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Mayer writes: "On Friday, Issa had announced that he had issued a subpoena to Secretary of State John Kerry for a new round of hearings devoted to searching, against diminishing odds, for some dirty, dark secret about what really happened in Benghazi."

(photo: Reza/Webistan/Corbis)
(photo: Reza/Webistan/Corbis)

Ronald Reagan's Benghazi

By Jane Mayer, The New Yorker

07 May 14


ate Saturday night, at the Vanity Fair party celebrating the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, Darrell Issa, the Republican congressman from San Diego, California, was chatting amiably with Governor Chris Christie, of New Jersey, leaning in to swap gossip and looking very much at ease in his tuxedo. Issa, who has been the lead inquisitor into what, in shorthand, has come to be known as “Benghazi,” was having a busy weekend. House Speaker John Boehner had just announced a plan for a new special select investigative committee, and, on Friday, Issa had announced that he had issued a subpoena to Secretary of State John Kerry for a new round of hearings devoted to searching, against diminishing odds, for some dirty, dark secret about what really happened in Benghazi.

Ever since militant jihadists killed four Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador, in an attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in that remote Libyan town two years ago, House Republicans have kept up a drumbeat of insinuation. They have already devoted thirteen hearings, twenty-five thousand pages of documents, and fifty briefings to the topic, which have turned up nothing unexpected. Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton, has already accepted responsibility for the tragedy, and the State Department has issued a critical independent report on diplomatic security, resulting in the dismissal of four employees. If the hearings accomplish nothing else, it seems that they promise to keep the subject on life support at least through the midterm congressional elections, and possibly on through any potential Hillary Clinton Presidential campaign. The word “impeachment” has even been trotted out by Obama opponents in connection with this non-scandal.

Watching Issa silhouetted against the Belle Époque windows of the Italian Ambassador’s residence, which were wide open to a garden bathed in colored spotlights, I found myself thinking about another tragedy, thirty years ago, that played out very differently.

Around dawn on October 23, 1983, I was in Beirut, Lebanon, when a suicide bomber drove a truck laden with the equivalent of twenty-one thousand pounds of TNT into the heart of a U.S. Marine compound, killing two hundred and forty-one servicemen. The U.S. military command, which regarded the Marines’ presence as a non-combative, “peace-keeping mission,” had left a vehicle gate wide open, and ordered the sentries to keep their weapons unloaded. The only real resistance the suicide bomber had encountered was a scrim of concertina wire. When I arrived on the scene a short while later to report on it for the Wall Street Journal, the Marine barracks were flattened. From beneath the dusty, smoking slabs of collapsed concrete, piteous American voices could be heard, begging for help. Thirteen more American servicemen later died from injuries, making it the single deadliest attack on American Marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Six months earlier, militants had bombed the U.S. embassy in Beirut, too, killing sixty-three more people, including seventeen Americans. Among the dead were seven C.I.A. officers, including the agency’s top analyst in the Middle East, an immensely valuable intelligence asset, and the Beirut station chief.

There were more than enough opportunities to lay blame for the horrific losses at high U.S. officials’ feet. But unlike today’s Congress, congressmen did not talk of impeaching Ronald Reagan, who was then President, nor were any subpoenas sent to cabinet members. This was true even though then, as now, the opposition party controlled the majority in the House. Tip O’Neill, the Democratic Speaker of the House, was no pushover. He, like today’s opposition leaders in the House, demanded an investigation—but a real one, and only one. Instead of playing it for political points, a House committee undertook a serious investigation into what went wrong at the barracks in Beirut. Two months later, it issued a report finding “very serious errors in judgment” by officers on the ground, as well as responsibility up through the military chain of command, and called for better security measures against terrorism in U.S. government installations throughout the world.

In other words, Congress actually undertook a useful investigation and made helpful recommendations. The report’s findings, by the way, were bipartisan. (The Pentagon, too, launched an investigation, issuing a report that was widely accepted by both parties.)

