America’s Dysfunction in One Speech

No one on national television will ever care about the real story of Benghazi.

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Patricia Smith is a grieving woman, and is allowed her grief. And she’s angry over her loss and that’s understandable. I bear her no ill will; I wish her peace.

That said, let me identify the three major issues I see here whose absence illuminates the rot in American political discourse:

  • No one wants to talk about whether or not we should have been in Benghazi in the first place. Following the entirely predictable (and predicted) collapse of Iraq and subsequent long-term disaster, the oligarchic Beltway consensus was that Libya’s teetering state should be tipped over. At no point has this rationale been significantly challenged by anyone in power. The entire intervention in Libya has – once again – led to a chaotic mess of what used to be a country, with spillover effects in the region, none of them good. We can’t forget Iraq, but Libya seems to have no trouble slipping into the memory hole of bad ideas, and the enablers that promoted it have never been held to account, largely because they’re all the same people and have no interest in mea culpas.
  • Congress – and mostly Democrats due to political reasons – never significantly challenged the fact that the American intervention in Libya violated the War Powers Resolution. The Democrats, for reasons of party loyalty, never allowed Congress to proceed with a formal rebuke over Libyan intervention. The GOP made an attempt and it went nowhere. Ultimately, Congress rolled over because arguing about Libya is really arguing against killing people, an ugly past-time that is basically guaranteed to earn support from the majority of inhabitants in your district.
  • The State Department and Hillary Clinton specifically declared to Congress that there was no need for their authorization, despite the War Powers Resolution. Not only was this against the Resolution, it also was against the limits set by the Department of Justice and a raft of precedent. Basically the Executive told the Legislature that it had no power, they’d be doing whatever they wanted anyway, and to trust them, and the Legislature ultimately went along with it. This isn’t a story of just Congress being useless, it’s also a story of the continued growth of presidential executive power in America.

Instead, what came of Benghazi? Endless reams of interviews and panels and inquiries, all to determine that the CIA was stirring up trouble in Benghazi, the Embassy was essentially undefended and overly reliant on local untrustworthy militias, that reinforcements were either going to come from the CIA who wanted to stay as undercover and unseen as possible or from Italy (too far to actually do anything in a combat situation where airfield access is unknown)… and oh yeah, some emails.

Benghazi was an undefended outpost of an imperial power that was put smack in the middle of its own stirred-up covert intelligence shenanigans, in order to attempt to stabilize a country that had been destabilized for bad reasons clear both before and after the interventions. Absolutely none of that has penetrated into the wider discourse in this country.

Clinton’s emails did. And it turns out that she carelessly shared classified material with people cleared to see them. And that’s dumb, but it didn’t murder anyone in Benghazi. It’s the kind of thing that gets a Navy officer two years probation and a $7,000 fine.

This poor woman is pissed off that Clinton said that a video caused the attack. It didn’t. That was at worst a lie, at best a mistake. The real reason the embassy was attacked was because it was a vulnerable American outpost in a volatile region, a truth that transcends the particulars, and that’s the reason why Ms Smith can’t get an answer. The answer is, “knowing everything we do about Iraq, which only reminded us of the obvious truths we knew before Iraq, we Americans collectively attacked a place, overthrew its despot, watched the region crumble, then put an embassy in the middle of it all and didn’t properly fund its defense”. And that answer indicts not just Clinton, but pretty much all of Washington.

None of that came up. None of that will come up. The hawks who clamor always for more war sneak by. The Congress that can’t do much other than grandstand sneaks by. A Presidential executive that will go to war when and how it wants to and will tell Congress to get stuffed sneaks by. The Pentagon’s budget, ever-ballooning, never auditable, grows and sneaks by. Instead, we’re treated to the parade of a grieving woman and told to hate Clinton. The Republicans should be ashamed; everyone involved in this should be.

Playing to the Edge

Do What Thou Wilt (if Ye Can Afford It) is not a great model of governance

It’s no secret that there are two Americas in the legal system, and that if you can afford the better version you get to define all kinds of grey areas as your playground. The relative powerlessness of the SEC in the face of financial institution malfeasance drives this home the strongest, but the best example in American politics is in the operations of the Clintons.

Now, they’re not illegal! I don’t actually think the various scandals we’re told by the GOP to concern ourselves with has been illegal, but that’s more a feature of the two-tier American legal system than an outright measure. It’s the asterix next to Sammy Sosa’s records.

And the Clintons are great at this stuff, and I’m also guessing that they’re hardly the only folks mining their connections to make money and doing whatever the hell they feel like so long as counsel says it’s fine. But they are the most public, thanks to GOP efforts to dig up anything that’ll stick. And I have to feel that GOP frustration, because they keep alllllmoooost finding something and then HEYO WHAT’S THIS and it turns out nope that’s not illegal either. Over and over again.

I dislike Clinton as a Presidential candidate because of her terrible and bloody foreign policy judgment, but her comfort with Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be the Whole of the Law as a basis for professional conduct is also of an especially dangerous note in contemporary America, wherein Congress (thanks to the GOP) has written themselves out of the game and given the controller over to the President. Because Clinton is going to way too comfortable with that kind of arrangement. If you thought the Bush DoJ gave him and Cheney a pass to make shit up as they went along, Clinton is going to take that concept and use it as a sledgehammer against any kind of obstacle she finds, and just take the current problem and make it bigger.

America is headed for a rough time… and if Trump wins it’ll be even worse. This too will pass, but I hardly believe that things are going to go well for any of us.