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Benghazi and the Difference It Makes

Former Secretary of State and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton spent most of Thursday testifying to a House committee investigating the the tragic deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans at a far-flung consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and by the end of it her handling of the matter was revealed as even more incompetent, dishonest, and thoroughly despicable than was previously known. Still, one can’t help forlornly accepting Clinton’s infamous argument that “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
What was previously known was damning enough, after all. Even by Election Day way back in ’12 it had been established that at Clinton’s urging the administration of President Barack Obama had bombed an odious but defanged dictator out of power in Libya and thus ushered in an power vacuum where various Islamist terror groups thrived, then ignored repeated pleas for more security by the unfortunate men and women who were sent into the resulting anarchy to serve the government, that when the long foreseen terrorist attack at last occurred they lied to the American public that it was the entirely unpredictable result of a spontaneous demonstration sparked by the local populace’s understandable outrage over an obscure YouTube video critical of Islam rather than a well-planned attack by the terrorist gangs that were assuredly being routed, then had the filmmaker imprisoned on a parole violation for exercising his First Amendment rights and assured the United Nations that “the future must not belong to those slander the prophet of Islam,” and withheld information from government and press investigators to cover it all up. None of this prevented Obama’s re-election, and even the resulting scandal about Clinton’s use of a private and unsecured and most likely illegal e-mail server in apparent attempt to keep further embarrassing facts away from public scrutiny hasn’t changed the media perception that she’s still the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
For reasons they cannot adequately explain to us, all of our Democratic friends are quite insouciant about the whole affair. Had it happened during a Republican administration we expect they’d share some at least some of our outrage about it, but in this case they find all sorts of excuses. None seem at all upset that we bombed some Middle Eastern dictator out of power, even though he’d verifiably surrendered all his weapons of mass destruction after the invasion of Iraq and posed no immediate threat to America’s national security, and even though they take a much dimmer view of such actions during Republican administrations. A columnist for a recently-defunct local “alternative paper” blamed the deaths on the daredevil recklessness of the ambassador, despite the repeated pleas for more security, and his readers seemed to accept that a Secretary of State should be doing whatever Clinton doing at the time to deal with such minor matters as the security arrangements for some remote consulate. That she blamed it on a spontaneous demonstration against some obscure and easily targeted filmmaker in order to help her administration’s re-election doesn’t seem to trouble a Democrats’ conscience, either, as they can ascribe any Republican criticism to rank political partisanship and their otherwise steadfast commitment to the most irreligious sorts of free speech ends short of any slander against the prophet of Islam. As for the highly irregular e-mail arrangement that now figures it in the scandal, even the only credible challenger to Clinton’s presumptive Democratic nomination says to great applause that he’s sick of hearing about it.
Pretty much everyone that’s not a true believer in the Democratic faith has already concluded that Clinton is incompetent, dishonest, and thoroughly despicable, too, so there seems little to be gained from another day’s further confirmation of what has so long been obvious. At this point, though, we appreciate even the most futile gesture.
The day’s testimony might not hurt Clinton’s electoral chances, but it can’t possibly help. Committee chairman and South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy was able to get in some digs about how longtime Clinton family consigliere Sid Blumenthal, better known as “Sid Vicious,” who had some economic interest in toppling Libya’s odious but defanged dictatorship, was among the few people who had knowledge of Clinton’s irregular e-mail account while the ambassador in Libya did not. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan was able to cite some hard-attained e-mails from staff who were appalled that Clinton and other administration officials were peddling a false tale about spontaneous demonstrations against obscure YouTube videos, as well as an e-mail to her daughter admitting that it was well-planned terror attack, and to establish that the lie started with her. Our very own Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo was able to establish that there were at least 600 requests from Benghazi for enhanced security, which forced the embarrassing response that “One of the great attributes that Chris Stevens had was a really good sense of humor. And I just see him smiling as he types this.”
That eerie moment will go mostly unnoticed by the public, and no hardened opinions will be altered by it, but we’re nonetheless glad it happened. There’s something to be said for establishing a factual historical record, no matter how inconsequential it might prove in the short term, and certainly that ambassador and those three other dead Americans deserve that. The unfolding facts can’t help Clinton, either, and there’s something to be said for that as well.

