Yesterday, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) held an extensive press conference on Benghazi, Libya, urging that a select committee be set up to centralize and coordinate the investigation that spans the jurisdiction of several Senate committees. At the onset of the press conference McCain bluntly stated that the administration had run out of credibility with lawmakers.
He then reeled off a list of open and important questions on what we knew in advance, what the president did during the attack and how the president and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice responded:
(Maybe the press corps could learn from this how to shape probing inquires when and if Obama ever gives another press conference.) McCain’s last point is the key, namely that we must find out how we missed Libya’s descent into jihadist terror and what we can do there and in other failed states going forward so the fiasco is “not repeated.”
There are several important take-aways from McCain’s remarks and those by Graham and Ayotte that followed.
First, these three senators are sober adults, maybe the only ones on the Hill with the determination, knowledge and authority to do what the press and the administration refused to do: Uncover the complete account of the entire Libyan episode so that we can learn from it and shape policy accordingly. McCain has often played this role in matters of national security (after the original 9-11, for example). Whatever his political shortcomings and foibles, he is an invaluable national security watchdog. The president, by comparison, seems tiny, clueless and entirely partisan in his refusal to present a comprehensive account of what occurred.
Second, imagine if Mitt Romney had held a press conference like McCain’s during the campaign, demanding a full accounting. Would the president have been compelled before the election to come forward? We’ll never know because the mice populating the Romney campaign (the same ones who were certain the electorate wouldn’t be heavily Democratic) convinced the candidate this was a non-issue and voters weren’t interested. Quite aside from what impact it might have had on the campaign, we might have gotten a glimpse into what occurred. It would have benefited the country. After Obama’s election (as we saw in that presidential news conference yesterday), he has much less reason to be forthcoming.
Third, Graham explained that he has no interest in promoting anyone involved in the Benghazi debacle, saying that Rice was either lying or badly uninformed and therefore not a proper choice for the job of secretary of state.
Graham has credibility on this, as he reminds us, because he and McCain came back from Iraq pre-surge to report there “were more than a few dead-enders” and voted against promoting Gen. George Casey under whose watch the Iraq situation deteriorated. That helped usher in a change in Iraq policy and the surge. To be blunt, we do this sort of review so we can improve national security and save lives.
Finally, this should not be a partisan affair. As Graham noted, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has been vocal and responsible in calling for explanation of the FBI’s conduct in the Gen. David Petraeus investigation and for Petraeus’s testimony. Graham was clear that he wants to separate “the weird” (personal scandal) from the national security examination so that we can conduct the latter with attention to facts, not rumors.
Since we are now post-election maybe the Obama mainstream media rooting section can devote time and attention to this issue. The press so far has not seemed to grasp the importance of figuring out how we were caught by surprise in Benghazi and what we need to do in Libya and elsewhere to anticipate and react to the growing al-Qaeda threat. The press has remained either uninterested in the entire matter or obsessed with salacious details of the Petraeus personal scandal. Can’t they take a deep breath now that their man has been reelected and attend to their proper watchdog role? (Too much to ask, huh?)
If need be McCain, Graham and Ayotte should hold a press conference every week, bring in the family members of the dead Americans, who deserve answers, and enlist Democrats (there must be some, right?) who have a nonpartisan attachment to fact-finding. Former secretaries of state, defense secretaries, national security leaders and retired members of the military to join in the demand for answers. Rather than let this hang as a dark cloud over his second term (as Hurricane Katrina did in President George W. Bush’s and Iran Contra did in Ronald Reagan’s last four years) the president should have every incentive to put this behind him as quickly as possible. Only when he senses that he cannot ignore it will McCain, Ayotte and Graham get the cooperation of Democrats to move expeditiously.