On Trey Gowdy and Benghazi

The S.C. congressman responds to the NYT's Benghazi story in the dumbest way imaginable

To the left is U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, a Republican from Greenville, S.C., who has represented the Palmetto State’s Fourth Congressional District since 2011. On Fox News Channel’s On the Record With Greta Van Susteren Monday night, he responded to The New York Times’ recent story about the September 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, with an argument of such transcendent idiocy, such willful dumbassedness, that Mr. Gowdy might just have to run for president.

Here’s the Times story, and here’s the “nut graf” that has everyone on Bullshit Mountain upset:

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

This undermines — crushes, really — the FNC/GOP-sponsored version of events, in which the attack was entirely the work of Al Qaeda; that it represented a kind of celebratory 11th-anniversary toast to 9/11; that it proved false President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign claim (which he never made) to have destroyed Al Qaeda; and that the Administration’s initial explanation for the attack, the video, was a ridiculous smoke screen intended to cover up the Administration’s neglect and boost Obama’s campaign.

To buy this, you have to make certain assumptions:

·      All the attackers were card-carrying members of Al Qaeda, with picture IDs and everything, and that our intelligence agencies — which, in truth, have not really proved themselves a squared-away bunch over the last decade or so — have been able to confirm this, as have people who scarcely left Capitol Hill.

·      That people in a chaotic, post-overthrow country who have trouble organizing a meal could execute a precisely calibrated plan to attack a secondary American outpost with little strategic significance because they felt like marking the anniversary of 9/11.

·      That anyone, really, has a firm grasp of exactly what Al Qaeda is nowadays.

·      That the president, having at least flirted with an unconstitutional act to intervene in Libya, now felt compelled to abandon U.S. resources there because he thought that would help him win re-election. (I know. It all crumbles in your hands after a few seconds.)

·      That certain Islamic extremists have not proven a propensity to get homicidal over some seriously ludicrous things, like cartoons — a fact Fox News has never been shy about promoting.

·      That Hillary Clinton … something.

‘Enough with the bloodshed’

So. Trey Gowdy.

Well, first of all, Dana (Perino, guest host), I want to congratulate The New York Times. It only took 15 months to figure out how to spell Benghazi. So in another 15 months, maybe their reporting will actually catch up with the truth.

Y’know, I have a rule of thumb for serious foreign policy discussions. If the discussion starts with a fourth-grade schoolyard taunt, it is not to be taken seriously.

Please proceed, Congressman.

Two things they got wrong. Number one, the video was translated into Arabic in early September of 2012. Early September of 2012 is when that video was translated into Arabic. What in the world explains the violence in Benghazi prior to the video being translated and released? Our consulate was attacked way before the video was released. The British ambassador was almost assassinated way before the video was released. The International Red Cross was attacked twice in Benghazi well before this video was ever released. So if the video is really the impetus for the violence, what in the world explains the violence prior to the release of the video?

Let me see if I follow this argument: Violence in Libya before the video’s release renders false the claim that the video was “in large part” behind the attack.

That is crap on a stick.

The overthrow of Qaddafi in fall 2011 left a void filled quickly with independent militias and freelancers with guns, as was obvious during the first post-Qaddafi election (from the AP):

But the desert nation of 6 million people has experienced a rocky transition since Gadhafi was killed by rebel forces in his home city of Sirte in late October. Armed militias operate independently, refusing to be brought under the umbrella of a national army, and deepening regional and tribal divisions erupt into violence with alarming frequency.

Growing resentment in the east — which was the cradle of last year’s uprising — over perceived domination by Tripoli in the west has threatened to tear the country apart …

On the eve of the vote, gunmen shot down a helicopter carrying polling materials near the eastern city of Benghazi, birthplace of last year’s revolution, killing one election worker on board, according to Saleh Darhoub, a spokesman for the ruling National Transitional Council. The crew survived after a crash landing.

The violence continued Saturday, with protesters, some armed, attacking polling centers in the early hours in the eastern cities of Ajdabiya, Brega and Ras Lanouf, ransacking them and setting ballot papers ablaze.

Reflecting the lawlessness that has plagued the country since Gadhafi’s ouster, protesters attacked a polling station in Benghazi only to be driven back by voters who fired their own weapons in the air, independent candidate Faiza Ali said.

