Conservatives always need their dragons to slay. And so, to fully appreciate the furor which has erupted on the Right over the tragic deaths of four Americans at that remote consulate in Benghazi on September 11th it is necessary to recall the right wing outrage four years ago when the Obama Administration dropped "The War on Terror" as the organizing construct of US foreign policy.
Neoconservatives perceived in the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and their subsequent GWOT - or "Global War on Terror" - an opportunity "to escape from the decadent and deadening peace and prosperity of the Clinton years, which they believed had weakened American society," writes Corey Robin in The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin.
And the source of this decadence in the neoconservative view was "the liberal obsession with rule of law," says Robin, which manifested itself in several ways: due process in criminal procedure; a preference for litigation over legislation; attempts to restrain executive power through judicial and legislative oversight; and, most important, and emphasis on diplomacy and international law over war.
Neoconservatives believed that "if another 9/11 is to be prevented, that culture of rights and rules must be repudiated an reversed," said Robin.
Consequently, the neoconservative's "War on Terror" reflects conservative "sensibilities and sensitivities" much more than they do "the actual facts of 9/11 and the need to prevent another attack," says Robin. Thus we get the legacy of the neoconservative's open-ended War on Terror: its push for torture and the overturning of the Geneva Conventions; its refusal to abide by the restrictions of international law; its support for illegal surveillance; and its predilection to see terrorism through the lens of "war" rather than as a problem of crime and punishment.
"She's soft - too soft" said retired right wing Lt. General Jerry Boykin of pre-9/11 America. And the way conservatives intend to to make her "hard again," says Robin, "is not merely to undertake difficult and strenuous military action but also to violate the rules - and the culture of rules - that made her soft in the first place."
Republicans are understandably grumpy at the thought a White House cover-up may have denied them an "October Surprise" scandal in Libya which might have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on November 6th.
As National Review contributor Victor Davis Hanson writes, the President's entire reelection effort was premised on the "catchy narrative" that Barack Obama had killed Osama bin Laden, scattered al Qaeda to the desert winds and reset America diplomacy in a way "consistent with a new lower-profile American posture abroad."
Consequently, Hanson insists that if it had been revealed prior to the election that an al Qaeda affiliate had carried out a preplanned hit against an unprepared American diplomatic post, it would have shattered that narrative by reminding Americans that al Qaeda is very much alive, even after the death of bin Laden.
Even worse for Obama, says Hanson, the revelation that terrorists were responsible for the attack would have come "at the very time the President on the campaign trail was telling the country that we were leaving wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not starting one in Libya."
Ending wars? Can't have that. Yet the truth is that most middle Americans, as Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky correctly notes, were neither surprised nor scandalized to learn it was terrorists who hit our consulate last September. That is because most Americans recognize Benghazi for what it was, says Tomasky: "a terribly sad tragedy, but the kind of thing that, in a dangerous world, happens."
That pragmatic attitude is "all but inconceivable" to most ideologically-motivated Republicans, says Tomasky, "because in the ecosystem in which they thrive, Benghazi is bigger than Watergate, Waterloo, and water-boarding combined."
Indeed, as Kevin Drum reports in Mother Jones, "the only segment of the country that really cares about the sham Benghazi scandal is Republicans." And the reason they do is Fox News.
How far down the rabbit hole have conservatives gone with their 24/7 hysteria? asks Drum. Well, 42% of Republicans say they are following the Benghazi story intently while only about half as many other people are.
There are bigger issues in play here, however, than just partisanship. In the end, Libya is about ideology not politics or even policy.
Only neo-conservatives who are forever inventing monsters to justify their military misadventures abroad would think it politically devastating to call a "terrorist" attack by some other name. And, reading between the lines of Republican hysteria over the Benghazi attacks, it is evident that a disgraced neo-conservatism hopes to use this manufactured "scandal" to launch a political comeback.
Throughout most of the eight years of George W. Bush's failed presidency, if there was a 1% chance of something bad happening that threat had to be treated "as a certainty in terms of our response," said Vice President Dick Cheney.
This "One Percent Doctrine," as Ron Suskind called it, meant that America had abandoned foreign policy "realism" and just war theory "in favor of pre-emptive war against eternal foes," notes Andrew Sullivan.
Variations of this shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later mentality echoed all throughout the Bush administration.
"We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," said then-national security adviser Condi Rice.
"The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who routinely mocked Pentagon analysts for looking for "actionable intelligence" where "all the dots connected for us with a ribbon wrapped around it."
"Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent," said President Bush by way of justifying his administration's militarized foreign policy of unilateral prevention. "Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?"
Conservatives like NRO's Victor Davis Hanson are convinced that if the details of the assault on the Benghazi foreign mission had come out sooner, with its link to al Qaeda known, not only would President Obama's reelection have been preempted but it would also have reignited public support for a moribund neo-conservatism that is rooted in fear.
"Had we, as our people on the ground had requested, beefed up security at the annex with Marines, attention at some point might have been focused on the chaotic situation in Libya and the vulnerability of the very Americans who supposedly had done so much to free Libyans from Qaddafi," writes Hanson.
The ambassador killed in the attack, Christopher Stevens, was President Obama's type of diplomat, said Hanson: "low-key, cool, a career professional, fluent in the local language and customs, able to blend in with the locals."