In March of 1984, three months after Congress issued its report, militants struck American officials in Beirut again, this time kidnapping the C.I.A.’s station chief, Bill Buckley. Buckley was tortured and, eventually, murdered. Reagan, who was tormented by a tape of Buckley being tortured, blamed himself. Congress held no public hearings, and pointed fingers at the perpetrators, not at political rivals.

If you compare the costs of the Reagan Administration’s serial security lapses in Beirut to the costs of Benghazi, it’s clear what has really deteriorated in the intervening three decades. It’s not the security of American government personnel working abroad. It’s the behavior of American congressmen at home.

The story in Beirut wasn’t over. In September of 1984, for the third time in eighteen months, jihadists bombed a U.S. government outpost in Beirut yet again. President Reagan acknowledged that the new security precautions that had been advocated by Congress hadn’t yet been implemented at the U.S. embassy annex that had been hit. The problem, the President admitted, was that the repairs hadn’t quite been completed on time. As he put it, “Anyone who’s ever had their kitchen done over knows that it never gets done as soon as you wish it would.” Imagine how Congressman Issa and Fox News would react to a similar explanation from President Obama today. your social media marketing partner


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+115 # Rain 2014-05-07 14:50
The only new evidence being uncovered from these unrelenting Benghazi investigations is more proof of Reagan and Bush's sociopathic disregard for the well being of US citizens abroad and at home.
+33 # jussayin 2014-05-08 11:48
Which is a good thing. It peels away some of the teflon from the gipper and helps to counter the intensive effort to revise the history to make him look good. There's so much right wing propaganda in the news that many people don't trust their own eyes and ears and memory.

With so much urgent work to be done it's criminal that the 'conservatives' in congress spend their time avoiding it by engaging in partisan politics.

If our elections were honest we'd have a congress that represented the people instead of the corporations that are trashing the economy, environment and government.
+23 # Rain 2014-05-08 12:20
I'd like to think so, but if the GOP base doesn't care that Reagan secretly sold arms to our enemy or the label "teflon", then I'm not so optimistic. Maybe if conservatives would insert Al Qaeda or North Korea instead of Iran in Iran/Contra, they would understand that it was treason. Also, Republicans seem unfazed as usual, about the recent reports that the 1980 Reagan campaign tried to delay the release of American embassy hostages in Iran! These "low-informatio n" voters don't even mind that label or are unaware that it pertains to them.
+13 # Farafalla 2014-05-08 13:16
And it was (if I recall from the era) Bill Casey, Reagan's CIA chief who came up with the brilliant idea to house the Marines at the airport building instead of letting them bivouac outside, which is what the Marine Commandant had preferred and was the practice of the USMC. The other detail I recall is that Israeli intelligence had video taken through a chainlink fence at the airport as the event unfurled, possibly indicating that they knew it was coming. But even if that's true, we'll never know.
+1 # Rain 2014-05-08 21:00
Interesting. Sadly unavoidable, no doubt. Since Iran is Israel's worst enemy, there is probably an immense amount of surveillance on it at all times, which makes Iran commit much of it's terrorist acts from other countries.
+48 # MidwesTom 2014-05-07 21:56
The difference between when Reagan and O'Neill ran things and today, is that Americans used to trust their government a lot more than they do today. Witness the final Congressional 9/11 report from which 28 pages were removed, and even most of Congress cannot read those pages. Then add Snowden into the mix and ask "who do you trust?". Start reading foreign newspaper coverage of the kidnappings in Nigeria, and notice that the perpetrators are called Muslims, as opposed to much American coverage where they are simply 'terrorist'. Our news is delivered in a washed, politically correct manner, which eliminates much of the fact.
+58 # ericlipps 2014-05-08 04:58
Republicans have spent fifty years screeching about how government never does anything right, and making sure of it every time they get control of the government. Small wonder Americans have lost trust in Washington.
+24 # wrknight 2014-05-08 08:07
Quoting MidwesTom:
The difference between when Reagan and O'Neill ran things and today, is that Americans used to trust their government a lot more than they do today.

