Opinion: Blame America first?
Donald Trump’s recent back-and-forth squabbling with his Republican presidential campaign rival Jeb Bush brings into perspective a reality no one on the left has had the insight, nor political courage, to bring to light.
In his criticism of former president George W. Bush’s domestic safety record through the lens of the 9/11 attacks, Trump has unwittingly, and probably unwillingly, cast light on our contradictory interpretation of the events leading up to and surrounding the Benghazi incident and how our government and media have grappled with its subsequent ramifications.
The Benghazi saga marks a stark departure from our country’s long tradition of unification in the wake of national tragedy. The mere suggestion by Trump of any culpability on the part of former President Bush in the 9/11 attacks has induced fierce outrage from his brother, Jeb – a Republican presidential candidate – elected officials and some in the media. Such visceral reactions should compel us to ponder why equal measures of outrage are not reserved for critics of Hillary Clinton’s own record on security.
There have always been a minority of people impulsively engaged in a “Blame America first” reaction. Conspiracy theories, however far-fetched or tangentially worthy of consideration, have always existed. Throughout the 1940s and beyond, many Americans believed President Franklin Roosevelt passively allowed the Pearl Harbor attacks to occur as a way of convincing Americans and the world that our involvement in world War II was necessary to our own national security. There is certainly no shortage of conjecture from the far left or far right on what may or may not have been reported by the mainstream media in the time leading up to and on the day of 9/11.
What sets the Benghazi affair apart from all of these incidents is a change in administrative reflex, and more importantly departmental focus, from holding those who attacked the United States responsible to holding representatives of the United States responsible, and therefore the United States itself. We have gone from conspiracy theory, to partisan grandstanding and passing accusation, to tangible governmental action directed against our own representatives.
Even worse is that this action seems to be politically motivated, even by the admission of one its defining provocateurs. In recent remarks to Fox News’ Sean Hannity, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy inadvertently revealed, at least in part, the Special Committee on Benghazi’s true intention: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable,” he said. "But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”
The reaction to the Benghazi attacks - another attack on our citizenry, perpetrated on the anniversary of that national tragedy by all too similar evildoers - stands in sharp and disturbing contrast to our collective reaction to the 9/11 attacks, when blaming officials in our government was the last inclination of our representatives, media and citizenry at large. What’s clear today is that Congress has devoted an exorbitant amount of time and taxpayer money poring over every conceivable nuance of Clinton’s decision-making, with much less focus on the actions of those who actually committed the acts of terrorism beyond what they may or may have not been thinking while doing so.
On Aug. 6, 2001, President Bush was presented a classified overview of the potential threats posed by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, the now infamous and execrated terrorist network he presided over. The classified memo prepared by in that morning’s “presidential daily brief,” a daily, top-secret document prepared by United States intelligence agencies included the foreboding subject line: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” A little over month later the possibility came to fruition and bin Laden and Al Qaeda were a household name.
During the 9/11 Commission, President Bush and Cheney were only deposed behind closed doors and not under oath, and certainly not on multiple occasions on national television. The lack of proportional attention to these two incidents is troubling by any objective measure. We must ask ourselves if it is reasonable that the scrutiny over four casualties who were dignitaries employed in a war zone, where random and terrible events are bound to happen, is greater than it was over 3,000 casualties who were peacetime civilians on our own soil.
During the Benghazi hearing, Hillary Clinton responded to Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson’s inquiry as to whether the embassy attack was, “a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they’d go kill some Americans, “ with the question, “At this point, what difference does it make?”
Here, Clinton made a salient point. Bad people do bad things, and they cannot always be prevented. In war-ravaged Libya, our embassy was attacked amidst the chaos of conflict, just as U.S. embassies had been attacked no less than 13 times during the administration of George W. Bush.
A few days prior to the Benghazi hearing a top U.S. diplomat revealed that, “everyone” at the consulate thought “from the beginning” that the attack was an act of terror. In response to this revelation, Clinton simply responded, “Was it?” The simplicity of her question speaks volumes. Whether it took those who perpetrated the attacks on our embassies three minutes, three hours, three years, or three decades to arrive at the decision to do so doesn’t change the fact that they made the decision in the first place. There is nothing wrong with continuing to learn how to better conduct ourselves on the world stage. But attempting to determine the inner thoughts of crazy people is another story.
Arguments over what we call bad people doing bad things, whether during presidential debates, in governmental hearings, or in the news should be far less important than how we deal with those bad people in the first place, and preventing them from doing so in the future.
Whether it’s in reaction to Pearl Harbor, 9/11, Sandy Hook, the Boston Marathon or Benghazi, our last instinct should be to blame ourselves.
Michael Oliva is a political and media consultant.