Benghazi, the American right’s favorite political synecdoche, has always been one of those things it’s tough to outright dismiss. Whether cynically exploited for partisan gain or not, the fact remains that what happened in Benghazi left four people dead and those people have grieving families who no doubt continue to grapple with the event that took their loved ones’ lives. When a family-member dies prematurely and in an especially violent way, you make yourself crazy trying to get answers and its rare that the answers you do get are ever satisfactory. That’s human nature.
With this in mind, it’s completely understandable that for the past couple of weeks, Patricia Smith, mother of Sean Smith, who died in the Benghazi attacks of 2012, has been making the cable news rounds and loudly excoriating Hillary Clinton to anyone who will listen. Earlier today she appeared on Andrea Mitchell’s show on MSNBC and the interview was pretty much identical to her one-on-one with Carol Costello on CNN last week. Smith believes Clinton is “lying” about her response to the Benghazi attacks and she claims to be completely in the dark as to what really happened to her son. Her comportment is that of a woman who’s consumed with understandable grief and no small amount of outrage that her son is dead and she doesn’t quite understand why.
The main argument Republican leaders always make when you tell them that they need to finally get over Benghazi, breathtakingly self-serving though it may be, is that Patricia Smith exists and she hasn’t gotten over it. People like Trey Gowdy take grotesque delight in grandstanding on the graves of Sean Smith, Chris Stevens, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, adopting a sudden air of phony solemnity and indignation when they speak of their tragic deaths. It’s a trap really, because if you tell them Benghazi isn’t a big deal, they get to shout back at you, “Four dead Americans is no big deal?!?!” and you’ve proven that you’re an amoral monster.
But here’s the thing: Benghazi, viewed within the context of the lengthy timeline of U.S. diplomacy and intervention overseas, isn’t really a big deal. That’s not to say it isn’t a tragedy — it absolutely is and asking difficult questions about what happened there was always in order. It’s simply that this country has endured all kinds of attacks like the one at the Benghazi compound precisely because we choose to undertake diplomacy in dangerous places. Hell, during the Reagan administration 299 American and allied servicemen were killed in the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut — which came six months after a U.S. embassy bombing in Beirut that killed 63 Americans and just five months before the CIA’s station chief in Beirut was kidnapped, tortured and killed — and there was exactly one investigation of the matter and it was truly bipartisan, with no attempts to hang the tragedy around the neck of anybody’s political enemy.
During the disastrous administration of George W. Bush, there were a full 13 terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies and outposts around the world and nobody made a peep. Everyone just accepted it as the cost of doing business in the war on terror. And that’s what Benghazi is, as blunt and dismissive as that may sound. The Republicans who’ve been obsessed with Benghazi over the past three years — whether on Capitol Hill or on Fox News — have been attempting to turn a chaotic event that couldn’t be controlled and which became an unqualified tragedy into a full-fledged scandal. And they’ve done it in the name of scoring a scalp and with the hope of hobbling the biggest threat to their White House ambitions in 2016: Hillary Clinton.
The United States made the decision long ago to attempt diplomacy in some of the most dangerous regions on earth. We’re in places where people don’t much like us and don’t much want us. You can argue whether this is sound policy or not, but what you can’t do is be surprised when violence erupts and is directed at our people. It takes a hell of a lot of guts to be dropped into the middle of a snake pit and then try to not only avoid getting bitten but keep others around the world from being bitten as well. That’s what guys like Sean Smith did and they deserve our unending gratitude and respect. Their deaths should be mourned and honored and their families — in Sean Smith’s case, his mother Patricia — should be consoled as best as possible.
But the presence of grieving families doesn’t automatically indicate malfeasance or negligence when you’re talking about grief for men and women who willingly undertook dangerous assignments. Patricia Smith has every right to be angry and to continue to demand answers. She’s a mother mourning the loss of her son. Her anguish, however, shouldn’t be confused for proof that anyone dropped the ball in Benghazi. Those questions, as it turns out, have already been answered.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.