I’m always super-hesitant to jump into commentary on American politics, mostly because there’s so much to learn about politics and policy elsewhere in the world.
But the decision by the US House of Representatives and House speaker John Boehner on Thursday to form a select committee to ‘investigate’ the Benghazi attacks is one of the reasons I find US politics so utterly discouraging.
A select committee is a ‘special’ committee created for a specific, targeted purpose. The House typically creates a select committee when one or more of the existing House committees don’t have enough authority or capacity to carry out that purpose. For example, between 2007 and 2011, the House, under Democratic control, authorized a select committee on energy independence and global warming.
Of all the mistakes that US president Barack Obama has made in six years in foreign policy, the Republican leadership has generally focused on the Benghazi sideshow — at the expense of more fundamental and, constitutionally controversial matters.
Why ‘Benghazi’ has become such a spectacle
It’s easy to understand why ‘Benghazi’ makes for such a sensational affair. The attack left four US personnel, including Christopher Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, dead. It left the Obama administration, just weeks before a presidential election, slack-jawed to explain why US security failed so spectacularly.
Add to that the post-Watergate alchemy, whereby shouting ‘cover-up’ can spin routine politics into scandal, a White House that’s been reluctant, perhaps understandably, to work enthusiastically with its Congressional interlocutors, and a zero-sum political environment where House Republicans show, time after time, that they are willing to take extraordinary measures to achieve certain objectives (e.g., last autumn’s government shutdown, routine debt ceiling crises).
It’s easy to see the political advantage for Republicans in opening a select committee to investigate the matter. Trey Gowdy (pictured above), the two-term congressman from South Carolina, who will head the committee, is already talking about the investigation in terms of a ‘trial,’ with Gowdy and his committee as the prosecution and the Obama administration as the defense. Continue reading The cynical politics behind the Benghazi ‘scandal’