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The Democrats' Missing Talking Points on Benghazi

December 5, 2014

Two weeks ago, the House Intelligence Committee released its report on the 2012 Benghazi tragedy. Like the previous six probes by the State Department, internal watchdogs and other Congressional panels, the GOP-controlled House Intelligence Committee concluded there had been no stand-down order, no CIA intelligence failure and no cover-up in the killings of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Libya. Nevertheless, leading Republicans responded with a new set of talking points, calling Chairman Mike Rogers' report "full of crap" (Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jason Chaffetz) and suggesting "it might be time to rename the House 'Intelligence' Committee" (Senator Rand Paul).
But as Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) prepares to hold another hearing of his special House Benghazi investigation next week, frustrated Democrats have largely held their tongues. They did not accuse Republicans of "pointing fingers in a personal way" or "making Barack Obama the enemy." Democrats did not warn that "an investigation must not interfere with the ongoing efforts to prevent the next attack" or that the Gowdy panel will only serve to "don't need to hand the terrorists an after-action report."
No, Democrats didn't say anything of those things. But Republicans did in opposition to the creation of the 9/11 Commission and its investigation into the slaughter of 3,000 people here during President Bush's watch.
Before Republicans restart their chants of "cover up" and "worse than Watergate," they might pause to remember their party's reaction to calls to create an independent commission to investigate the September 11 attacks. After all, until they yielded to overwhelming public pressure, President Bush, Vice President Cheney and GOP leaders in Congress opposed the 9/11 Commission charged with learning the truth about the worst attack on the U.S. homeland.
In May 2002, Republicans circled the wagons around President Bush after revelations that the administration had been warned about possible Al Qaeda plans to hijack aircraft. But when Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle asked "Why did it take eight months for us to receive this information?" and called for a blue-ribbon commission to investigate, the GOP's top brass railed to Bush's defense. Daschle's Republican counterpart Trent Lott denounced the demands for an inquiry:

"I really think there's nothing more despicable ... for someone to insinuate that the president of the United States knew there was an attack on our country that was imminent and didn't do anything about it. For us to be talking like our enemy, George W. Bush instead of Osama bin Laden, that's not right."

Lott's colleague Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) agreed:

"I don't think that anyone should start pointing fingers in a personal way or suggest that people are trying to cover their political backsides. I just think that's ridiculous. I think we need to go forward. We need to be positive. There are failures. We need to get to the root of it and try to make our country more secure."

Vice President Dick Cheney and the soon-to-be disgraced Tom Delay took a different tack, claiming an investigation into the catastrophe of 9/11 would itself hinder the war against Al Qaeda. As Delay groused:

"A public commission investigating American intelligence in a time of war is ill conceived and, frankly, irresponsible. We need to address America's challenges in intelligence gathering and terrorist prevention. But we don't need to hand the terrorists an after-action report."

Cheney, meanwhile, suggested that trying to find out what President Bush knew and when he knew it would provide aid and comfort to the enemy:

"An investigation must not interfere with the ongoing efforts to prevent the next attack, because without a doubt a very real threat of another perhaps more devastating attack still exists. The people and agencies responsible for helping us learn about and defeat such an attack are the very ones most likely to be distracted from their critical duties if Congress fails to carry out their obligations in a responsible fashion."

For his part, President Bush echoed that assessment. As CBS reported on May 23, 2002:

President Bush took a few minutes during his trip to Europe Thursday to voice his opposition to establishing a special commission to probe how the government dealt with terror warnings before Sept. 11.
Mr. Bush said the matter should be dealt with by congressional intelligence committees.
CBS News Correspondent Bill Plante reports that Mr. Bush said the investigation should be confined to Congress because it deals with sensitive information that could reveal sources and methods of intelligence. Therefore, he said, the congressional investigation is "the best place" to probe the events leading up to the terrorist attacks.
"I have great confidence in our FBI and CIA," the President said in Berlin, adding that he feels the agencies are already improving their information sharing practices.

Bush's reticence wasn't surprising, given the continuing revelations about the repeated warnings he received about Al Qaeda throughout the spring and summer of 2001. But that was then, and this is now. And now, a Democrat sits in the Oval Office, and his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seeks to replace him there. Which for Republicans can only mean one thing. It's time to ramp up the next round of Benghazi hearings. Kentucky Senator and 2016 White House hopeful Rand Paul explained why:

"It was, in fact, one of the worst intelligence failures in our history, a strategic blunder that resulted in the murder of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans... The ultimate blame lies with the Obama administration and more directly with Hillary Clinton who oversaw this tragedy during her tenure as secretary of state."

If only Democrats had thought of that talking point after 9/11. So much for that other beloved GOP sound bite: "both sides do it."


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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