A somber select committee chairman Trey Gowdy was right to begin his panel’s first hearing this morning by identifying the principal culprit in Benghazi: the ideology of our enemies. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and four other Americans, Sean Smith, Ty Woods and Glen Doherty, he asserted, were killed because people held a “deep-seated animus” toward Americans because of who we are.
Under circumstances where the select committee has been attacked by Democrats as a partisan witch hunt, this was clearly, as Gowdy put it, an effort “to rise above politics.” The committee must get to the bottom of what happened and must hold officials accountable. But we must remain mindful that the threat comes from America’s enemies. It is a continuing threat, which is why accountability is so important – to prevent such atrocities from happening again, to make sure Americans risking their lives for our national security have adequate security themselves, and to honor the memory of those killed on September 11, 2012.
Gowdy had a firm but respectful admonition for Democrats who have dissented from the decision to pursue the investigation of the Benghazi Massacre. The “mark of character,” he said, is to do a good job even if you don’t think task should have been assigned.
Moreover, the task is a worthy one. As he pointed out, there are still documents that have not been produced and witnesses who have not been examined. And even witnesses who have been examined were not questioned on facts that have only recently been uncovered.
Gowdy is obviously mindful of simmering, though muted, criticism from select committee supporters regarding his granting of the Democrats’ request to make the first hearing a showcase of how the administration has implemented recommendations by the State Department’s highly flawed “Accountability Review Board.” He pointed out that the government’s primary responsibilities in the diplomatic service context were to protect and defend Americans, move heaven and earth when they are attacked, and tell the American people the truth about what happened. These, of course, are the major failures in the Benghazi debacle.
The making of security recommendations after an attack has occurred is all well and good, Gowdy observed, but we do not lack for recommendations. Attacks occur again and again and again, from Beirut to the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania to Benghazi – with many others in between. What is remarkable, the chairman noted, is how similar the post-mortem recommendations are every time … and yet the attacks keep happening.
To those who say it is time to move on because we now have recommendations being implemented, Gowdy asserted that we’ve heard that story before. We have enough recommendations and experience from past attacks that the crucial question is why adequate protective measures were not taken before the attack. Why are we constantly doing post-atrocity evaluations rather than anticipating and preventing attacks – especially when they are so foreseeable?
In closing, Gowdy returned to the theme of non-partisanship, hoping the select committee could approach its work not as Republicans or Democrats but just as Americans – like the four brave men who were killed. It is a worthy aspiration, however unlikely it seems.