The latest right-wing conspiracy porn features a return of 2008 Obama-Clinton tensions played out over Libya
Americans in both parties are entitled to ask questions about the Sept. 11 Benghazi terror attack that took the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other people. I reject efforts by Democratic partisans to insist that all such questions, especially by Republicans, are unfairly “politicizing” the tragedy, even though that’s the way the GOP would play it if the attack had come under a Republican president. We deserve answers about what happened in Benghazi, about particularly whether the compound should have been better protected given the rising number of threats against it, and whether U.S. intervention in the region, and particularly our drone policy, are provoking a backlash even in Libya.
But the latest right-wing allegations about Benghazi have reached the realm of lurid conservative conspiracy porn. Far-right websites are ablaze with stories of Obama administration perfidy, incompetence and infighting, overlaid with tensions between President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that supposedly go back to the 2008 Democratic primary. Meanwhile, Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham (remember when he was a bipartisan statesman?), former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (Mr. Noun, Verb and 9/11) and blowhard Newt Gingrich have gone beyond the bounds of credibility, let alone fairness, in claiming that the administration is deliberately covering up what happened, because the attack shows its Middle Eastern policy is a failure.
Monday the right-wing Examiner.com sported the headline: “Administration plays confusing blame game with Libya attacks,” in a story charging that “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that her agency was not the source of misinformation concerning the attacks.” Right wing blogs and Twitter accounts are going nuts about the Examiner story, with TheOtherMcCain.com hyperventilating, “Libya Cover-Up: Hillary Clinton Throws Obama Under His Own Benghazi Bus.” But the Examiner story doesn’t contain a single quote from Clinton herself – nor does the piece that’s the source of the right-wing hyperventilating, a long “expose” in Britain’s Daily Mail by its ultra-right editor Toby Harnden.
Headlined “Hillary Clinton reveals what REALLY led to Benghazi massacre – and demolishes White House claim it was triggered by anti-Islam film,” the Harnden piece is actually anonymously sourced to “State Department officials,” not Clinton. The piece takes off from the right-wing assertion that Clinton is angry at being thrown under the bus by Vice President Biden in last week’s debate, when Biden claimed “we” – taken to mean he and the president – didn’t know about requests for addition security in Benghazi. The Mail piece features the delicious but extremely dubious claim that Clinton is still gunning for U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who backed Obama over Clinton in 2008, and is thus making clear to reporters that the White House, not the State Department, was the source of Rice’s early claim that the attack was inspired by the same anti-Islam movie that was driving protests elsewhere in the region.
“State Department sources have said that Clinton has never forgotten that Rice, who served in her husband Bill’s administration, was an early supporter of Obama,” Harnden reports breathlessly. “Rice has ambitions to take over from Clinton if Obama is re-elected but the Benghazi debacle could scupper her chances.” In fact, the two women became allies on the decision to intervene in Libya, and the idea that Hillary Clinton would talk directly to Toby Hernden to settle an old score with Susan Rice is straight out of the fervid fantasies of Clinton-haters everywhere. Harnden claims that Clinton’s supposed “announcement of State Department dissent” from Rice and the rest of the Obama administration “could help protect Clinton during 2016 presidential run.” In the end, for the right wing, it all comes back to the Clintons and their ambition.
But it’s not just far-right crazies who are reaching new levels of hysteria over Benghazi. Lindsey Graham, that former statesman, insisted on “Face the Nation” Sunday that the White House is engaged in a coverup in Benghazi to deflect from its overall foreign policy failure. “When something goes bad, they deny, they deceive, and they delay,” Graham said. “And the truth is we’re not safer. Al-Qaida is alive. Bin Laden may be dead. Al-Qaida is alive and they’re counter-attacking throughout the entire region. And the truth is that the foreign policy choices of President Obama is allowing the region to come unraveled.”
The hysterical Newt Gingrich took to Twitter – the favored platform of formerly influential right-wingers like ex-GE CEO Jack Welch – to make an escalating series of crazy charges over the weekend. “No one died at Watergate! The Obama lies about Benghazi and Biden’s deliberate lies Thursday night should be a bigger scandal than Nixon,” declared Gingrich, who went on: “It is clear the Obama team decided to have the vice president lie about an event that killed four Americans, including an ambassador.” Giuliani told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien that “The coverup of Benghazi is startling … They’re trying to run out the clock. They’re going to have this investigation, investigation will be after the debate, after the election is over.”
There’s no question the administration has made a bad situation worse with shifting stories about the causes of the Benghazi attack and evasions on the question of who knew more security was needed, and when. I don’t like the idea that raising valid questions about the attack equals “politicizing” it. That said, Republicans are in fact politicizing Benghazi in ways that make the truth ever harder to reach. And again, even as they pit the supposedly incompetent Obama against the masterful grudge-keeping Clintons, it reminds us of how much this GOP crusade to paralyze a Democratic president by any means necessary did not begin with the election of our first black president (although it got new life, and hate, from that development.) I expect House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa to shoot a watermelon to make some point about the Benghazi tragedy any day now.
Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America." More Joan Walsh.
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