Chronology matters. On May 1, 2011 President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed. Until this moment, Republicans dominated national security as a political issue. But afterward, Republicans became oppositional, relentlessly arguing, criticizing, and protesting. In other words, party leaders and pundits alike have been putting on a spectacular display of weakness.
Then on Sept. 11, 2012 things changed. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed at the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya’s second city 600 miles east of Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast.
Suddenly, the Democrats didn’t look so dominant or even very competent. The State Department’s Accountability Review Board (chaired by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering) released its report in December 2012.
What were the key findings? First, the Pickering report found that responsibility for the deaths of four Americans rested solely and completely with the terrorists who perpetrated the attacks.
Second, the report found that Ambassador Stevens decided to travel to Benghazi independently of Washington. And third, Ambassador Stevens bore “direct and full responsibility” for the security of the American embassy, the consulate and all American personnel under his authority.
This sounds like the report is blaming the victim, but that’s not true. The American ambassador is the chief of mission and the president’s personal representative in-country. And the ambassador is responsible for managing risk in-country.
Trey Gowdy of South Carolina is chairing the new House Select Committee on Benghazi. This matters because Gowdy is a former prosecutor. The single most important thing Gowdy will do is develop a theory of the case. This is more than who did what and why. This is how prosecutors organize the facts, including inconvenient facts, in a case.
The hearings may be embarrassing for Democrats, or merely exasperating. This does not matter. Gowdy has a duty to gather the evidence and present it to the jury, the American people in this case. And then, let the people decide.
No matter what the outcome, let’s respect the solemnity of the occasion by remembering that four Americans have died. And the perpetrators are still at large.
As George W. Bush said many times, the reason we’re fighting over there is so we don’t have to fight them here. That’s why we send our fighters over there and that’s why we send our diplomats over there, too.
So let’s find out what happened over there.
Meanwhile, let’s upgrade security at U.S. embassies and consulates and other installations abroad. Minimizing the risk to Americans serving overseas should matter to everyone, and it should matter a lot more than it seems to right now.
Jack Godwin is an award winning political scientist whose appeal spans the political spectrum. He is the author of three books on politics, most recently the Office Politics Handbook and is now writing his first novel, a political thriller set at the end of the Cold War, the golden age of spy fiction. To view more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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