Benghazi victims deserved better than to be made pawns in a political chess match

House Benghazi panel chair Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) defended the panel’s 800-page report into the 2012 deaths of diplomatic personnel in Libya.
House Benghazi panel chair Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) defended the panel’s 800-page report into the 2012 deaths of diplomatic personnel in Libya. Getty Images

At the end of his lengthy press conference Tuesday explaining and defending the House Republicans’ 800-page Benghazi report, Rep. Trey Gowdy got a little emotional.

The South Carolina Republican who led the House’s two-year inquiry into the 2012 attack on America’s diplomatic post in Benghazi choked up while declaring his belief that the families of the four Americans who died there deserve answers about what happened and why.

Indeed, they do. Ambassador Chris Stevens and the other men who died in Benghazi – Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty – were serving America honorably and courageously. They deserved better protection from our government when they were sent there. And after the attack, they deserved a dignified, apolitical inquiry into what went wrong.

But America’s leaders – in both political parties – have let them and their families down on both those counts.

They were sent to a dangerously destabilized country with too little intelligence and with no military backup positioned to get there before they were overwhelmed. Marines in a key rescue unit changed into and out of their uniforms four times while waiting to deploy – that’s how muddled things were.

In an ideal world, such revelations would spark decisive bipartisan action to make sure our diplomatic personnel overseas never find themselves in that situation again.

But the sharp-elbowed Washington world is hardly an ideal one. The coin of the realm there is political leverage, not dreamy idealism. So, instead of our best, Benghazi touched off Washington’s worst.

Instead of a patriotic search for the truth, we got Republicans and Democrats fighting over who could call witnesses before the House Benghazi panel. We got House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s boastfully truthful “gaffe” on Fox News last September about how the GOP’s inquiry was successfully denting Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers.

We got a televised, 11-hour election-season grilling of Clinton that proved nothing so much as the fact that she and her Republican inquisitors in the House really, really hate each other.

We got, in the end, dueling reports from Republicans and Democrats, both of which – despite Gowdy’s protestations to the contrary – were as much about political futures as the 2012 firefight in Benghazi.

Republicans fell short of their goal of finding actionable malfeasance by Clinton, but still painted an unflattering picture of a Secretary of State who didn’t protect the diplomats in her charge, and who then told the American people the attack was a spontaneous protest over an anti-Muslim video, even as she privately confessed that it was an act of terror.

Democrats, of course, say the public narrative changed as our internal intelligence evolved. They certainly didn’t rise above political partisanship, either. Their counter-report somehow managed to mention Donald Trump 23 times while making the case that, despite the security lapses and intelligence flaws, the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton acted honorably.

In his letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan announcing the report’s completion, Gowdy correctly saluted the four slain Americans, praising “the manner in which they conducted their lives and their extraordinary sense of service and devotion to our country and the ideals it stands for.”

They deserved better in life.

Shame on Washington for reducing them to political pawns in death.

Email: efrazier@charlotteobserver.com