I’m not a Jerry Springer fan, but once his show is on, it can be hard to look away. I felt the same, back in October, when I tuned into a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Benghazi. It had high drama: A stiff State Department official described his requests for additional security in the months leading up to the attack on the US consulate in Libya. When his grim-faced boss, seated next to him, retorted that the consulate had the “correct” number of armed guards, you could almost hear the audience mutter: “Oh no, she didn’t just say that.” I watched all 3 hours, 12 minutes, and 59 seconds of it.
In the weeks that followed, I checked in on the news of the House and Senate intelligence committee Benghazi hearings. But the plot didn’t really thicken. There were no big revelations. Nobody said or did anything surprising or new. So, I must confess, I skipped the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, “Benghazi and Beyond.” And I’m probably going to miss the next episode: the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s “Benghazi: the Attack and Lessons learned.”
I hate to say it, but it must be said: Benghazi has jumped the shark. Republicans had a good point, at first. It was crucial to investigate an attack that killed four Americans, including an ambassador. And it was odd that the administration’s spokesperson on the issue, UN ambassador Susan Rice, told talk shows that the attack was believed to be the work of spontaneous demonstrators rather than terrorists.
But there is such a thing as overkill.
Four separate congressional committees have scheduled about a dozen hearings and private briefings on Benghazi. A review board, led by former UN Ambassador Thomas Pickering, is due to hand over its report this week. And don’t forget about the FBI’s investigation. But all this isn’t enough for Senator John McCain. He still wants a special committee on Benghazi.
Those of you who are still tuned in to the Benghazi show should ask yourselves: Is Benghazi really our nation’s biggest problem? What are the chances that we will see four different congressional committees hold hearings on the senseless shooting of 20 first graders in Newtown, Conn.?
Benghazi-mania on Capitol Hill rivals the flurry of hearings that took place during the summer of 2003, when it finally dawned on Congress that the weapons of mass destruction that we went to war over in Iraq did not actually exist. That intelligence failure — or, rather, that fake-intelligence success — dragged us into a protracted conflict that ultimately killed more than 4,000 Americans, a thousand times as many as died in Benghazi, at a cost of some $800 billion. Iraq has yet to recover.
But did Congress “get to the bottom” of it back then? Not really. The Senate Intelligence Committee delayed its investigation into the Bush administration’s misuse of Iraq intelligence for four years, until after Bush was reelected.
Did McCain or Senator Lindsey Graham threaten to hold up Condoleezza Rice’s nomination as secretary of state because of her own false statements on talk shows that led to — or justified — the war?
Of course not. She breezed through her confirmation, unmolested by anyone but Barbara Boxer.
And Condi is hardly the only trusted aide to become secretary of state after carrying suspicious water for the president. Alexander Haig, Richard Nixon’s chief of staff, helped deflect questions about Watergate, but still became Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state. Members of Congress accused Henry Kissinger of misleading them for years over a covert bombing campaign in Cambodia, but even his most outspoken critic, Senator Ernest Hollings, a South Carolina Democrat, voted for him. “Unless a nominee for office is obviously unfit, by reason of intelligence or character, the president should have a relatively free hand in selecting the members of his own team,” Hollings said.
So maybe the only thing that sets Susan Rice apart from the hallowed figures who have ascended to the helm of US foreign policy is her willingness to stand down. Rice withdrew her name from consideration last week, on the grounds that her confirmation hearings would only prolong the needless distraction of Benghazi-mania. Do you think Haig or Kissinger would have done that?
John Kerry will make a fine secretary of state, if he is nominated. He knows his stuff, and he deserves the job. But it is hard to find a historical precedent for what happened to Susan Rice. It’s certainly a dramatic finale to the Benghazi Show. Let’s hope it’s over now.Farah Stockman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @fstockman.