— Bud Norman

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Hillary’s Hilarious E-Mails

The small portion of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails that survived her elaborate efforts at secrecy and have at long last been pried from her by court order don’t contain any campaign-sinking “smoking gun,” so far as we can tell, but there is plenty of fodder for ridicule. None of the late-night comedy shows are likely to avail themselves of it, but without any pesky network affiliations we simply can’t resist the opportunity.
To begin, we note that Clinton’s e-mails are at least as sloppily written as the average American’s. This is to be expected, we suppose, given the severe damage that computers have done to the English language, and at this point we hold out no hope that the eventual Republican presidential nominee’s inevitably released e-mails will prove any better, but we feel it worth noting nonetheless. We compose our own electronic correspondence with salutations that include the appropriate courtesy title, followed by a comma and an indentation, followed by sentences that begin with a capital letter and end with a period and have all the necessary punctuation in between, and each of the words are spelled out in their entirety and never substituted with an arabic numeral or indecipherable acronym or faddish abbreviation or cutesy “emoticon,” and the sentences are arranged into paragraphs of related concepts, with indentation following, and it always ends with a formal “Sincerely” or chummy “Your pal,” depending on the recipient, along with a properly indented e-signature, as well of the rest of the stuff we were taught back in school during the more rigorous pre-E days of letter-writing. So far as we can tell we are the last people in America to hew to such outdated traditions, but we are steadfastly manning the barricades in hopes that reinforcements of proper writing will eventually arrive, and in the meantime we’re not going to let it go unmentioned that the presumptive next President of the United States is so gallingly illiterate. She was Secretary of State when typing this garble, after all, and one shudders to think what better-educated and more-illustrious predecessors such as John Quincy Adams and John Foster Dulles and Condoleezza Rice would have made of it.
Even those who aren’t such sticklers for proper prose will be amused by the slapstick antics that the awful writing reveal. One long and convoluted exchange with constant sidekick and Muslim Brotherhood legatee Huma Abedin, who is also married to that former New York congressman who kept sending e-mailed pictures of underwear-clad private parts to various other women, demonstrates  in a sort of “I Love Lucy” sketch that the presumptive next President of the United States does not know how to operate a fax machine. Another e-mail involved some unknown person who was “Twittering” in Clinton’s name, with the concern seeming rather ambivalent because whoever it was getting a good number of followers yet receiving unenthusiastic reviews in Newsweek. Another involved a planned article in the Parade Magazine supplement that many newspapers still run, along with assurances from the author that “she will like it.” Another was addressed to an underling who was asked to request that one of her underlings fetch Clinton some iced tea. The one that’s been getting the biggest laughs in the conservative media has Clinton asking someone named Lona Valmoro and the aforementioned Abedin, in a missive with the subject heading of “Cabinet mtg,” “I heard on the radio that there is a cabinet mtg this am. Is there? Can I go? If not, who are we sending?”
There’s also lots of stuff from Sidney Blumenthal, which is also hilarious to anyone old enough to recall him as one of the sleazier operatives of the previous Clinton administration, which is saying something, and much of it is his advice that the Secretary of State not be modest in claiming credit for the Libya policy that has since plunged that nation into such utter chaos that an ambassador and three other Americans died in a terrorist attack there, and a filmmaker was falsely blamed and sent to prison for criticizing Islam, and the Islamic State has gained a significant foothold there, and of course with benefit of hindsight it’s all something that the presumptive next President of the United States would prefer go unmentioned. It’s not the kind of thing the late-night comedians will find amusing, but again we think it ought not go unmentioned.

— Bud Norman

The Scandal is the Press

The terrorist attack on America’s consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the deaths an ambassador and three other Americans, was a multi-faceted scandal. There was the ill-advised “leading from behind” military strike that deposed a despicable but defanged dictatorship and created an anarchy where terror groups thrived, the shockingly lax security provided to the Americans sent into that chaos, the bald-faced lie that the subsequent deaths were a result of a spontaneous demonstration rather than an organized al Qaeda terror attack, the scapegoating and eventual imprisonment of a filmmaker who had exercised his constitutional right to criticize Islam, and the ongoing attempts to cover it all up. The lack of interest by the most prominent media is a scandal, too.
Despite the indifference of the big papers and wire services and television networks, more information about the Benghazi affair is slowly being made public. A newly released batch of e-mails offer further proof that White House officials were directly involved in concocting the false story that United Nations ambassador Susan Rice and other officials, including President Barack Obama, told the American public in the days leading up to the 2012 presidential election. In one of the e-mails White House Deputy Communications Director clearly states that among the “goals” of the story were “to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, not a broader failure of policy,” and “to reinforce the President and the Administration’s strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges.”
Such intriguing information was not unearthed by The New York Times or The Washington Post or CBS News, but rather by a conservative group called Judicial Watch. A search of The New York Times’ web site finds that the Paper of Record’s last mention of Benghazi came in a short item about Rhode’s account of the affair in the “Sunday Breakfast Menu” of last January. The Washington Post’s only forthright account of the new e-mails came in a blog post by token and tepid conservative Jennifer Rubin. Over at CBS News, where Rhodes’ brother is the head honcho and ace reporter Sharyl Attkisson has quit in frustration over the network’s resistance to her reporting on Benghazi and other administration scandals, there was a story about how Republicans are still demanding answers about the terror attack, as well as another story about a Central Intelligence Agency official’s assurances that there’s nothing political going on here. USA Today also went with the partisan, prefacing a rather straightforward account of the facts with the words “Republicans say.”
They could just as easily write that “newly released e-mails say,” but that sounds rather damning. The ladies and gentlemen of the press are quite busy these days explaining a fresh batch of foreign policy blunders, from the “apartheid state” of Israel to the formerly independent portions of Ukraine to those countries neighboring an increasingly aggressive China where Obama was recently trying to convince the nervous populations that the president and administration is strong and steady in dealing with difficult challenges, and what with racist basketball team owners in Los Angeles and botched executions in Oklahoma they have little time for four brave Americans who died more than a year-and-a-half ago. They might even be wondering what difference, at this point, does it make?
The truth still matters, though, and the woman who notoriously first asked that callous question is a front-runner to be the next strong and steadfast question. A lack of outrage is perhaps the biggest scandal of them all.

