After getting hammered by the right for remarks I made on the McLaughlin Group last weekend, I’d like to put what I said into the context that my critics omit. My information came from a former ambassador who lamented that complex and chaotic events in Benghazi are being way oversimplified. He pointed out that Ambassador Chris Stevens died of smoke inhalation in the safe room of a CIA outpost, that he wasn’t murdered in the sense that word is normally used. I thought this was an appropriate observation and still do, despite the hysteria my saying so has ignited on the right.
There is shared blame for the fact that Stevens wasn’t properly guarded and defended, but the chaos of that night and the days following stemmed from herculean efforts to keep the CIA’s involvement secret. Stevens was a very brave and assertive ambassador. He knew the language and the people, and he took risks he shouldn’t have. The former ambassador whose views I relied on believes that Stevens was in Benghazi to confront the CIA about prisoners they were holding and interrogating at the outpost. He speculates the attack on the facility was to free the prisoners.
If these are the kinds of questions that the select committee examines, maybe it will be a worthwhile exercise.
In the meantime, for perspective, I urge everyone to read Jane Mayer’s article “Ronald Reagan’s Benghazi,” which recounts a series of terrorist attacks in Beirut beginning with the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in April 1983, when 17 Americans, including seven CIA officers, were among the 63 killed. In October 1983, a truck filled with explosives rammed a Marine compound, killing 241 unarmed Marines in their sleep. Next was the torture and murder of the CIA station chief in Beirut, followed by yet another bombing of a U.S. outpost in September 1984, two months before the presidential election.
A House investigation of the Marine barracks bombing found “very serious errors in judgment” and recommended additional security measures around the world. When the September ’84 bombing occurred nearly a year later and the security was not yet in place, Democrats did not see it as an opportunity to score political points. Instead they accepted President Reagan’s explanation that repairs take time: “Anyone who’s ever had their kitchen done over knows that it never gets done as soon as you wish it would.”
Today no one in either party would accept such a benign explanation for a lapse in security, nor should they. But no administration is immune to tragic events in troublesome spots in the world, and not every tragedy is a scandal. Poking around for partisan gain in what lawmakers now know were clandestine activities for answers to questions that for the most part have already been answered is the scandal.