Two important points need to be made about the lamentable Benghazi affair. The first is that this is no time to start reaching for the self-firing, almost untargeted impeachment six-guns. Ever since Watergate, the joys of criminalizing policy differences and putting additional heat on political opponents by unctuously installing special prosecutors and speaking with the sleazy solemnity of faux due process while stoking up public opinion for impeachment proceedings and the removal from high offices of their occupants has been more and more frequently the default posture of both parties. It is clear to all reasonable examiners of the facts now that there was only the flimsiest ground to destroy the Nixon administration, one of the most successful in the country’s history, and no reason whatever to subject President Clinton to a Senate trial over the tawdry but practically irrelevant matter of his peccadilloes and response to questions about them, which approached perjury of the mousetrap kind, but did not commit it. There was a good deal of Democratic huffing and puffing and pawing of the ground over Iran-Contra, as if, in Colonel North’s words, “the on again, off again” congressional attitude to assistance to the Nicaraguan contras had a legal weight and entitlement to inviolability greater than the most seminal provisions of the Constitution, which were on the side of the commander-in-chief. The special prosecutor in that case, Lawrence Walsh, became a raving Torquemada who even indicted the profoundly unimpeachable Caspar Weinberger. As for the original presidential impeachment, of Andrew Johnson, it was an unmitigated outrage and a scandal that it came within one vote of success.
The definition of high crimes and misdemeanors, which the Constitution requires to be proven before a federal officeholder is removed, should be clarified, and restored to its original content: gross material abuse of office, or abuse of office with intent to subvert the Constitution and fundamentally alter the nature of government. The Benghazi affair, as it seems to be emerging, doesn’t tick either of these boxes. What seems to be the case is that the government was slow to react to assist the four men who died in the attack on the consulate in Benghazi and then soft-pedaled the incident as a spontaneous mass response by the incessantly conjured and invoked “Arab street” against a private-sector American video produced by some Islamophobic kook who pilloried the prophet Mohammed. We were subjected to the imbecilic charade of Hillary Clinton going on television to reassure the world’s Muslims, who must have been completely oblivious to what she was talking about, that the great majority of Americans had nothing but respect for Islam. This charade was in furtherance of the pretense that Secretary Clinton and the entire senior echelons of the administration — including the president, the vice president, the CIA director, and Secretary of Defense Panetta — all locked hands and sang like a choir to promote: that the Benghazi murders, including that of a distinguished ambassador, were not an organized terrorist incident, but a misplaced reaction to an offense against Muslim sensibilities. Susan Rice, who had some hopes of succeeding Mrs. Clinton as secretary of state, was frog-marched onto the Sunday talk shows to trot out the canard about the offensive video. It was a contemptible, self-serving fraud, and the media were complicit in allowing it to gain some currency, as in Candy Crowley’s award-winning performance as apprentice-whitewasher of the administration in the presidential debates. The administration staged a shabby and disgraceful performance, but it was not a high crime or misdemeanor, and the tongue of the next commentator who raises the spectre of impeachment on this account should be extracted with red-hot tongs.