If it’s Thursday, Oct. 22,
it must finally be the day of the Benghazi hearing at which Hillary
Clinton must testify as to what she knew and when she knew it.
You may have to be close
to my age to remember where that phrase came from, and why it is
still so important to know. When President Nixon was covering up the
Watergate break-in, Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein
got to the truth by asking the question, “What did the president
know, and when did he know it?” Eventually they got their answers,
which led to the president’s resignation.
No one thought that
finding the truth didn’t matter — and yet, no one died because of
Watergate, as four Americans died that night in 2012 in Benghazi.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted on erroneously blaming
an “inflammatory anti-Muslim video” for an impulsive attack on the
embassy compound, instead of Islamic militants using the anniversary
of 9/11 to attack a poorly defended consulate. She’s continued to
insist that nothing could have been done to save the Americans once
the attack began.
Maybe in the intervening
forty-some years, our nation’s moral, truth-seeking base has
vanished, and none of this matters — so that instead of a lying
president resigning, an evasive former secretary of state will be
Thinking of Libya makes me
admit to a possible mistake that many Americans like me have made
over the years. During the “Arab Spring,” the revolution that spread
from Tunisia in late 2010 and independently spread across North
Africa into the Middle East, many of us related to the
revolutionaries, equating them with our own revolution in 1776, a
fight for freedom and democracy.
Partly, this reflects one
of the charming qualities of Americans: our willingness to relate to
the rest of humanity, when we think of other countries at all, to
assume that everyone would be like us if they just had a chance.
This quality is also a negative, reflecting our national
self-centeredness, naiveté and lack of interest in geography and
other countries’ histories and cultures.
Truth is, we’re not even
like each other. For most of my life I thought that deep down,
everyone (except of course serious evildoers) was really like me. I
grew up as I grew old, and realized there are very few practical
libertarians in the world.
As for the country as a
whole, there’s no reason the U.S. couldn’t continue to function as
the world’s leading superpower, as it did during most of my
lifetime. But we really need to face the reality of the differences
with which we have to work, diplomacy-wise.
Fans of the Showtime
series “Homeland” have been talking about the following
opening of Season 5. Peter Quinn, a young CIA operative, had
just returned from 28 months in Syria to report to a roomful of CIA
Is our strategy working?
What strategy? Tell me what the strategy is, I’ll tell you if
it’s working. See, that right there is the problem, because they
— they have a strategy. They’re gathering right now in
Raqqa by the tens of thousands. Hidden in the civilian
population, cleaning their weapons, and they know exactly
why they’re there.
They call it the end times. What do you think the beheadings are
about? The crucifixions in Deir Hafer, the revival of slavery,
you think they make this (bleep) up? It’s all in the book, their
... book, the only book they ever read. They read it all the
time. They never stop. They’re there for one reason and one
reason only: to die for the caliphate and usher in a world
without infidels. That’s their strategy, and it’s been
that way since the seventh century. So do you really think that
a few Special Forces teams are gonna put a dent in that?
Well, what would you do?
Two hundred thousand American troops on the ground indefinitely
to provide security and support for an equal number of doctors
and elementary school teachers.
Well, that’s not going to happen.
immediately reminded me of George Crile’s book “Charlie
Wilson’s War,” about Texas Congressman Wilson’s encouraging
President Reagan and Congress to support the mujahideen (which
Reagan, making that same charming American mistake, liked to call
“freedom fighters”) against our mutual enemy, the Soviet Union.
After this successful Cold
War strategy, which drove the Soviets into near-bankruptcy,
Congressman Wilson tried to convince Congress to provide follow-up
money to spend on doctors and teachers to win the hearts and minds
of the Afghan people. Congress refused, the Taliban filled the
vacuum, and the rest is our own worst history. The lesson being, we
do conventional war well, but haven’t learned to make peace.
I know many in the
military do work to make friends with the people in countries we
conquer, to train replacements, to encourage democracies. Sometimes
our selling of democracy pays off, as it did in Germany, in Japan,
after World War II.
We tried hard in Iraq,
which at least had a long traditional history of some kind of
government; maybe we just got out too soon. But we are learning in
Afghanistan that we aren’t going to change that tribal society any
more than the Soviet Union did. The same is probably true of Syria.
I still maintain that
there are individuals everywhere who, like Americans, long for
freedom, even who, like me, are libertarians. At today’s hearing, we
may learn about Libyans who expressed sorrow over what happened to
ambassador Chris Stevens in their country.
But the latest discussions
about geopolitical strategies, that argue some peoples need a
strong, even evil dictator to keep order among factions, should give
our American egos something to think about. I don’t like it, but I
wonder if it isn’t true.
Lest we start to feel
superior, it’s also worth imagining our own country, perhaps falling
into economic chaos as our own people become more irresponsible,
more fractional, more insistent on “free stuff,” eventually needing
“someone strong” to keep order.
I know it’s presumptuous
of me to write about our foreign policy, or, for any of us ordinary
Americans to have an opinion about such complicated matters. If only
our leaders appeared to have a strategy we could simply support.
Barbara Anderson of
Marblehead is a weekly columnist for the Salem News and
Eagle-Tribune Publishing Company.