Americans may not trust their government today but they continue to vote for the politicians they distrust. Or they don't vote at all thus allowing others to decide who governs.
+2 # Buddha 2014-05-14 16:54
Wasn't it Reagan who kept saying "the government isn't the solution, it is the problem". Sounds to me like Reagan helped foster that distrust of the government.
+84 # DaveM 2014-05-07 21:58
An excellent comparison. Fox News wasn't around in 1983, was it? Certainly none of the fringe "news" sites one finds pitching conspiracy theories on the Internet did not.

Sources of this sort are now regarded as gospel, it seems, at least when angry Republicans want something and don't have the facts on their side. Sad, really.
+84 # sdraymond 2014-05-07 22:10
The real scandal is that the American political system is dysfunctional and the stated goal of the John Birch Society, the Ayn Randians, the libertarians and finally the neocons to make the government impotent and irrelevant has come to fruition. From Monica Lewinsky to birthgate to Benghazi to Obamacare, the right has stopped governing and has bamboozled enough people to take the Senate in November. Civil discourse be damned. When people discuss things rationally, they might even govern, which is exactly what the Republican party wants them not to do.
+16 # wrknight 2014-05-08 08:28
Are you going to vote in the upcoming primary elections? Did you vote in the last election? What about the primaries before the last election or the mid-term elections before that?

I ask these questions because it is a matter of record that the majority of eligible voters do not vote in most elections. In most states there are at least 8 elections every 4 years and we get a turnout that exceeds 50% only in presidential elections. In particular, primaries are very poorly attended (maybe 30% of voters show up to vote if you're lucky, but it's mostly between 10% and 20%) and that's where the die is cast for who governs. So if you are one of the majority who didn't vote in the primary elections, or don't bother to vote at all, take a good look in the mirror at the cause of our dysfunctional government.

See for yourself, how many Americans bother to vote.
+16 # AndreM5 2014-05-08 10:09
If voter turn out were 50% in every election, Repubs would never win a race.
+8 # Radscal 2014-05-08 13:55
Exactly true. Having worked on both voter registration drives and phone banks to "get out the vote" calling registered Democrats, I can say that the principle reason I hear for people not voting, is that they see little substantial difference between the corporatist/mil itarist/oligarc h candidates from either party flavor.

If we want to see huge turnouts, we need to get strongly progressive candidates who will energize all those self-disenfranc hised eligible voters.
+3 # NGB 2014-05-10 03:39
How about doing (shock, horror) what some other democracies, such as Australia, do? Make voting compulsory.
+26 # Mickeyfilm 2014-05-07 22:23
I think one of the first times the city of Benghazi was mentioned wis widely heard in my film INJECTION where I spent years investigating the HIV outbreak in a children's hospital there.

This all lead me to my new film, BURNING GREEN, which I've spent 3 years on at this point.

My last trip for the film was this last February. All I needed for my film regarding this tragedy was the security camera footage of the Embassy.

Initially what happened was a matter of confusion. I talked on Facebook to several people in Benghazi at that time. All of them were just as confused as anyone.

I think, if anything, the State Department should have simply stated that there was a lot of confusion. I think this would have helped simplify the situation. I talked to people from Tunisia and Egypt, and all of them were saying the same thing. So much confusion about every aspect.

Libya has no borders... in actuality. They are porous. It's a nightmare for them as well as for us. The goal of my film.. if I can finish it.. is to help give the public a fair picture of what the "free" Libyans are facing. it's not easy. They need all the help they can get. Libyans are a wonderful people. Period. Overthrowing Gaddafi was not easy but it, without question, was the right thing to do. Just ask any family member for the Pan Am bombing.. people seem to have forgotten about that story.
Mickey Grant
-40 # jojo5056 2014-05-08 04:47
Hopefully in your film you report that the remote diplomatic outpost was a CIA infested outpost.

