Dangerous moment in the race to the Democratic nomination for Hillary Clinton, who appeared last Thursday before an ad hoc inquiry committee, created by the Republican majority in Congress, about the events of Benghazi. A Republican move that stinks of a partisan attack.
The night of Sept. 11, 2012, a group of about 20 armed men attacks the American consulate and an annex sheltering CIA offices in Benghazi, the second largest city in Libya. Four Americans lose their lives, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The White House, at first, blames spontaneous anti-American demonstrations that got out of hand. It will later reconsider by confirming that it was an organized terrorist attack in which al-Qaida was nebulously involved.
At the time, Libya was sinking into total anarchy — which it still hasn't been able to emerge from, in fact. The regime of Moammar Gadhafi had fallen a year earlier. Since the events occurred two months before the American presidential elections, the Republicans put them to good use, accusing the Obama administration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of having failed to ensure the protection of diplomatic personnel. The opportunity was a good one for the Republicans to attack the Democrats on an issue where they have traditionally shown themselves to be fragile, that of security and foreign policy. Which, at the end of the day, didn't stop Barack Obama from being re-elected.
Except that the Republican Party, or more precisely its obsessively conservative wing, never let it go. Which explains the formation, about a year and a half ago, of that special House of Representatives committee, led by Trey Gowdy, a Republican from South Carolina, and in front of which Clinton appeared Thursday. Seven other inquiries into the same subject have been completed at this point; even acknowledging that the security conditions were far from adequate in Benghazi and raising "systemic failure" at the heart of the State Department. These investigations have nevertheless cleared Clinton of the allegations of incompetence and negligence. As it happens, Clinton had accepted, a month after the attacks, her share of the responsibility in the events. Either way, the Gowdy committee has been functioning for 17 months now — that's longer than it took to complete the Watergate investigation — and has gobbled up as much as $4.5 million of taxpayers' money, a rather hearty sum given the Republican ideology resting on a deep disdain for the federal government.
Which goes to show that the Republicans are trying desperately. The creation of this committee comes from a party that sees itself increasingly torn between moderates and ultraconservatives; the initiative is a partisan attack against a Democratic Party that is riding high a year out from the next presidential race. Certain Republicans, like California Sen. Kevin McCarthy, don't even try to hide recognizing it publicly. There have, however, been worse security lapses in recent U.S. history than the events of Benghazi: it was the Republican George Bush, after all, who was president when the Sept. 11 attacks of 2001 occurred.
The New York Times’ revelation last March of Clinton's use of a personal email address, rather than a government account, while she was secretary of state gave renewed life to Gowdy’s plans to try to sully the credibility of the Democratic candidate and show that she put national security in danger. Clinton was not the most transparent person in this story nor did she take the greatest care. If it is discovered that she was irresponsible in using her own email address to send classified documents, that would be very damaging to her.
But for the moment, this political storm is not so much a sign of Clinton's vulnerability but rather of the Republicans’ distress. Last week, during a Democratic debate broadcast on CNN, the "socialist" candidate Bernie Sanders lost his temper about the "damn emails" that are preventing discussion of much more important issues, like climate change and the deepening of social inequalities. He's right. The problem is that these are subjects that absolutely don't interest those damn Republicans.