COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE MITROVICH

Benghazi, Susan Rice and shameless Republicans

Some Republicans have no shame, especially Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham. The senators’ attacks on Ambassador Susan Rice over Benghazi are relentless. Why, because of something she said on "Meet the Press"? Really?

They are attacking Rice because they’re integrity-challenged and are fearful of attacking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who polls consistently show is one of the most popular political figures in the United States, and to which criticism is more appropriately aimed (along with the Defense Department, CIA and White House).

Rice went to Capitol Hill earlier this week to meet her strident attackers in a private, 90-minute closed-door meeting. The two senators — white, aging males — may be shameless, but they are not stupid. Sensing their attacks against an African-American woman might be perceived as racist and sexist, they invited Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, to join the meeting.

Did having a female senator in the room make a difference? Probably not. Because Ayotte is still a senator from New Hampshire, the state that gave us John Sununu, whose barely disguised racism — Colin Powell endorsed President Barack Obama because both men are black — was among the many reasons Mitt Romney lost (there must be a particular well from which New Hampshire Republicans draw their water).

The meeting may have had the promise of detente being struck but not really. McCain and Graham were just as obnoxious after the meeting as they had been before.

Are there legitimate questions over what happened in Benghazi? You bet. I wasn’t alone in thinking the day our ambassador and three others were killed on Sept. 11, why were they there and where was their security?

Those are questions that demand answers, and we will have them because Adm. Mike Mullen, former head of the Joint Chiefs, and others are looking into what happened and will shortly report on their findings. Will that end the debate? Not as long as Fox News is still broadcasting and McCain feels obligated to be in opposition, but it likely will end the attacks on Rice, which would be a good thing.

However, I want to take us back to that terrible, terrible day, Oct. 23, 1983, when 241 Americans died when two truck bombs exploded in a poorly defended U.S. post in Beirut, including 220 U.S. Marines. Remember? It was such a horrible moment for our country and the families of the dead.

That awful tragedy occurred on the watch of President Ronald Reagan.

The president named Adm. Robert L.J. Long to investigate. His committee later reported what seemed obvious to some at the outset: “There might have been many fewer deaths if the barracks guards had carried loaded weapons and a barrier more substantial than the barbed wire the bomber drove over easily.”

Did you read that? Those guarding our troops carried unloaded “weapons,” and the only parameter “barrier” was “barbed wire.”

In the aftermath of the Beirut bombing, I couldn’t remember organized attacks from Democrats on Capitol Hill against Reagan. Yes, there was great anger against the perpetrators and enormous grief over this moment of infamy, but no partisan attacks. (If you think Benghazi was poorly defended, tell me what you think about Beirut.)

But memories are tricky, so after a Web search and finding lots on the bombing but little on subsequent political fallout, I called former New York Times editor Max Frankel to ask if Democrats had attacked Reagan over this inexcusable security lapse.

Who better to ask than Frankel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, but more pointedly The Times’ editorial page editor during six of Reagan’s eight years as president? Frankel, thinking about events 29 years past, couldn’t recall a storm rising from Capitol Hill and rolling across the nation and creating the political equivalent of Sturm und Drang.

He did point out that some Democrats demanded Reagan withdraw our troops, which the president did, but there was nothing then approximating now.

Frankel lamented what he sees as McCain’s “malevolence” against Rice, but also the sadness he feels witnessing the senator’s decline from the heights of American politics and justifiable standing as a true war hero to a place where the McCain we once knew is barely recognizable.

In due course, this ugly political episode will pass, but given the state of the Republican Party, other dubious causes will be joined and shameful acts will ensue. If you try to understand this in any rational context, you will fail — the rational mind cannot comprehend the irrational.



Mitrovich is a president of two leading American public forums.

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