Why Republicans keep missing the giant Benghazi scandal right before their eyes

The Obama administration's Middle East policy is a disaster. So why aren't we talking about that?

President Obama and Hillary Clinton after the Benghazi attack in 2012.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)

It's better to be ruled by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian. That old bit of wisdom is an apocryphal quote from Martin Luther, but it was much on my mind watching the House Select Committee on Benghazi grill Hillary Clinton, as she cleverly outmanned Trey Gowdy and friends.

Sure, the committee extracted some interesting details during its 11 hours of interrogation. The most damning was that Sidney Blumenthal, the legendary fixer for the Clintons, had more direct access to the secretary of state during a crisis than America's ill-fated ambassador to Libya. He also passed on intelligence, surely none of it spoiled by his business interests.

But as a bit of political theater, it wasn't all that useful to Republicans. Diane Sawyer accidentally got more embarrassing quotes from Hillary Clinton in a 20-minute puff piece last year than Republicans got in hours of sustained examination from a congressional oversight panel.

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And it was political theater. A real hearing on Benghazi could be conducted in any number of ways. A particularly devastating one would just be a slideshow of photos of Benghazi as it stands today, with questions like: Why did we do this? Didn't we know we were helping Islamist terrorists? How could we not know?

And a real hearing would have included the head of the CIA at the time of the attack, former Gen. David Petraeus. A real oversight panel would have asked questions about the nature of the CIA operation in Benghazi. But that might risk revealing that the Obama administration was covertly assisting Syrian rebels — and Republicans can't have that.

The conspiracy theory that motivated so much of the early popular interest in Benghazi was crude. It was premised on the notion that President Obama somehow prefers jihadis to America's own diplomats, and allowed them to die. This itself is a more weaponized version of the conspiracy theory that Obama is a "secret" Muslim, a Turk in the parlance of Reformation Europe.

Republican leadership, most notably Mitt Romney, latched onto a different conspiracy, almost equally stupid. It held that the Obama administration was weak and retreating before Middle Eastern threats.

The truth is almost exactly the opposite of these, and far more damning of President Obama and Hillary Clinton. In looking for the "secret Turk," Republicans missed the foolish Christians in front of them. Obama wasn't being weak and retreating — he was being too clever and aggressive. The CIA operation in Benghazi was most likely a gun-running operation to Syrian rebels, part of Obama's proxy war with Iran, the covert project he could ratchet down as part of negotiations on nuclear weapons. To investigate that would be to admit that Obama wasn't impotent in the Middle East, but reckless.

Far from being a secret Muslim who was indifferent to the death of an American diplomat, or a progressive peacenik who resents U.S. leadership, Obama was something much more destructive to the interests of Americans — he was a typical American hawk. He was different from George W. Bush only in preferring air power for aiding revolutionaries and rebels on the ground, rather than a ground invasion and think-tank conquerors like Ahmed Chalabi. The result of the policy of our foolish Christians is worse than the fever dreams of any Manchurian Mohammedan or American weakling: a continuation and intensification of the wars that are leading to the eradication of Christianity from the Middle East. ISIS is conquering territory and killing Christians with American materiel.

The fact is that the opposition party in America can't honestly investigate Obama's foreign policy without doing fatal collateral damage to its own. And so Hillary Clinton can say in public that the intervention she championed in Libya is "smart power at its best," even though that country is being terrorized by ISIS and other jihadists and is one source of the refugee crisis. The supposedly mean-spirited GOP that would do anything to attack Clinton has run into something it won't do: challenge our recklessly hawkish foreign policy.

And so we chat about what Sid Blumenthal emails Hillary Clinton, while our bipartisan consensus continues its work abetting a massive cull in the Middle East: secular dictators, Christianity, and other minority religions are all on the way out. Somewhere in hell, the world's most bloodthirsty jihadists are smiling at Trey Gowdy.

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Michael Brendan Dougherty

Michael Brendan Dougherty is senior correspondent at TheWeek.com. He is the founder and editor of The Slurve, a newsletter about baseball. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, ESPN Magazine, Slate and The American Conservative.