If the CIA wanted to smuggle guns to Syria or interrogate al-Qaeda suspects in Benghazi, that was its business, not necessarily the administration’s. To the degree Obama was involved in overseeing events in Libya, his involvement was most likely limited to a vague warning that, in the latter part of the nip-and-tuck 2012 campaign, there must not be anything resembling a shoot-’em-up Mogadishu, which a beefed-up security presence in Benghazi might have made more likely by evening the odds. Better to keep a low profile amid increasing security threats and hope for the best. And, if the worst happens — well, things do happen.
When the violence did erupt, a freelance video producer became the perfect villain. Obama and his subordinates, principally Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton, almost immediately damned the hapless filmmaker as having incited global violence by his bigotry. The more Obama told the world that he too condemned Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (and in fact he had Mr. Nakoula jailed on a trumped-up probation violation), the more Benghazi became a sort of revolutionary morality tale: Right-wingers in America keep getting innocent people killed by gratuitously inflaming Muslims — over the objections of sober and judicious progressive and internationalist Americans.
It worked. Benghazi fizzled. Obama was reelected. Mr. Nakoula cooled his heels in jail. (Should Dinesh D’Souza have learned a lesson about what is in store for inconvenient filmmakers?) Obama had gone to bed early the night of Benghazi and washed his hands of the inconvenience, and for the last two years the military, the intelligence agencies, the State Department, and the media have been blame-gaming one another.
On another front, a majority of Americans are furious about the partisan corruption of the IRS, and the fact that Lois Lerner took the Fifth Amendment rather than answer questions about why her department focused inordinately on conservative groups. In the initial, but transitory, media furor, Barack Obama called the corruption of the IRS “outrageous.” After the buzz quieted, Lerner et al. rated from the president the assertion that there was not “a smidgen of corruption.”
So was the IRS abuse a scandal or an act of fundamentally transforming America? Certainly, senior U.S. senators felt no remorse about writing letters to the IRS to sic the tax agency on their political opponents. The defanging of the Tea Party, starting in April 2010, may have proved advantageous to Obama’s reelection bid. When Harry Reid lied on the Senate floor in claiming that he had heard that candidate Mitt Romney had not paid his taxes, the message went out that high-ranking Democrats supposedly had good connections with the taxmen.
Add it all up, and the corruption of the IRS sort of worked. There is now a revolutionary climate in the United States. If you are a high-profile donor, you may well worry that you will draw undue attention from the taxman — but only if you’re conservative. The Koch brothers might have to worry, but the Steyer brothers don’t.
In other words, the IRS mess successfully sent out a signal that progressive politicians will alert the IRS to monitor their opponents, their opponents will be monitored, and, if the agency is caught, not much will happen to it. Like it or not, the Obama administration has created a sort of deterrence by fundamentally transforming the IRS into an agency of progressive change. The result is to discourage high-profile donors from giving to conservative causes — or, conversely, to buy exemption by giving generously to liberal causes.
Was the Bowe Bergdahl mess a scandal? Ostensibly, no president in his right mind would trade five high-profile Taliban operatives, with ties to al-Qaeda, for an American deserter. What president would ignore the judgment of the intelligence community and the military, mock the law mandating consultation with Congress about such releases, and then conduct the most bizarre PR stunt in recent political history by wheeling out Sergeant Bergdahl’s father, in Taliban-like beard, no less, reciting Islamic prayers in native tongues?
But was the Bergdahl scandal also an effort at fundamental transformation? The administration had ordered the military to “salute” and to get on board with the Bergdahl party line. Susan Rice, as is her wont, misled the country by claiming the deserter had served with “honor and distinction.”
But so what? The fact that Rice once again offered an outright lie with impunity reiterates the message that facts are what the Obama administration says they are — period. In these strange times, we assume that Susan Rice on any given Sunday will lie to the American people, just as each week Harry Reid will spin some false narrative from the Senate floor, just as some 20- or 30-something committed Obama aide will smart off with slang on Twitter or get rowdy on the news shows. They do these things because they can, and they can because they say they are on the side of social justice.
Moreover, if one is going to ignore Congress and shut down Guantanamo, as long promised, then one starts by freeing the worst miscreants, given that it will be downhill from there. Already the likelihood that Bergdahl was a deserter has been turned around on his critics: Those whose lives Bergdahl put at greater risk are now “Swift-Boaters.” A minor HUD official asked out loud whether Bergdahl might have had good reasons to leave his band of supposedly psychopathic brother soldiers. The Taliban certainly think the United States has thrown in the towel, and they may appreciate the idea that for the next two years they need only keep a low profile to allow Obama to leave without too much violence, before they roll into Kabul in victory in 2017. The Bergdahl swap was just part and parcel of negotiations to get out of Afghanistan without fanfare before the Taliban retake Kabul.