Benghazi as Watergate?

Posted on May 8, 2013 by

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Benghazi Investigation WatergateCongress is set to begin hearings on the Benghazi attack, in which four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christoper Stevens, were killed. The 9/11/12 assault, which was initially blamed on a YouTube video that defamed Mohammed, is now seen as a full-scale act of terror on a relatively soft target, the U.S. Consulate.

The primary controversy seems to stem from the possibility that military assets, that could have provided aid to the Ambassador and the security personnel protecting him, were available, but were not allowed to engage. I cannot claim the knowledge or expertise to speak to the possibilities of aid, or its potential effectiveness. Bing West, a military analyst, argued that aid was readily available but was not deployed due to severe rigidity in the command structure. David French, former military officer, lawyer, and political operative, has decried the moral failures of Benghazi. I generally agree with them, but only based upon my limited knowledge.

What intrigues me, however, is Benghazi’s potential political impact. We cannot know what might be found, though the House is claiming that new witnesses will shed light on what happened at the consulate on that fateful day. Some, including John Bolton, former U.N. Ambassador, think this could be a hinge point that could pull down the Obama Administration. Others, like Marc Thiessen, believe the new testimony could reveal a significant coverup. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also sees this as a pivotal moment.

It seems that every scandal since Watergate has been forced to bear the suffix “gate” for two reasons. One, journalists have historically salivated over the possibility of a career-defining story. Yet, they have been strangely absent for most of Benghazi. Two, the cynics among us, which appears to constitute the bulk of political elites, breathlessly await the next big sideshow, the one that tears anew the fabric of our body politic. Is there a chance this might go down as such a scandal? Could Benghazi force President Obama from office?

Who knows? We simply do not know enough to speculate on, much less discern, Benghazi’s scope. What we do know might help us distinguish Watergate from Benghazi. First, Watergate involved illegal activity from the beginning. The Plumbers broke into the Watergate Hotel to tap the DNC’s phones and they got caught. To my knowledge, there is no evidence Nixon knew of, much less approved, this action. More clearly, Nixon did use the CIA to undermine the FBI’s Watergate investigation. Nixon also ordered the ‘Saturday Night Massacre,” where Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor investigating Watergate, was fired, but only after Attorney General Elliott Richardson,and his deputy, William Ruckleshaus resigned instead of firing Cox. Robert Bork, who was Solicitor General, under Nixon’s orders, fired Cox as acting Attorney General.

Nixon, then, used the power of his office to either undermine or violate the law and the rule of law. This seems beyond dispute.

From what we know, President Obama, even if events are traced to him directly, may be guilty of inaction, of refusing to use force when it may have prevented the loss of life. The worst possible motivation for this would be political. Obama may have engaged in political calculation and lives were lost as a result. This is morally repugnant, if true. But does it raise to the level of “high crime and misdemeanor” as required in Article 2, Section 4? I think not, at least not on the surface.

Perhaps more effectively, one could argue that Obama’s inactivity is actually a failure of duty. The President’s primary function is to protect and defend America, Americans, and our interests. Benghazi could be spun, if the worst comes out, as a dereliction of duty and, to a degree, a violation of the President’s oath of office. In this way, it could be a massive sin of omission. If Congress wishes to define a dereliction of duty as a “high crime or misdemeanor,” it has the latitude to do so.

Lastly, yet importantly, as John Hinderaker notes at the Power Line blog, the “crime” of Benghazi, if it is established as such, is far more severe than the initial crime of Watergate. While breaking into a rival party’s headquarters is serious, and destructive of our electoral system, it pales in comparison to the tragedy of Benghazi, where human lives were lost, possibly due to a leadership failure.

What do you all think of the comparison?

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