And what's with the nonsense rant about
Gaddafi killing and bombing his country to pulp by sick sick NATO nations.
Your about to be film --needs to be be thrown directly into the round bin.
You fella are a disgrace to human kind
a government hack :^(
+5 # Radscal 2014-05-08 14:03
The first time I heard about Benghazi in the "war on terror" context was when President Obama claimed that Gaddafi was about to kill tens of thousands of civilians there. Benghazi, being a hotbed of Islamic radicals, then and now, may well have been in Gaddafi's crosshairs as the CIA-fomented "regime change" was underway, but regardless, it was THE principle excuse Obama gave for the airstrikes and supplying those Islamic radicals with the heavy arms that would later lead to the attacks against CIA operations to "secure" those weapons for shipment to out next "regime change" in Syria.
+61 # bingers 2014-05-07 23:50
Back then we had statesmen. Now we have teabaggers, 'nuff said?
+43 # m... 2014-05-08 03:28

What about the two biggest FuK-ghazis of them all-----------> 911


A Government full of Self Involved, Narcissistic, Ideo-illogical Morons and Fruitcakes who have absolutely zero interest in GOVERNING THE NATION..…!!!

Talk about moles in Government giving aid and comfort to our enemies… All our enemies have to do is sit back, watch and hope they don't laugh themselves to death while waiting for all of these 'elected' morons and all their narrow minded, narrow interest nonsense and bullshit on behalf of their wealthy-greedy patrons to finally do us in from within.

+6 # Tigre1 2014-05-08 07:05
We have given capitalists time and rope enough tohang themselves...Jo seph Stalin, or words to that effect, commenting, I believe, on the result of training Fred Koch and overseeing his indoctrination, not in communism, but in how to take over z country.

The family has followed Stalin's orders and rules quite thoroughly since.
+31 # overanddone 2014-05-08 04:01
The total lack of concern and patriotism by the current congress is to me the biggest scandal of out time. Not putting the American Peoples best interest before party is an abdication of duty amounting to treason. Although this behavior showed itself with the assault on America by the republican Congress led by Newt Gingrich the seeds were planted by Regan and his the American Government is the problem philosophy.
+26 # Jim Young 2014-05-08 07:14
The 1996 Newt Gingrich/Frank Luntz GoPac Memo, "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control" and the Leninist tactics they adopted, ended 5 generations of Republican loyalty (from the very founders). The party of Lincoln became the Party of John Wilkes Booth when the super "conservative" Southern Democrats started running as Republicans.

Though there are some Republicans I still trust, I won't vote for a single one as long as ALEC has such a grip on the local, state, and national officials (with things like their massive funding and "loyalty" oath to ALEC over country. I can't be a party to ever allowing the corrupted party to gain or maintain such abusive majorities and atrocities like the "Hastert Rule."
-54 # jdd 2014-05-08 04:48
Why is the New Yorker covering for Obama. First it spikes Seymour Hersch's exposure, now this. Truth is that Benghazi has been a lie from the start, probably to cover up Obama's role in allying with Wahabist terrorists against both Qadaffi and Assad. The email from Ben Rhodes to Susan Rice instructing her to tow the "it was the video" and not a pre-planned attack is in fact new and damaging evidence.
+8 # Tigre1 2014-05-08 07:15
Why not work with Obama and the New Yorker? Truth is truth, facts are facts, and opinions Are like certain unmentionable bodily features, which everyone has one of.

One can find it to wish that Republicans did not expect wisdom to issue from such
apertures, nor pay homage to so many prominent examples within their party.
+1 # Radscal 2014-05-08 14:39
It sure appears that, as regards the attacks against CIA operations in Benghazi, the Obama Administration continued the long Presidential tradition of lying to cover up covert operations.

