For weeks, the GOP has been failing to convince more than whatever is left of their core constituency that they are still a relevant party, and last Tuesday, the Republicans finally got their moment in the spotlight when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The senators grilled Mrs. Clinton on the minute details of the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that left the American ambassador and three other people dead.
Unfortunately, the Republicans have failed at this spectacle as well. The most obvious explanation for the Obama administration’s hamfisted handling of the Benghazi attack — namely, that the president had spent months campaigning that Al-Qaeda had more or less been defeated and any link between the attack and the terrorist organization would discredit that boast — did not satisfy the GOP. Instead, the Republicans tried to twist the Benghazi story into some tortured pretzel of mishandling, misunderstanding, and murder. From the “who knew what and when” arguments to the lunatic fringe idea that the president stood idly by and did nothing while the attack occurred, the GOP stretched further and further out for a reward so paltry it is hardly worth mentioning. And in doing so, the Republican Party has shown the public not how much they care about the deaths of four Americans at the hands of Al-Qaeda but exactly how far they will go to ignore their own past sins.
Even though Obama ran a campaign in 2008 that could best be described as quietly hawkish, many liberals somehow believed that he would sign an order on his first day in office that would bring back every American soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as close down the obscenity that is Guantanamo Bay. Obama eventually ordered a drawdown of the Iraqi occupation force, but Guantanamo still stands, and Afghanistan is still a morass of attacks coming both from insurgents and troops supposedly aligned with and trained by American forces. Both of these wars combined, and which began on the orders not of President Obama but of his predecessor President George W. Bush, have cost America 6,662 lives, some 349 suicides, and over 50,000 wounded soldiers. Why didn’t an outraged Republican Party call for an inquest into the false reasons that led us to invade these two countries? Instead, the right-wing declared that anyone who would dare question their government or their president in a time of war was, at best, a traitor. In fact, not only was questioning the wars absolutely out of the question for the GOP and its propaganda machine, Fox News, but the audacity to question the official “they hate us for our freedoms” rhetoric was viewed as horrible enough to warrant wondering if there were such a thing as too much free speech. After all, it was just easier to believe that people could be convinced to kill Americans because we are free to watch Survivor and shop at Old Navy.
But there was some deeper, uncomfortable truth to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, or at least University of Colorad-Boulder professor Ward Churchill certainly thought so, and in an essay published later that year he laid out a case that the World Trade Center became an Al-Qaeda target not because it was a symbol of American freedom but rather because it was a symbol of the American cultural, economic, and social occupation of the Middle East. At the time, this was heretical enough to get Churchill removed from his teaching position.
Now, however, conservatives are free to retrofit their ideas of the early 21st century to fit their new, leaner and meaner, small-government rhetoric. What has changed? Only the letter beside the name of the man in the White House. After all, Obama is no less a marauding American in the eyes of the Middle East than any of his predecessors. We are currently involved militarily in more nations covertly, and illegally, than at any time in American history, and that does not include drone strikes against “enemy combatants” (cleverly defined as “all military-age males in a strike zone,” as reported last year by The New York Times). If Bush was still in office, would the right-wing outrage about drone strikes have been focused on the innocent lives lost in these attacks or at the “liberal” media who dared report it?
Sadly, the conservative mind-set cares not about the loss of these lives, or their worth. The Republican Party is entirely dependent on the political gains that can be made by dragging down the opposition. The GOP attacks on President Obama, Susan Rice, and Secretary Clinton have less to do with the dead in Benghazi and more to do with the failed attempt to win last year’s election. The drama of the hearings is an endgame that will lead only to the next election cycle.