“Enough with the bloodshed,” she said.

The election was held July 7, 2012.

That in the world explains the violence before the video — that, plus the fact that the Middle East has been a violent region for roughly 5,000 years, give or take.

‘What difference does it make?’

Here’s the truly ridiculous part.

Secondarily, with respect to al Qaeda, whether it was al Qaeda or a subsidiary or a holding company or a limited partnership, to quote Hillary Clinton, “What difference does it make?” Who cares whether it was al Qaeda proper or a subsidiary? Four Americans are dead and it wasn’t a spontaneous reaction to a video. It was planned.

Spectacular. Here’s how dumb the argument is: In attempting to advance the GOP argument that Benghazi is a continuing political scandal, Rep. Gowdy torpedoes its central claim.

What difference does it make? NONE. THAT’S THE POINT.

Benghazi is a political scandal only if Obama and/or Clinton underestimated or dismissed a resurgence of Al Qaeda in Libya and falsely claimed the organization had been defeated, then tried to cover up the reason for the attack with a red herring — the video.

Not what happened. Full stop. In a country with no center, the attackers were a mix of people with varying rationales, allegiances and levels of commitment, and the video was never presented as the conclusive, exclusive reason why the consulate was attacked.

As for the Al Qaeda-or-not-Al Qaeda question, if you’re inclined to use “Al Qaeda” as a blanket term to refer to any Muslim with an automatic weapon, I’m afraid you’ve rendered the term meaningless.

Kill Hill

The Congressman wrapped things up by showing his hand, making sure everybody watching got a good look at it:

Gowdy: And I have read this New York Times article, Dana, six times. I want you to read it six times and tell me if you can tell who the secretary of state was when Benghazi happened. Because her name wasn’t mentioned a single solitary time in this exhaustive New York Times piece. Not once.

Perino: And yet, most people, when they read the piece, assumed that The New York Times was trying to clear the deck so that Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have to deal with Benghazi in a potential presidential run.

Gowdy: Oh, heavens no. That couldn’t possibly have been their motivation, would it be, to support a Democrat who was running for the White House? Oh, heavens, no.

Slick move by the Times there, to run the story a mere 34 months before the election for maximum impact.

This is what’s known as a “tell.” Hillary Clinton was not mentioned in the Times story because the Times story was about what happened on the ground in Benghazi, and Hillary Clinton was not on the ground in Benghazi.

No, this knucklehead’s baseless accusation of a liberal media conspiracy to boost a Clinton presidential campaign is excellent circumstantial evidence of the opposite: a right-wing media conspiracy to scuttle a Clinton presidential campaign. That’s what Benghazi The Scandal has always been about, at base, beginning before the fires were out.

Gowdy has no political price to pay for going on Fox News and unspooling this garbage. Hell, it'll make him a hero. His district, which includes Greenville and Spartanburg, is one of the most reliably Republican congressional districts in a rabid Republican state. It’s the district whose voters elected Jim DeMint to the House and ditched Bob Inglis, with his 93 percent American Conservative Union lifetime rating, for Gowdy because they perceived Inglis as too moderate. You can’t go too far right in the Fourth.

The price we pay 

But there’s a price we all pay for this. The less we appreciate the distinctions between groups in countries the United States decides to invade — the more we conflate them into one giant terrorist group called “Al Qaeda” — the less we understand what we’re doing abroad, and why, and what the consequences might be.

There’s plenty of legitimate areas of inquiry with Benghazi: appropriate levels of diplomatic security; the wisdom of using local militias to do that job in the face of staffing cuts; the State Department’s responsiveness to communications from the field; the wisdom of intervening in a tinderbox nation’s civil war in the first place. Honestly addressing those questions might make U.S. foreign policy smarter and stronger. It might save lives. Instead, we get stupidity and circus from the likes of Trey Gowdy, who cares about the four dead Americans to the extent that he can use them as collateral for fundraising and TV appearances.

We all should have had enough of this Benghazi mess 14 months ago, and now it’s obvious we’ll be wading in those filthy waters until November 2016, probably beyond. Thanks, guys, and a Happy New Year to you and yours.