Ike lied about the first official CIA "regime change" in Guatemala. LBJ lied about everything in Vietnam, but in terms of covert operations, he lied about the Operation Phoenix Program of targeted murders. Reagan lied about providing weapons to Iran and the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua. etc. etc. etc.

Covert meddling in foreign countries is a bipartisan effort.
-12 # jojo5056 2014-05-08 05:07
Beirut Bombings--sure sounds to me, were all another government black flag operations to get Americans mad at Muslims. By the way--what business was it for America to be in this part of the world? Go back to late 1700s, USA navy was in the middle east and attacking countries on the bases to control trade. Author should have mentioned LBJ's comment--" best to let Sink the USS liberty and drown all it's men". There was no investigation and a coverup. Can not blame there were no internet to inform the public then. Look how Sept 11 2001 killings never got exposed as a black flag operation.
USA has always been killing it's own and blaming others for a purpose.
Wilson, Truman, Roosevelt,FDR, LBJ Reagan 2 Bushes and Obama are can be classified as very sick murderous and pathological lying leaders.
+39 # walt 2014-05-08 05:51
The Republican Party is the source of most of America's problems. It has become a party of desperate madmen, well-supported by racists,whose purpose is to discredit the black president and also to stop anything that might deprive their corporate lobbyists of controlling the government via oligarchy.

In their gross insecurity and panic, they have been using every possible issue to try and disparage Obama from over fifty repeal motions for the ACA to Benghazi lies and distortions.

They tried from Inauguration Day 2009 through election day in November 2012, yet they failed to defeat the President. It's been an endless, mean-spirited battle and one waged with total disregard for the needs of the country and our own people. Their only plan has been obstruction at any cost.

In November, no sane citizen will fail to vote these traitors out of office and elect people who will work for our best interests, not simply sabotaging everything. We have everything to lose if these same people return to office.
+20 # fredboy 2014-05-08 06:01
The difference is clear: Congress in the 1980s had character and cared about our nation and people.
+2 # Tigre1 2014-05-08 07:18
Some caveats. Later discussions for that, perhaps...
+19 # fredboy 2014-05-08 06:20
You will recall there was also no investigation of the Bush Administration following the 9/11 attacks.

Just a commission. And a whitewash.

Leaving many of us to believe it was an inside job, allowed to twist the nation into its current, fearful state.
0 # Tigre1 2014-05-08 07:19
For professionals, the fix is always in FIRST.
+2 # Dale 2014-05-08 07:20
What an absurdity! Wont anyone note that the American Ambassador and the Special Forces types (mercenary killers) were casualties of the U.S./NATO war against Libya. A war in which the Ambassador was point man, which began with the bombing of the Libyan President´s compound in an attempted (terrorist) assassination.
+3 # Rain 2014-05-08 11:41
When I see a comment like this, I just assume that the poster wasn't born yet in 1988 or was too young to know that Gaddafi downed an airplane bound for Detroit killing 243 passengers, 189 of them Americans (Pan Am flight 103). Gaddafi accepted responsibility.
+20 # jon 2014-05-08 07:48
Here is another difference: the Republican party was not a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch industries during Ron's administration.
+3 # Radscal 2014-05-08 14:21
The differences in 1980s v. 21st Century Congressional partisanship is interesting. But to me, the significant thing is the similarity in U.S. foreign policy. Then and now our government uses both overt and covert methods to create and maintain hegemony in the region.
0 # RICHARDKANEpa 2014-05-08 23:19
There were new comments on RSN after the Connecticut elementary school was attacked, to a RSN blog over the Batman Movie attack.

There are old articles on Benghazi at RSN that could use fresh comments,

Maybe we are finally learning from history rather than repeatedly reliving it.
+3 # pinkmondy54 2014-05-09 14:42
I'd like to commend Jane Mayer for another excellent article.

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