I have a confession to make: I just can’t get worked up about Benghazi.
Don’t get me wrong. Unlike Hillary Clinton, when four Americans are killed I think it matters a great deal whether it was the result of a spontaneous demonstration or of an organized act of terrorism. And it’s baffling to me why the Obama administration has had such a hard time getting its story straight, first as to what happened and then as to why it stuck with a narrative everyone knew to be false. But after all the “whistleblowers,” all the emails, all the talking points, and all the hearings, I find myself more saddened than enraged.
From what we know now, it seems possible that had all the warnings been heeded, Chris Stevens and his colleagues might still be alive today. That they aren’t is a tragedy.
Yet it’s what happened afterwards that has Washington in a frenzy. There are a number of elements involved in this so-called scandal, but most of them revolve around the days after the attacks, when key administration figures — including the president —insisted that the whole thing had been the result of riotous protests against an obscure anti-Islam video rather than a coordinated assault planned and carried out by al-Qaida affiliates. Critics of the administration claim that this was a deliberate coverup in advance of a presidential election and to be sure, White House officials have bungled their facts at every stage. But to me it seems more like bureaucratic infighting and missed intelligence than political machination.
But that just shows how little I know. Conservatives have jumped on the issue, convinced it’s Obama’s Watergate (for his part, the president doesn’t seem to be resigning anytime soon). Hearings have been held, a high-profile cabinet nominee has been derailed, and there’s talk of Benghazi disqualifying Hilary Clinton from ever being president. Not to be outdone, Democrats have come up with their own conspiracy theories, recently accusing congressional Republicans of “doctoring” emails in “an attempt to smear the president.”
Some have explained this bipartisan hyperbole as purely political. Republicans want to do everything they can to weaken a president who only a few months ago seemed invincible. Democrats want to deflect legitimate concerns about the administration’s mismanagement of a crisis by discrediting its critics. But I think that more than grandstanding is at work. In their hearts, both sides seem to really believe what they’re saying.
I’m sure Lindsey Graham actually thinks that a malevolent coverup has been carried out. I bet Dan Pfeiffer really does think Republicans would doctor emails (for a debunking of this theory, take a look at The Washington Post’s fact checker). And that’s the problem. We don’t just disagree with our opponents anymore–we attribute to them the most sinister of motives until we start to believe that they truly must be evil.
To break through the gridlock, maybe it’s time to start assuming the best instead. Maybe it’s time to start entertaining the possibility that most of our leaders on either side of the aisle really are trying to do what’s right. Maybe it’s time to stop getting so worked up about Benghazi and start getting to the facts so that in the future such tragedies will be averted. Surely that’s something we can all agree on.
Nathaniel French is an actor and freelance writer living in New York City. He can be reached for comment by email.