I keep hoping, each time I hear a report, or watch yet anther pointless round robin of the usual suspects that some piece of information, some discussion... something, will finally end the national nightmare over "Benghazi". I'm not so naive - as some liberals were - that the election would silence the right, or prove them wrong... but surely, something had to come up that would shut this thing down.
I've given up on that thinking since Susan Rice went to Capitol Hill and apparently solved nothing by meeting with Senators who have been critical of her. Just what they're critical of, about her or the "talking points" she gave on Benghazi, still eludes me; but clearly, whatever happened in those meetings didn't help. Maybe, as some say, they could never have helped. But still, here we are.
What happened in Benghazi was indeed horrific and deserves to be examined and explained more fully. But I think the "problem of Benghazi" is, for our political discussions, something much more deep about three interlocking issues related to our current foreign policy that can't really be solved.
The first is that just as Republicans lack a coherent domestic pllicy, they lack any sort of coherence when it comes to foreign policy issues as well. This was, if nothing else, the take away from the third Presidential debate, when Mitt Romney failed to really define any substantial foreign policy difference between himself and Barack Obama. Critics, and cynics, will point out that this is partly because the President is running a right-wing foreign policy, but I tend to agree more with people who say that we would benefit, mostly, from a robust debate of competing approaches to complicated foreign policy issues, and we're suffering for a lack of it. What we do "about Benghazi", how we deal with international terrorism, how we unwind our presence in Afghanistan... all of these issues and more (Iran? Israel?) are issues that don't even have a shrill, right/left partisan debate. Because, mostly, the right has nothing on most anything foreign. And that, really, is their problem, not the left's.
Second, this "debate over Susan Rice", even as it strikes me as stunningly pointless, tends to serve as a reminder that the President (still) has a small, insular group of insiders who serve as his primary set of advisors and confidantes, and he's done little or nothing to broaden that circle. I suspect that the President is deeply upset about how Rice has been treated, and lacks some perspective on the whole mess. I tend to think that attacks by people like McCain and Graham are similarly personally driven, and I don't think all of this is some triple secret scenario in which Senators want John Kerry to be appointed so Scott Brown can fill the remainder of his term. Mostly, I think something - I can't remotely speculate what - about Rice has been off putting or unfortunate, that it comes across in private discussions (though I think she was genuinely less than helpful in those "Benghazi explanation" appearances), and the objections to the idea of her as Secretary of State are meaningful and serious. I think the fact that a number of prominent Democrats - Kerry, Clinton, even the President - have let this mess unravel is indicative of some feeling that she's not going to get Secretary of State. I'll be fascinated to find out why.
But Third, the reason Rice and this "Benghazi scandal" is such a pointless exercise is because there isn't really a good answer about what to do about Libya since the removal of Qaddafi. Just as there's no good answer about how to deal with Egypt, just as there's little the US can do in the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. the reality of foreign policy at this moment in our history is that we are not in a position to be the World's Judge, Jury or Policeman. We're not good at it, and we don't have the resources for it. Republicans, after all, in some ways really only want to bring up Benghazi because they think some military force should have, or could have, fixed it - a notion that is obviously and demonstrably incorrect. Beyond that, they've never had an answer about how to deal with Libya, because in some ways, in terms of our national interests, we were better off with even a crazy strongman like Qaddafi in charge than the uncertainty and danger of what's happened since.
And this, the thing about danger and uncertainty, the problems that our entirely beyond our capacity as a nation to solve, is the thing that explains a lot about why Americans don't particularly like to engage in the long, difficult discussions that revolve around American foreign policy. It's difficult, it's messy, our pratcical needs can't always (or maybe ever) live up to our notions of our good intentions and our best selves, and we, as a nation, tend to prefer the story in which we are the hero, and the doers of right and good, where bad and evil can be easily defined. And we haven't had it that easy since World War 2.
My friend J asked me, a few posts back, just how I could justify, in any way, the foreign policy of the Bush and Obama Administrations of using drones and targeted assassinations to combat terrorism. And the answer I have, is, like this post, only that I think foreign policy is messy, that we as Americans can't fool ourselves into simplistic ideas about being the heroes of our own stories, and that in a world with complexities and hard choices, I, like many others, am comfortable with the idea that drone strikes are an effective way to prevent future plans of mass terrorism in the US. Is that a good answer, or the right answer to how America should act on the international stage? No I suppose it's not right, it's not good... it's just the way things seem to be, just now. And until we get a better, more robust, more honest, and more reflective foreign policy debate in this country, I think we're just kind of stuck. And "the truth about Benghazi" is certainly not going to set us free.