House – there was when I served on President Reagan’s staff a plaque in front of an always locked door. Its inscription honored a man whose name I had never heard before or have never heard since. He had, it told passers by, developed protocols regarded as indispensible for dealing with global crises.
In other words, at the highest levels of national security, things are thought through in advance. You don’t make up crisis management as you go along. Sure, no one anticipated that attack on that night in that way. But we have had numerous of attacks on our embassies and diplomats over the decades.
My point is that again and again in recent months we have seen evidence that this administration has no protocols for dealing with any global crisis whatseoever. Not that this all that surprising. It would fit the administration’s self-absorbed style arrogantly to reject all lessons of the past. If the Bushes followed a procedure – even more contemptible, if Ronald Reagan followed a procedure – we will reject it, forget about it, drop it down the memory hole.
For example, what was going on with President Obama’s “red line” comment about chemical weapons in Syria? OK, he overstepped his talking points, as we have been told (is this an instance of protecting the boss or blaming him?). But didn’t anyone then ask, if Syria now does indeed use chemical weapons, what will our red line be? The failure here was not the comment – or not just the comment. It was the follow-up. What was the protocol?
Again and again the administration appears to have no regular procedures for acting on national security matters or recovering from missteps. Take the Fast and Furious scandal. This wasn’t just a Justice Department fiasco. Whatever Attorney-General Eric Holder and others in his clown car intended, they ended up making a series of significant weapons shipments to the deadliest enemies of the democratic country and ally with which we share our southern border. Since then, it has been all cover up, no follow up. What did the president and his administration do to make amends to the Mexican government and help them deal with the mess Mr. Holder and company had created? Where was the protocol?
Aggressive control of the record is a Clinton crisis protocol, developed over years of cleaning up after Bubba’s crude affairs. Mrs. Clinton’s “What difference does it make” outburst – calculated to render the record irrelevant – was an example. But that protocol was for protecting the politician and her boss.
What are this administration’s protocols for protecting the nation? Does it have any?