As Max wrote on Friday, the explanations for the Pentagon to act in time to save the Americans trapped in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on 9/11/12 are unraveling the more we learn about what happened and the real-time information that was available to decision makers. But though the facts about the incident continue to dribble out, the response from most of the mainstream media to this scandal remains one of indifference. Indeed, to listen to many liberal pundits, once President Obama put the issue to sleep in the second presidential debate with a significant assist from CNN’s Candy Crowley, the only people who continue to think about the issue are right-wing nutcases. That the president responded by “taking offense” to a question on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” about the information he and other senior officials might have known about the situation shows he thinks he can get away with the same sort of grandstanding he exhibited at that debate.
If the president’s campaign was counting on their cheerleaders in the mainstream media having their back on Libya, they were right. The latest developments in the story have gotten little or no play in major newspapers or networks other than Fox. Though foreign policy was never going to be a decisive factor in the presidential election, the relative silence about Benghazi has ensured that although the president says he “takes responsibility” for what happened, there is little chance he will be held accountable in any meaningful way about it before the presidential election. But like some other scandals that have been percolating below the radar, this is one more that will hang over the administration in the months and years to come. The best that can be said for the president is that if he wins next week, Benghazi will be added to the list that already contains items like the cyber-war security leaks and the “Fast and Furious” scandal that will haunt his second term. If he loses, it ensures the GOP will be able to continue to haul administration figures over the coals over these failures with impunity.
As a political strategy, the president’s continuing outrage about questions about Libya has been successful. But it is one with a limited shelf life. Once the election is over, the stalling tactics won’t work. Sooner or later, answers must be forthcoming. If there is to be a scapegoat for the apparent decision to have U.S. forces “stand down” rather than rescue Ambassador Stevens and the other besieged Americans, you can bet it won’t be the man who says he “takes responsibility” for what happened.
It is possible a Romney administration will decide to pass on further investigations of Obama’s scandals in order to avoid being accused of petty partisanship or pointless recriminations. But if Obama wins but is still, as is likely, is faced with at least one branch of Congress in the hands of the Republicans, the accounting for Libya will become a major problem for the president. At that point, fake anger won’t be enough to derail serious investigations that could prove both embarrassing and damaging. Senator John McCain’s pointed comments about Libya yesterday on CBS constitute not so much a partisan talking point as a harbinger of what the president and his team will face in the future as Congress digs into the issue.
Presidents ardently desire second terms, but most find that the scandals, failures and fatigue that inevitably crop up turn those four years into a nightmare. President Obama may have dodged the bullet on Libya prior to the election, but if he wins, Benghazi will be one more bit of unfinished business that will come back to bite him.