The American Psychiatric Association’s latest handbook — the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) — is about to be published. It is the handbook of mental health, and if you’re not in it, you are among the fortunate few. Even though the hour is late, I beseech the DSM’s publishers to consider one additional entry, the seriousness of which will be apparent to anyone who watches Fox News: Benghazi Syndrome.
Benghazi Syndrome is a grave malady of the noggin, the symptoms of which are a compulsion to grossly exaggerate matters and to compare almost anything to Watergate (see Watergate Syndrome, DSM-IV). Patient Zero in this regard is Sen. Lindsey Graham, a usually affable Republican from South Carolina who has suggested that the Benghazi episode warrants an investigation by a special congressional committee, just like Iran-contra and — drum roll, please — Watergate.
Others have gone even further. Sen. James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma and a man who once suggested the Environmental Protective Agency has something in common with the Gestapo, called the Benghazi whatchamacallit the “most egregious cover-up in American history” and possibly an impeachable offense. These charges are so serious we can only conclude that l’affaire Benghazi has the potential to bring down the Obama administration — the proverbial thread that, if pulled, could unravel the entire garment. Such drama!
So what is Benghazi? It is the place in Libya where the United States maintained two installations — a consulate and a much larger CIA outpost. Both of these were attacked on Sept. 11, 2012, a date of some significance. The assaults, we all now know, were conducted by a jihadist group and were not — as the Obama administration initially maintained — a spur-of-the-moment thing precipitated by the airing of an anti-Muslim video. We also know that the administration either was unsure of the facts or simply didn’t like them. So it knitted together the infamous talking points that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice repeated on all the Sunday talk shows. Aside from “good morning,” little of what she said was true.
President Obama was then really Candidate Obama and he surely did not want the words “terrorist attack” uttered during the presidential campaign. In addition, the CIA and the State Department were in a cat fight and could not agree on the wording of the talking points — or even, from a fair reading of their clashing e-mails, who the fanatical enemy was: al-Qaeda or members of Congress?
In all this, it’s almost possible to forget that four Americans died in Benghazi. The event was a tragedy and it hardly matters, as then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vociferously maintained, if the attack occurred spontaneously or was planned. Either way, it was a success for the terrorists and a debacle for the United States.
It is good to find out how this happened — who’s responsible for the inadequate security, etc. — and it is also good to hold the Obama administration accountable for putting out a misleading statement. But the record will show that a thorough report was, in fact, compiled. Its authors were Thomas Pickering, an esteemed retired diplomat, and Adm. Mike Mullen, an equally esteemed retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They found the standard mistakes and snafus — but no crime.
Watergate, though, was a crime. Iran-contra was a crime. Government officials were convicted and some of them went to jail. Fudging a press release is not a crime. Compromising on wording is not a crime. Making a decision — even if wrong — that there was no time to call in the cavalry is not a crime. And having inadequate security is not only not a crime but partly a consequence of congressional budget cuts.
It is not a crime either to make a mountain out of a molehill, but this particular one is constructed of a fetid combination of bad taste and poisonous politics. Dig down a bit and it becomes clear that some — many? — Republicans suspect that Barack Obama and-or Hillary Clinton are capable of letting people die to cover up a terrorist attack. Either that, or this is what they want us to think.
In the end, it all comes down to an irrational and absolutely rabid dislike of Obama that so clouds judgment that utterly preposterous statements are uttered, usually within the precincts of the Fox News studios. This, as you might have guessed, is classic Benghazi Syndrome. There is no known cure.
Read more from Richard Cohen’s archive.