Richard Nixon knew he was in trouble when he lost the confidence of his own side, the Republicans. It was Senator Howard Baker (R-Tennessee) who asked the now famous question regarding Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate break-in: “What did the President know and when did he know it?”
In today’s Washington, that kind of honest non-partisan approach to holding our leaders accountable is notably absent. There are no Howard Bakers anymore (and way to many Howard Deans!). Beginning with the multiplicity of scandals during the Clinton Administration, in which Congressional Democrats and the Washington Press Corps not only ignored malfeasance on the part of the Executive, but worked to protect “their guy” from any blame or consequence; running interference for one’s guy from “partisan” attacks has replace honest fact-finding and watchdog oversight in our national politics.
President Obama, though, just might be feeling the rug being pulled out from under him; as he appears to be losing support on the Left, his traditional bastion of support. Here, imbedded in her piece on Clintonesque cover-up deja vu, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd (no Republican sympathiser) is scathing in her criticism of the President and his Administration’s handling of the Benghazi fiasco.
Remember, Nixon did not have a direct hand in the Watergate break-in. What sunk the Nixon Presidency was the President and his aides’ attempt at a cover-up. It was lies and obfuscation that nailed the lid on Nixon’s coffin.
But only because principled Republicans sided with Democrats in Congress in demanding a higher standard of accountability from our Chief Executive.
Obama is not yet in trouble. As long as the national press and Congressional Democrats are willing to shield him, he can survive any scandal. But if Dowd’s example is just the beginning of an erosion of support from his base (the Left-leaning press), then Obama may find his Presidency on very shaky legs.
When Myths Collide in the Capital
By MAUREEN DOWD
Published: May 11, 2013
THE capital is in the throes of déjà vu and preview as it plunges back into Clinton Rules, defined by a presidential aide on the hit ABC show “Scandal” as damage control that goes like this: “It’s not true, it’s not true, it’s not true, it’s old news.”
The conservatives appearing on Benghazi-obsessed Fox News are a damage patrol with an approach that goes like this: “Lies, paranoia, subpoena, impeach, Watergate, Iran-contra.”
(Though now that the I.R.S. has confessed to targeting Tea Party groups, maybe some of the paranoia is justified.)
Welcome to a glorious spring weekend of accusation and obfuscation as Hillaryland goes up against Foxworld.
The toxic theatrics, including Karl Rove’s first attack ad against Hillary, cloud a simple truth: The administration’s behavior before and during the attack in Benghazi, in which four Americans died, was unworthy of the greatest power on earth.
After his Libyan intervention, President Obama knew he was sending diplomats and their protectors into a country that was no longer a country, a land rife with fighters affiliated with Al Qaeda.
Yet in this hottest of hot spots, the State Department’s minimum security requirements were not met, requests for more security were rejected, and contingency plans were not drawn up, despite the portentous date of 9/11 and cascading warnings from the C.I.A., which had more personnel in Benghazi than State did and vetted the feckless Libyan Praetorian Guard. When the Pentagon called an elite Special Forces team three hours into the attack, it was training in Croatia — decidedly not a hot spot.
Hillary Clinton and Ambassador Chris Stevens were rushing to make the flimsy Benghazi post permanent as a sign of good faith with Libyans, even as it sat ringed by enemies.
The hierarchies at State and Defense had a plodding response, failing to make any superhuman effort as the siege waxed and waned over eight hours.
In an emotional Senate hearing on Wednesday, Stevens’s second-in-command, Gregory Hicks, who was frantically trying to help from 600 miles away in Tripoli, described how his pleas were denied by military brass, who said they could not scramble planes and who gave a “stand-down” order to four Special Forces officers in Tripoli who were eager to race to Benghazi.
“My reaction was that, O.K., we’re on our own,” Hicks said quietly. He said the commander of that Special Forces team told him, “This is the first time in my career that a diplomat has more” chutzpah “than someone in the military.”
The defense secretary at the time, Leon Panetta, insisted, “We quickly responded.” But they responded that they would not respond. As Emma Roller and David Weigel wrote in Slate: “The die was cast long before the attack, by the weak security at the consulate, and commanders may have decided to cut their losses rather than risking more casualties. And that isn’t a story anyone prefers to tell.”
Truth is the first casualty here when competing fiefs protect their mythologies. Some unhinged ideologues on the right cling to the mythology that Barry and Hillary are out to destroy America.
In the midst of a re-election campaign, Obama aides wanted to promote the mythology that the president who killed Osama was vanquishing terror. So they deemed it problematic to mention any possible Qaeda involvement in the Benghazi attack.
Looking ahead to 2016, Hillaryland needed to shore up the mythology that Clinton was a stellar secretary of state. Prepared talking points about the attack included mentions of Al Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia, a Libyan militant group, but the State Department got those references struck. Foggy Bottom’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, a former Cheney aide, quashed a we-told-you-so paragraph written by the C.I.A. that said the spy agency had “produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to Al Qaeda in Benghazi and eastern Libya,” and had warned about five other attacks “against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British ambassador’s convoy.”
Nuland fretted about “my building leadership,” and with backing from Ben Rhodes, a top White House aide, lobbied to remove those reminders from the talking points because they “could be abused by members” of Congress “to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that either?”
Hicks said that Beth Jones, an under secretary of state, bristled when he asked her why Susan Rice had stressed the protest over an anti-Muslim video rather than a premeditated attack — a Sunday show marathon that he said made his jaw drop. He believes he was demoted because he spoke up.
Hillary’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, also called Hicks to angrily ask why a State Department lawyer had not been allowed to monitor every meeting in Libya with Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who visited in October. (The lawyer did not have the proper security clearance for one meeting.) Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, has been a rabid Hillary critic on Fox News since the attack. Hicks said he had never before been scolded for talking to a lawmaker.
All the factions wove their own mythologies at the expense of our deepest national mythology: that if there is anything, no matter how unlikely or difficult, that we can do to try to save the lives of Americans who have volunteered for dangerous assignments, we must do it.