On her May 21 broadcast, MSNBC host Joy Reid confronted Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-California) about her role in Washington’s infamous Benghazi committee. Reid was concerned that a Democratic presence within the committee would bestow a sense of legitimacy upon it. Sanchez argued that it was imperative to keep the Republicans, out to do damage to the president’s image, honest. “Haven’t you essentially just emboldened Republicans?” asked Reid. “Whatever fishing expedition you do, you guys are the ones giving it legitimacy.”
It’s hard to say whether the Democrats involved with the Benghazi committee are giving it legitimacy, but it’s safe to say that liberals gave NATO’s 2011 attack on Libya quite a bit of it. At Reid’s network, MSNBC, Rachel Maddow kicked things off by contrasting the grand language of Obama’s Libya pitch with Bush’s clunky Iraq declarations:
So the United States wants Gaddafi gone; the United States will not use military force to force him out. If Gaddafi is ousted, the US will participate in efforts to stabilize Libya, but the US will not lead those efforts. In the meantime, the United States will participate in an open-ended international intervention to stop Gaddafi, but the goal of that mission day-to-day and the timeline on which it will be carried out are, frankly, unknown. For all the clamoring here at home for presidential communication to the nation on this, well, you got it, America – you got the clearest possible presidential statement about the muddiest possible ongoing, indeterminate, international situation, otherwise known as a war. Discuss.
The discussion was furthered by Ed Schultz, who explained that his support of the Libyan rebels wasn’t “Bush talk” and brought up New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” motto to justify US involvement. Chris Hayes was initially against NATO intervention, only to come around on the idea, identifying it as a much more justified action than past US military adventures. Juan Cole wrote an open letter to “the left,” encouraging progressives to back the bombing, explaining that, “there are some problems that can’t be solved unless there is a military intervention first, since its absence would allow the destruction of the progressive forces.”
There is very little coverage of how Libya looks now, years removed from NATO’s attack, or the liberal defenses of it. “Though the NATO intervention against Gaddafi was justified as a humanitarian response to the threat that Gaddafi’s tanks would slaughter dissidents in Benghazi,” wrote Patrick Cockburn in September 2013, “the international community has ignored the escalating violence. The foreign media, which once filled the hotels of Benghazi and Tripoli, have likewise paid little attention to the near collapse of the central government.” Recent reports indicate that the country might be heading towards another civil war; the violence has gotten increasingly more disturbing, a consistent reminder of the Obama administration’s lasting impact on the region.
These are all things that could, hypothetically, be brought up during a hearing on Benghazi. Democrats and progressive media members criticize the hearings vociferously and mock the futility of the Republican talking points, without ever once mentioning what a constructive committee on Libya might look like. Perhaps, rather than ask a multitude of specific questions about what the Obama administration knew and when they knew it, it could ask about NATO’s attack against Libya TV, which killed three people, an obvious violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1738, which condemns attacks on journalists during conflicts. Maybe it could ask a question, or two, about the various mass killings that took place after Gaddafi was removed from power. Greg Shupak, who teaches media studies at the University of Guelph in Canada, points out that, “On October 21, 2011, 66 bodies were found at the Mahari Hotel, at least 53 of whom were executed by a rebel militia. An undetermined portion of these were Gaddafi loyalists who had been captured along with Gaddafi himself. Those killed at the hotel were shot with rifles and many had their hands tied behind their backs and some can be seen on video being abused before their execution. NATO plainly shares responsibility for these crimes because before NATO bombing commenced, the insurgents were on the verge of defeat and could not have won the war without NATO air cover, arms, money, and diplomatic support.”
