During a press conference on Wednesday, November 14, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) claimed that the Obama administration has been “misleading” in its characterization of the Benghazi attacks that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
McCain's main target of criticism has been Susan Rice, the United Nations ambassador, because of the way she described the attacks in her appearances on CBS's Face the Nation and three other Sunday shows. Although her descriptions were based on unclassified information that was provided by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), McCain and other Republicans blamed the Obama administration for trying to mislead the public about what took place in Benghazi. Notwithstanding their claims that they are only interested in finding out what happened in Libya, McCain and his Republican colleagues have been turning the tragedy into a political issue in order to score political points against the president.
After an embassy attack that killed more than 60 people, including 17 Americans in Beirut in 1983, the Inman Commission put in place stronger construction standards for new embassies. As a result of these building standards, embassies are constructed so that their personnel would be better protected against a potential attack. Unlike the embassy in Tripoli, the capital of Libya, the compound in Benghazi was a “temporary consulate,” which was rented. Hence, its construction did not follow the standards set forth by the Inman report, thereby making it more vulnerable to a terrorist attack.
On September 11, there was a protest in Egypt that was caused by an inflammatory video that depicted the Prophet Muhammad negatively. The Benghazi attack occurred concurrently with the demonstrations in Egypt. In its initial assessment, the CIA determined that extremist groups might have infiltrated a similar protest in Benghazi and proceeded to attack the U.S. consulate. In her television interviews, Rice said that there was an investigation in order to find out exactly what happened. Rice’s statements on the actual attacks were informed by the CIA’s early report.
Instead of waiting for a full report and let the investigation into what occurred take its course, Republicans started to politicize the tragic event. Romney tried to exploit the incident for political gains during the election. His attempt proved to be unsuccessful. But the conservative media has come to believe that the Libya tragedy could damage the Obama administration. To that end, they are hyping it to no end.
Taking their cue from the conservative media, many Republicans in Congress, particularly John McCain have leveled harsh criticism against the Obama administration. For weeks, he has been accusing the president of making misleading statements about Benghazi. In an appearance on NBC's Today, he went even further by saying that the administration has been either incompetent or engaged in a cover-up. Much of McCain’s criticisms, however, have been directed at the U.N. Ambassador. Knowing that there is a strong possibility that Rice might be nominated for the Secretary of State post, McCain declared that she is not qualified because of her statements on Benghazi. He also questioned her intelligence. McCain vowed that he would block Rice’s nomination in case that the president nominates her to succeed Hillary Clinton.
A thorough review by the Washington Post indicated that Rice’s statements were consistent with the Intelligence community’s early assessment of the Libyan tragedy. Equally important, the Post determined that McCain has misrepresented what Rice said on those Sunday shows. Another review by The Atlantic magazine also revealed that Rice’s accounts tracked closely with the information that was given to her by the intelligence agency. Despite repeated personal attacks against her, the evidence clearly shows that Rice did not deviate from the CIA’s early reports.
The question, then, becomes: Why have Republicans, especially McCain, been so eager to inveigh against Rice and the president. There are legitimate questions that need to be answered; but Republicans are not merely trying to get answers to these questions. The barrage of attacks by Republicans has been an attempt to draw political blood. McCain’s constant denunciations of the administration are a case in point.
During the Bush presidency, McCain strongly defended Condoleezza Rice over her claims that Iraq possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction. While McCain has been sharply critical of Susan Rice, he had no qualms defending Condi Rice although her false WMD claims had paved the way for a war with far greater consequences. More importantly, what happened on Wednesday, November 14 had dispelled any doubts about the real motives of McCain. During his press conference, McCain called for a select committee to investigate what had transpired in Benghazi. Even though McCain claimed that he wanted to get more information, he skipped a closed-door briefing on the attacks. The media tried to inquire about the seeming contradiction. But McCain became angry when the reporter asked him about why his scheduled press conference coincided with the closed hearing.
As Paul Waldman pointed out in an article, Republicans have been looking for a scandal that would be damaging to the administration ever since Obama became president. It is not surprising, therefore, that they have decided to redouble their effort to create one after experiencing an electoral drubbing. To achieve this objective, McCain has sought to scapegoat the U.N. ambassador. However, General David Petraeus’s testimony did not support the story that McCain has been selling to the public regarding the White House being involved in a cover-up to obfuscate what happened in Libya. But, in his attempts to politicize the Benghazi tragedy, McCain might not let contrary facts stand in his way since he never got over his 2008 defeat; or the prospect of becoming politically irrelevant could be at the root of his political grandstanding.