Sunday, October 21, 2012

Where to Begin

Where to begin?  I get more and more dismayed by the current state of politics, and by extension, the state of this country. 

In my last post I said that Mitt Romney is a liar.  That may sound like a strong statement, maybe a little hyperbolic.  I’ll be more explicit:  Romney is a liar on a level that I have not seen before in politics.  Lying seems to come natural to this man.  His egocentricity is on full display when he lies.  It’s an expression of his utter contempt for people, a belief on his part that he can say anything to the rest of us because he believes we are inferior.  The flip side of the lying are his reversals of position.  He was for something before he was against it but now he is for it again.  This is yet another expression of his arrogance, an attitude that he has no obligation to state what his policy is and be consistent.  All politicians dodge and shift, but few of them completely reverse their policy positions to pander to their audience.

Romney actually believes a lot of the nonsense that he says, because much of what he says is a restatement of the same claims that are made in the conservative media.  His audience is already primed by the constant repetition of untruths in the rightwing echo chamber, a repetition that ultimately creates an alternate universe that people dwell in.  This is how Romney stepped in a gigantic pile in the second debate when he asserted that Obama took two weeks to call the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.  Ignoring for a minute the asininity of a talking point that demands a president use the words and phrases it chooses, here’s my take.

In the debate Romney’s two weeks assertion was a restatement of what had been said many times by conservatives.  It was factually wrong and the video of the conference in the Rose Garden clearly shows that.  You can spin it six ways to Sunday but that’s what he said the day after the attack with the Secretary of State at his side.  Now some conservative pundits are claiming that Obama was talking about something else, apparently because he did not use the syntax that they required.  Oh Puhlease.  How many grammatical knots do you have to twist yourself into to make one thing into something else?    

The Republicans are now clutching their pearls in righteous outrage.  They want to know why the president took so long to clarify that the attack on the Benghazi consulate was a coordinated attack not the acts of an angry mob.  They want to know why there was not more security in place.  The investigation by Darrell Issa’s committee is underway.  Answers must be found.  This may seem perfectly reasonable, but there’s more to it than that.  So here’s a little background.

Qahdaffi’s despotic regime in Libya was overthrown with the help of US and European air support, but without US troops on the ground.  That’s not to say there were no CIA or Special Forces there doing covert work.  Libya is essentially a new nation that is trying to establish a stable government.  There are a lot of competing factions vying for power.  The situation is dynamic.  It’s in the interest of the US to see that a stable government friendly to us is established, but without the presence of our troops on the ground.  Lord knows we don’t need to have our military occupy yet another Middle East country.

Given the instability in Libya, you can’t expect a normal diplomatic structure to be in place.  I don’t know why the ambassador was staying in Benghazi that day.  The main embassy is in Tripoli and this was a secondary consulate.  We now know that one of the two buildings in Benghazi was a CIA station.  That information was made public inadvertently during one of Issa’s public hearings on the incident.  It’s likely that the CIA was the security force at that consulate. 

Bottom line, there’s a lot that we don’t know and won’t know because much of this country’s activities there take place covertly.  It’s not a simple case of do you send more security people to an embassy because a lot is happening under the radar. 

Holding public investigations into such events has been a place that congress in the past has been reluctant to go because they can expose covert operations and endanger lives.  The Issa investigation chose to hold televised hearings, undoubtedly for their political effect.  Those hearings have so far revealed that a consulate building was a CIA post.  They have also outed a number of Libyans who support us and shared information with us, putting these people at risk.  The information is now out there for all to see.     

Now the Republicans can press on with this attack and I expect that they will.  They know the administration is in a bind because they can’t say too much without compromising activities in Libya, but if it holds back information it will be accused of a coverup.  In all this charade I ask myself, would a Republican president have handled the Libyan attacks any differently?  And the answer is probably not. 

Years ago a presidential candidate would not have tried to exploit this tragedy for political gain, recognizing the potential damage in doing so.  It was a line that was not crossed, and that is why Romney was condemned by old school Republicans as well as Democrats when he made his accusatory statement the day after the attacks.

We can have the larger debate whether this country should engage in covert activities all over the world.  Indeed we can have the debate whether this country should try to act as the world’s policeman, whether we need hundreds of military bases in every corner of the world, whether we should be engaging in wars to protect access to resources and if drone strikes are acceptable.  But if covert activities are what we are doing in Libya, then we should not have public rhetoric that puts our people over there at risk. 

What we get instead is a faux debate,  a political witch hunt that can jeopardize Americans overseas.  Anything to get elected, to get back in power.  Nothing is off the table for these people.  I’m not happy with either political party.  I think they are both irredeemably corrupt and beholden to big money.  But it is the Republican party that has truly gone off the rails in the last few years.  It seems there is no action, no statement that is too extreme if there is a potential political reward for it.  There is no claim by a rightwing pundit that is too batshit crazy to be uttered, in fact repeated again and again.  In the words of former GOP operative the Republican party is now more like an “apocalyptic cult” than a political party.

Here’s a quote from a blogger called Meteor Blades that sums up the Romney stump speeches on foreign policy. 

Romney said the president "went around at the beginning of his term and apologized for America around the world, it made us just heartsick." Never happened. A lie. "The president is planning on cutting $1 trillion out of military spending." A lie. Romney said President Obama "went before the United Nations" and "said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip." A lie. Romney said, "[T]his president should have put in place crippling sanctions against Iran, he did not." A lie. Romney said Obama "failed to communicate that military options are on the table" with regards to Iran's nuclear program. A lie. Romney said  Syria is Iran's "route to the sea." A lie, and a dumb one since Iran doesn't share a border with Syria and has more than a thousand miles of its own coastline. Romney said Obama "decided to give Russia their number one foreign policy objective—removal of our missile defense sites from Eastern Europe—and got nothing in return." A lie. Romney said: "You know how many trade agreements this president has negotiated? Zero." A lie. 

Is a lie about your opponent a personal attack?  Does pointing out that Romney is not telling the truth constitute a personal attack?  It’s a bizarre political universe we now live in.


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