No Moral Equivalence On Benghazi

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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National Journal’s Ron Fournier is a respected journalist with a reputation for calling them like he sees them — which is why the Obama Administration ought to be very concerned with his latest piece.

It’s titled Everyone’s Lying to You About Benghazi — and maybe they are? But even if one were to concede this premise, it seems pretty clear the sins of the Obama administration far outweigh any overreaction they might have sparked.

Here’s an excerpt, where Fournier lays out the Obama administration’s handling of the Benghazi attack:

A State Department email, belatedly made public last week under court order, proves beyond reasonable doubt that the White House communications team was more interested in covering Obama’s butt than sharing accurate information with the public. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes wrote that one “goal” for U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice’s television interviews shortly after the attack was to “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure or policy.” Another stated “goal” was to “reinforce the President and Administration’s strength.” The protests were not rooted in an Internet video, a fact the White House acknowledged only belatedly, reluctantly, and under fire.

The obvious takeaway is that the Obama administration intentionally misled the public by suggesting a video sparked a spontaneous attack — in order to cover “Obama’s butt.”

Presumably, this had something to do with the fact the attack occurred shortly before President Obama’s re-election — and that blaming a video would “reinforce the President and Administration’s strength” in a way that acknowledging a). that terrorism was to blame, b). that there was an intelligence failure, or c). that there was inadequate security at the consulate — would not.

These are serious charges. Next, though, Fournier draws a sort of moral equivalence between the Obama administration’s attempts to mislead the public just weeks before his re-election and Republican attempts to retroactively exploit the tragedy.

He writes, for example, that “Republican leaders concocted bogus conspiracy theories that inflamed anti-Obama biases of conservative voters. Disgracefully, the GOP used the memory of four dead Americans to raise money.”

You can read his whole piece if you’re interested in disputing this evidence, but, for the sake of argument, let’s just assume he’s completely correct. We’re still left with this: Are these two things — Obama’s sins and the GOP’s sins — morally equivalent?

Fournier thinks they are — and he frames this as a choice between GOP “conspiracy theories” and White House “spin” — which is sort of like casting the Ukrainian situation as a choice between Putin’s aggression and Ukraine’s oppression of ethnic Russians.

Both are bad, so I guess it’s a wash?

In reality, there are few disputes where one guy is completely beyond reproach and the other guy is completely evil. And so, a logical extension of this theory would be to say that nobody is ever responsible for anything. (Sure, Bill Clinton lied under oath, but some Republicans said Clinton killed Vince Foster! ….)

Fournier calls this “a choice between two evils,” but assuming everything he writes is true — based on the magnitude of the respected accusations — I would suggest he is drawing a false equivalence.

Here’s why:

1). When you mislead the public, and then attempt to conceal important information, you encourage wild conspiracy theories. So it’s entirely plausible that the GOP’s overreach wouldn’t have occurred had it not been for the Obama administration’s obfuscation in the first place.

2). Fair or not, I think we can — and should — hold the White House and the president to a higher standard than a Member of Congress.

3). Elections are sacred, and the notion that the American public might have been intentionally misled about key information — for political purposes — is especially troubling. Granted, it is unseemly for Republicans to use Benghazi to raise money or score political points (no matter when it’s done), but that pales in comparison to misleading the public just weeks before a presidential election.

Fournier may believe his piece is neutral, but I suspect Republicans would love nothing more than for every American to read it. Even conceding Republicans overreached, this is nothing less than a stinging indictment on the White House’s handling of Benghazi. And I suspect any moral equivalence is in his mind, alone.