— Bud Norman

A Scandal in a Sentence

Sometimes a scandal can be succinctly summed up in a single sentence. The Watergate affair was famously encapsulated in Richard Nixon’s stubborn insistence that “I am not a crook.” Bill Clinton’s numerous affairs are best remembered by his finger-wagging assertion that “I did not have sex with that woman.” It now seems likely that the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya, will ultimately be remembered only by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s rhetorical question, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
Clinton uttered the memorable line during Wednesday’s testimony before Congress, when Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin asked why she had not taken the simple step of questioning the survivors about the nature of the carefully planned terrorism attack before falsely telling the public that it had been a spontaneous response to a little-seen video posted on the YouTube internet site. Johnson was scornful of Clinton’s explanation that she didn’t want to interfere with an investigation by the FBI, and Clinton responded with her own loudly shouted, table-pounding scorn that “With all due respect, the fact is that we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill so some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make? It is, from my perspective, less important today looking backward as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice.”
Johnson backed off his aggressive line of questioning at that hard-to-parse point, perhaps because he was understandably intimidated by Clinton’s menacing glare, and according to most of the big-time journalists Madame Secretary got the better of the exchange. Reuters’ correspondents described a “forceful” Clinton, “by turns emotional and fierce,” and told of how her “voice cracked as she spoke of comforting families who lost relatives in the incident.” The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote approvingly of how Clinton “served up a potent brew of righteous outrage,” noted with undisguised glee that the “rookie Senator” “did not attempt a rebuttal,” and called the response a “dressing-down of Johnson.” “Emotional and defiant” were the terms used by the McClatchy chain’s reporters, who also chose “confident” and “even combative at times.” The carefully edited snippets of testimony that showed up in the brief radio reports we heard all afternoon gave a similar impression, and all of the news media were obliged to mention the fawning compliments offered to Clinton by all of the Democrats and more than a few of the Republicans.
No mention was made of any diplomatic accomplishments that might justify such praised, although we were most curious to know what they might be, and of course almost no one was so ungallant as to note that it actually did make a difference whether Clinton told the truth or chose to peddle a politically expedient lie. Clinton’s claim that that the FBI’s investigation obliged her to tell the public a soon-to-be-proved falsehood about the attacks deserves all of Johnson’s scorn, and her indignant claim that she was seeking the responsible terrorists rather than a more convenient scapegoat is a contemptible lie, but the media that have been doing their best to ignore the whole affair are naturally disinclined to say so.
All of the many other appalling aspects of the affair have been given the same respectful treatment. Even the most aggressive Republicans on the investigating committees failed to ask about the military action in Libya that precipitate the tragedy, even though the intervention seems to have led to the recent violence in the neighboring countries of Algeria and Mali, with weapons from the deposed regime being used in both bloody conflicts. Clinton delegated responsibility for the lax security given to the Americans sent into the chaos of post-bellum Libya, angrily explained that those lower level employees had not been fired because the government doesn’t fire people simply for a demonstrated inability to do their jobs, then attempted to blame the allegedly budget-cutting Republicans for the problem. The fact that the administration chose to falsely blame a previously unknown low-budget filmmaker for exercising his First Amendment rights rather than admit that organized terror groups remain a pressing national security concern was somehow overlooked in almost every report, as was the fact that the filmmaker is the only person to be punished as a result of this whole fiasco, and all in all the press seemed quite satisfied with her answers.
A series of legalistic excuses and strange maladies delayed Clinton’s testimony until the election was over, her boss officially sworn in to a second term, and the public’s scant interest in the whole affair long since exhausted, so in a purely cynical sense she has some reason to sneer that at this point it makes no difference. She even claimed responsibility for the whole affair, if not any consequences, and the press was also mightily impressed by that. Come 2016 we expect to hear supporters of Clinton’s presidential campaign to boast about how she bravely took the blame for a monumental screw-up that left four brave Americans dead and their country weakened.
What difference, at this point, does it make?

— Bud Norman