Stevens typified the new "soft-power approach" that neo-conservatives despise, says Hanson, and was "hardly the sort of ambassador who would need, or want to be associated with, a sandbagged, barbed-wired, Marine-laden traditional compound." You know, the kind of fortresses George Bush's neo-conservative proconsuls built in Baghdad's Green Zone.
Every religion needs its virgin sacrifices. And so neo-conservative hawks who think it is the divinely-ordained mission of the United States to spread American Exceptionalism around the world at the point of a gun have now made UN Ambassador Susan Rice their burnt offering to the gods of war.
It's not the crime, as the old saying goes, it's the cover-up. And the alleged cover-up that has so many conservatives up in arms is the alleged reluctance of the administration to immediately identify the attack on our consulate as an act of terror, organized and executed by al Qaeda, and not some street protest over a racist video gone bad.
This is the cover-up Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham want to get to the bottom of by ludicrously impaneling a Senate select committee. It was also the noose Mitt Romney hoped to wrap around the President's neck during their second debate, before moderator Candy Crowley stepped in to set the record straight.
"Benghazi-gate" is also the make-believe scandal that has a mainstream media -- which has always ridden to the sound of the guns whenever the right wing makes noise -- breathlessly chasing down every lead or "exclusive" in order to identify which federal agency and which unnamed source put what bit of garbled intelligence into the talking points that Ambassador Rice delivered on the Sunday talk shows two days after the Libyan attacks.
Can you tell how unimpressed I am by this "scandal?"
What happened to four brave Americans in that remote consulate in Libya on September 11 was tragic. A full accounting of that horrible night and the United States' response to it is needed for the lessons such a review might teach us about what we must do better to secure our foreign missions in the future.
But the hysteria on the Right over whether this was, or was not, a "terrorist act" is utterly trivial, especially when compared to the serial and much more serious foreign affairs scandals that tarnished America's reputation during George W. Bush's administration.
Republicans can't understand or accept why so many middle Americans don't share their outrage over Libya, just as Tomasky says, because they do not accept or even acknowledge the past Republican foreign policy outrages against which people like me are measuring the attacks in Benghazi.
How, for example, can disputed charges of White House duplicity possibly measure up to the reality of a Downing Street Memo in which British intelligence says "facts were being fixed around the policy" by a Bush administration determined to invade Iraq based on Saddam Hussein's imagined ties to al Qaeda and his phantom Weapons of Mass Destruction?
How can we possibly take Republicans seriously when they charge President Obama dropped the ball if they also stood up for George Bush when, just five weeks before 9/11, he brushed off an intelligence report warning "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US" while at the same time telling the CIA briefing officer who delivered the alarming news: "All right. You've covered your ass."
How genuine can Republicans really be about national security today when it was not so long ago they thought it was perfectly okay for the Vice President's minions to out the identity of a covert CIA operative (causing the death of who knows how many CIA assets) in retaliation for the agent's husband discrediting the Bush/Cheney administration and its case for war?
It is hard to keep a straight face while listening to Republicans demand a Watergate-style select committee on Benghazi considering the way Republicans themselves circled the wagons to stonewall any investigation into the intelligence failures that led to a catastrophic terrorist attack in this country, on a Republican President's watch, in which more than 3,000 Americans were incinerated.
I am not so forgetful that I can't remember how Republicans said it would not only be unproductive but unpatriotic as well for Democrats to criticize George W. Bush for the leadership failures that led to 9/11.
Indeed, Dick Cheney even went so far as to suggest Democrats might be drawn up on charges of treason if their (legitimate) criticisms of George Bush managed to weaken this "commander-in-chief" in time of war.
When "terrorist czar" Richard Clarke said the Bush administration's ideologically-inspired negligence of bin Laden and al Qaeda was exacerbated by the neo-conservative preoccupation with Saddam Hussein, Republicans slandered this hero -- who stood on deck in the White House Situation Room on the morning of 9/11 while Dick Cheney cowered in his "secure location" -- as a royalty-seeking whore.
And what Republicans said about Clarke was only marginally less offensive than what right wing pundits like Ann Coulter said about the widows of husbands who died on 9/11 when they came forward to demand an accounting from a George W. Bush reluctant to take part in any investigation that might explain how 3,000 Americans were killed on his watch under circumstances that then-national security adviser Condi Rice insisted no one could have imagined.
In her book, Godless, Coulter writes of the 9/11 widows: "These broads are millionaires (thanks to the 9/11 victims compensation fund), lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzies. I have never seen people enjoying their husbands' death so much."
Coulter dubbed four of the women "The Witches of East Brunswick," after the town where they lived.
"How do we know their husbands weren't planning to divorce these harpies?" Coulter later ponders. "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much."
In response, the targets of Coulter's vile accusations issued a public statement of their own: "Contrary to Ms. Coulter's statements, there was no joy in watching men that we loved burn alive. There was no happiness in telling our children that their fathers were never coming home again. We adored these men and miss them every day."
Incredibly, Coulter didn't back down: "The 9/11 widows are witches and harpies. You can't argue with them. You just have to listen."
This is the larger context within which conservatives are today accusing President Obama of an operational failure and subsequent cover-up at least as scandalous as Watergate. What a joke.