This piece originally appeared on Media Matters.
Returning to Congress this week to testify about Benghazi more than 30 months after she first testified about the Libyan terror attack, Hillary Clinton is being summoned to answer yet more Republican queries, many of which seem to revolve around wild conspiracies.
As the Benghazi Select Committee’s reputation continues to take on water for incompetence and run-away partisanship, new jousting among Republican candidates is also denting the entire Benghazi pursuit; a chase that’s been sponsored by Fox News for years.
The latest sparring features Donald Trump and Jeb Bush arguing over President George W. Bush’s responsibility for the terror attack of 9/11. “When you talk about George Bush, I mean, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time,” Trump said last week.
Bush’s brother lashed back out at Trump, calling his claim “pathetic,” while other Republicans rushed to Bush’s side. “I think Donald Trump is totally wrong there,” Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said on Fox Radio. “That sounds like a Michael Moore talking point” said King, referencing the liberal filmmaker who documented George W. Bush’s failings. (Fox News did its best to help Jeb, too.)
“Blaming 9/11 on Mr. Bush is taboo for Republicans and has largely been off-limits for Democrats,” noted TheNew York Times. But by ignoring those Beltway protocols, Trump threw a spotlight onto the questions of accountability, George Bush’s inability to protect Americans from terror attacks on U.S. soil, and why Jeb Bush today routinely stresses that his brother kept America safe after thousands were killed on 9/11.
Trump’s attack has also inadvertently drawn back the curtain on the sweeping double standard conservatives use for holding Republican presidents accountable for terrorist attacks, and the much higher standard they use for holding President Obama and Hillary Clinton accountable for Benghazi.
CNN’s Jake Tapper raised the issue of hypocrisy with Jeb Bush on Sunday’s State of the Union, pressing the candidate to explain why if his brother wasn’t responsible for the 3,000 American deaths on 9/11, somehow Obama and Clinton are to blame for the four U.S. casualties from Benghazi.
But the issue is larger than Benghazi vs. 9/11. It also extends back to President Ronald Reagan and the series of terror attacks in Beirut on American outposts that killed more 300 people over 18 months.
By raising questions about President Bush and 9/11, Trump has effectively demolished Fox News’ long-running Benghazi storyline.
Why? Because listening to Fox News for the last three years viewers have been led to believe the Benghazi tragedy stands as the biggest failure in American foreign policy and easily represents the darkest day in U.S. history, even though scores of attacks have claimed more Americans lives. It’s worse than Watergate, a bigger story than Hurricane Sandy. And most of all, Obama and Clinton must be held accountable for not doing more to combat Islamic terrorism in the region.
According to Republicans, Benghazi remains a burning issue because they claim there are unanswered questions about accountability, and Clinton sits at the center of those questions. Never mind that Clinton has already accepted responsibility for the attack and report after report has found no evidence of administration malpractice. Conservatives insist there’s more territory to mine because Democrats must be held accountable for the deaths of four Americans — over and over again.
Obviously, many of the same, far-right forces chasing Clinton today were much less interested in holding Jeb Bush’s brother accountable for the security failings of 9/11. (In fact, they tried to blame Bill Clinton.)
Following that historic attack, there weren’t years worth of partisan blame games played like with Benghazi today. Instead, a single joint Congressional inquiry into the intelligence failures was formed. In addition, a bipartisan 9/11 commission was created over the objections of the Bush White House. The commission was routinely stonewalled by the White House and denounced by conservative commentators who remained unfazed by unanswered questions. In April 2004, Sean Hannity, currently obsessed with Benghazi, claimed the 9/11 commission had “been politicized.” Days later he doubled down: “I don’t have any faith in this commission. I think it’s become politicized. I think it’s a farce.”
And then there was Reagan and Beirut. Here’s how that American nightmare played out.
On April 18, 1983, Islamic terrorists attacked the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. As PBS explains, “Sixty-three people were killed, including 17 Americans, eight of whom were employees of the Central Intelligence Agency, including chief Middle East analyst Robert C. Ames and station chief Kenneth Haas.”
Five months later local terrorists struck again. During a lengthy air assault from nearby artillerymen, two Marines stationed at the Beirut airport were killed.
Then on October 23, the Marines’ Beirut barracks cratered after a 5-ton truck driven by a suicide bomber and carrying the equivalent of 12,000 pounds of TNT exploded killing 241 Americans, marking the deadliest single attack on U.S. citizens overseas since the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. (Fifty-eight French paratroopers were also killed in the Beirut blast.)
One year later on September 20, 1984, came the bombing of a U.S. Embassy annex. Located in Aukar, northeast of Beirut, a truck bomb exploded killing 24 people, two of whom were U.S. military personnel.
So, in less than 18 months under Reagan, several hundred Americans were killed by four separate terrorist attacks in and around Beirut targeting American outposts. And note that after the fourth attack, which killed two Americans, Reagan refused to curtail his re-election campaign for even one day, even though he enjoyed an insurmountable lead in the polls.
What was the Congressional response after the terror attack that killed 241 U.S. servicemen? With the House controlled by Democrats, did they demand years and years of redundant, finger-pointing investigations?
Congress created a single fact-finding commission. Two months after the barracks attack, the commission finished its work and concluded there had been “serious command and intelligence failures and said that the mission was not prepared to deal with the terrorist threat at the time due to a lack of training, staff, organization, and support.”
Recommendations were made and then implemented. “Rather than trying to blame the Reagan administration, the Democrats in both houses worked with their Republican colleagues to fix the problem,” wrote Lawrence Korb, who served as assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.
Yet today, Fox News and Republicans demand three years of endless investigations into the deaths of four Americans killed during in Libya, while Jeb insists his brother is blameless for 9/11.
This piece originally appeared on Media Matters on October 20, 2015.