Maybe the special-ops team in Tripoli — that then-Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya Gregory Hicks says was told to stand down — couldn’t be spared elsewhere. Maybe “scrambling fighters” from our Air Force base in Aviano, Italy — which Hicks said he requested — would have been a fruitless response. But with Americans under fire, could something else have been tried? To have intervened a year earlier in Libya’s civil war and then not have effective contingency plans in place for the scenario that unfolded was, as many have already pointed out, plainly a failure.
Though the president described questions about the administration’s official talking points as a “sideshow” in a Monday press conference, what isn’t a sideshow is what actually happened that night. If the “fog of war” was just too thick to change the course of events that night, so be it. But the Pentagon and State Department should have been more candid about that from the beginning.
In the IRS case, the president called it “outrageous” that Tea Party groups were singled out for scrutiny of their tax-exempt status by the agency’s Cincinnati office and said that if what’s been reported proves true, he has “no patience with it.”
What should deeply concern him, though, are not just inadequacies that exist in the bureaucracy.
His tenure is marked by a national debate about the size and reach of government — and he’s made the case for robust government action in dealing with the nation’s economic well-being. In that context, the president bears a responsibility to excise whatever rot exists in the IRS, all the way up to the top — no matter how many heads roll.
And apart from the loss of life involved, what should also disturb Obama is that Benghazi casts a pall over one of his signature victories — and could hamstring foreign policy plans that should be the part of his agenda over which he has most control.
His intervention in Libya’s civil war, which succeeded in ousting Muammar Qaddafi with the open support of the Arab League and United Nations — without any military casualties — has given way to an unbecoming fight between his administration and Congress. Partly — yes — because Republicans want to trash Obama and thwart Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions.
And partly because this time, his administration helped its critics accomplish that mission.
David Swerdlick is a contributing editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.