There are also questions that connect directly to the murder of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and US Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith that no one seems to be asking. According to an April 2014 report from Seymour Hersh, the entire diplomatic mission in Benghazi could have simply been a cover so that the CIA could effectively smuggle weapons to the anti-Assad forces of Syria. Why is no one addressing this? Also, why are people simply focusing on the causes of this specific attack, rather than putting the attack in the context of similar attacks in Libya? In the days after the killings, Vijay Prashad observed that, “This is not the first such protest in Benghazi, the eastern city of Libya. Over the course of this year, tumult has been the order of the day. In January, a crowd stormed the headquarters of the National Transitional Council. In April, a bomb was thrown at a convoy that included the head of the UN Mission to Libya, and another bomb exploded at a courthouse. In May, a rocket was fired at the Red Cross office. A convoy carrying the head of the British consulate was attacked in June, and since then the consulate has been abandoned. In August, a pipe bomb exploded in front of the US consulate building. Frustration with the West is commonplace amongst sections of society, who are not Gaddafi loyalists, but on the contrary fought valiantly in the 2011 civil war against Gaddafi.”
The liberal refusal to investigate any of these issues transcends mere Obama deflection and is probably also influenced by the need to nominate Hillary Clinton in 2016. As Ajamu Baraka wrote, in a piece called “Why a Principled Left Should Support a Benghazi Inquiry,” “Democrats already lined-up behind a Clinton campaign understand that no matter what comes out this inquiry, Benghazi has the potential to become a permanent yoke that wears down the Clinton candidacy. But in another bizarre display of political and ideological subordination to the Democrat Party and its rightist elite, elements of the left have also expressed opposition to this inquiry.”
This, certainly, isn’t the first time that GOP mocking has served as a convenient substitute for critiquing a Democratic president’s foreign policy. During Ken Starr’s puritanical crusade against Bill Clinton’s sex life, liberals rushed to stand behind the president when, in fact, the subject should have simply been changed. Clinton shouldn’t have been raked over the coals because of his affair with Monica Lewinsky, but he should have been challenged for his brutal Iraq sanctions and his bombardment of the former Yugoslavia. The night of Lewinsky’s return to the grand jury, Clinton personally ordered a cruise missile be lobbed into Sudan’s Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant. Clinton also bombed Pakistan and Afghanistan that night, citing Osama bin Laden, and not the subsequent approval bump in the polls, as the reason behind his actions. As for the plant that was demolished, it turns out that it produced medicine, the loss of which resulted in thousands of deaths. Years later, the only new evidence that has emerged on the topic, has furthered weakened the Clinton administration’s case. Scroll through the archive of any major US newspaper from the era for information about the attack and, inevitably, you’ll find next to nothing.
And so it went with Libya. There was barely any critical coverage of the war in American mainstream media, and now, barely any mention of the country’s current state. The entire debate on the subject takes places within a vacuum: it begins and ends with the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
On a recent episode of Real Time With Bill Maher, the host asked Iraq War advocate David Frum whether he regretted his support for the invasion. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declined to give her scheduled commencement speech at Rutgers University after students protested the selection. The Eli Lake’s and Jeffery Goldberg’s of the world must constantly block Twitter trolls, consistently ragging on them for being so utterly wrong about the biggest foreign policy decision of our generation.
I don’t bring up these examples to suggest that NATO’s bombing of Libya is, necessarily, comparable to the Iraq War, or that those who shilled for the Iraq War are being criticized often enough within our society, but there has been some residual pushback. There’s absolutely no pushback in the case of Libya; the cheerleaders of NATO’s attack are allowed to pontificate about the Republican investigations without once mentioning, or being asked, about their role in that intervention.
In a recent op-ed, Stephen Kinzer wonders whether human rights activists are, in fact, the new warmongers. “Once it was generals, defense contractors, and chest-thumping politicians who saw war as the best solution to global problems,” he writes. “Now human rights activists play that role. Some seem to have given up on diplomacy and statecraft. Instead they promote the steady militarization of American foreign policy.”
Humanitarian intervention also requires the complicity of the press; it depends on the Fourth Estate to disseminate its propaganda and ignore its crime. Progressives and liberals don’t seem to understand or care very much about the details of NATO’s attack. They’re certainly right when they accuse Republicans of developing a cynical circus, but isn’t caring more about the Benghazi committee, than the actual city of Benghazi, just as cynical?