Who is Congress representing? (Letter to Works in Progress)

Editorial note: This letter is in response to the renewed, again, pledge by Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina to continue the endless examination—with his questions having already been answered—of the 2012 Benghazi attack in which U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed.

Congress is increasingly an irresponsible and inept institution. The legislative clamor over the attack on a US diplomatic post and a CIA compound in Benghazi, Libya and the killing of the ambassador and three other Americans is a recent example. The State Department was eventually faulted for not recognizing the mounting hostilities and threats toward Americans in the area. Hillary Clinton accepted responsibility for the tragedy and four State Department employees were later fired.

As for the reasons for the assault, a New York Times investigation concluded, in a report released in December of last year, that the attack was carried out by former Libyan fighters who received NATO support in overthrowing Qaddafi ’s regime. Their anger was “fueled in large part by an American-made video denigrating Islam.”

House Republicans do not accept any of this and charge the Obama Administration with a conspiracy of silence and the cover-up of who the real terrorist are, military unpreparedness and inaction, and the vulnerability of the compounds. Since the attack two years ago Congress has generated thirteen hearings, fifty-five briefings, and twenty-five thousand documents all of which provide no evidence for the critic’s claims. Undeterred, John Boehner has established yet another investigative committee “because the White House did more to obscure what happened then we are lead to believe.”

Contrast the Benghazi attacks with the events in Lebanon in 1983. In March of that year rebels attacked the US Embassy in Beirut killing 63 people including 7 CIA operatives and ten other Americans. Then in October a suicide bomber drove a truck laden with high explosives into a military compound killing 241 Marines. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil immediately called for a “real Congressional investigation” and then appointed a committee of Republicans and Democrats to find out why these violent attacks occurred and what could be done to prevent them.

Two months after the House subcommittee started its inquiry a report was issued that found “very serious errors in judgment” by officers on the ground and up through the chain of command which left the Marines in Lebanon vulnerable. The committee’s recommendations eventually lead to improvements in security and the withdrawal of US military forces from Lebanon.
After the horrific attacks in Lebanon no one claimed a conspiracy was at hand, or subpoenaed a cabinet official, or called for President Reagan’s impeachment.

We must ask ourselves as citizens what has happened to the people’s Congress and what can we do about it? The answers go far beyond partisanship and campaign finance reform.

David Maas, Bellingham
Mass is a Professor Emeritus of Politics and Government who lives with his wife, a cat, and two Golden Retrievers.