By Paolo von Schirach
October 18, 2012
WASHINGTON – The planned attack against the US Consulate in Benghazi, resulting in the first killing of a US Ambassador in 30 years, unfortunately shows how botched policies now get routinely mixed with political calculations. The result is an ugly mess showing Washington at its very worst. In the final stages of a positively ugly campaign, the Republicans jumped at this foreign affairs screw up with the intention of using it as evidence of a totally flawed US foreign policy under the leadership of an incompetent President Obama.
A political issue?
The Obama administration people, fearful that this terror attack would make them politically vulnerable, only a few weeks before the elections, from day one treated the incident as a political rather than a policy issue. They did their best to prove that this tragedy was not the outcome of any mistakes. This was all about (understandable) Arab anger against the now famous anti-Muslim “video” unfortunately produced in the United States.
Well, this attempt to deflect accusations of serious errors of judgment in leaving key US diplomatic facilities in an unstable Arab country essentially unprotected backfired.
Still, as this is now mostly a campaign issue, the Obama administration wrapped itself in the flag, stating that they have done nothing wrong and that it is “offensive” to imply that their behavior in explaining what happened in Benghazi is anything less than totally transparent. This may work with some voters but it is totally disingenuous.
Once upon a time a united front on foreign policy issues
During the Cold War, the implicit pact between Republicans and Democrats was that politics would stop at the water’s edge. In the global fight against Communism there would be only one America, steadfast and united.
Well, this is no longer. And it really hurts us. Foreign observers looking in see a country deeply divided on almost anything.
Mistakes in Benghazi
Look, the Benghazi tragedy from what we know so far is a sad but not that complicated affair. The State Department failed to follow the advice of security specialists on the ground. As a result the US Consulate in Benghazi was left almost unprotected. Libyan radicals saw this as an opportunity to launch an attack with tragic consequences.
In a better country, Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, would have come forward the next day and would have taken responsibility for this policy error, while ordering a review of other security arrangements especially in turbulent countries, to make sure that there would not be similar vulnerabilities elsewhere.
The country would have nodded. One mistake, however big, does not indict the entire foreign policy of the United States. Nobody would have tried to use this incident to score political points.
Now it is only about politics
But it did not go this way. The administration, sensing trouble ahead, tried to obfuscate, showing that their primary objective was not to shed light on the tragedy but to minimize their responsibilities in order to win the elections. The Republicans, smelling blood, launched an all out offensive in order to gain politically.
The result is what you see: a sorry mess and a diminished America publicly displaying to the whole world that we carry on an ugly political fight over the dead bodies of killed Americans who were trying their best to serve their country. We can and should do better.