Senior Staff Writer
The tides of history often go unseen until they crash upon the shore. The Internet, for example, remained the obscure luxury of technocrats for a remarkably long time. The Internet ensures the free flow of information between people and countries with greater ease than any other mode of communication. Soviet Xerox machines had armed guards to ensure that unauthorized information could not be disseminated. Modern authoritarian regimes must look back on such tight control with fond memories.
The Arab Spring, buoyed by camera phones and social media, is one of those historical events whose significance was immediately understood. Yet its final conclusions remain unclear and American politicians struggled in forming a clear response to it. Libya and Egypt have cast off their shackles as Syria wages a bloody civil war to do the same. American politics, meanwhile, has struggled to make sense of this seismic shift and its consequences.
Mitt Romney criticized the administration for “going on an apology tour” when a terrorist attack killed the American ambassador and three other Foreign Service personnel in Benghazi, Libya. Romney probably lost points politically for immediately playing politics with American deaths. (Recall, in the second debate, the beat down Candy Crawley delivered to Romney on this point.)
The attack in Benghazi fell on the 11th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that claimed three thousand lives, amid a series of protests throughout the Arab world over a YouTube video derisive of the prophet Muhammad. Because it occurred during these protests many in the intelligence community assumed the attack in Benghazi was a spontaneous attack.
With this intelligence, an up and coming bright woman in the State Department went on the Sunday shows to tell the American people what happened as best the intelligence community then understood it. Susan Rice explained the attack appeared to be an act of a spontaneous protest rather than a terrorist attack (though just a couple of days before, President Obama described the event as an ‘act of terror’).
In a fascinating (and possibly solitary) example of the lasting influence of Romney’s presidential campaign, Republican Senators have begun putting Rice’s feet to the fire over her Sunday show accounts of Benghazi. The hubbub holds greater weight because Rice is on the shortlist to replace Hillary Clinton (who has just helped to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Palestine) as Secretary of State. The most vocal critic of Rice, John McCain, met with her recently to question her on the Hill about Benghazi, walking out of the meeting seemingly angrier than he was before.
McCain is calling for an investigation of a “massive cover-up.” He seems to believe, like Romney, the Administration deliberately misled the American people for political advantage and has compared the Administration’s response to Watergate.
It is interesting that the GOP has only now taken an interest in intelligence failures. John McCain and Lindsay Graham are playing politics by defaming an immensely competent and dedicated person who deserves to be Secretary of State.
But that’s all just politics as usual.
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