Benghazi’s sliding doors

Editor’s Note: The following is a transcript of the House of Representatives’ Special Select Committee hearing on the Benghazi scandal, taking place in a parallel universe not very far away. It is satire, obviously, but perhaps only because of an almost random quirk of fate.

Representative Trey Gowdy: I would like to call this hearing to order. We are gathered today to get to the bottom of the horrific events of March 18 to 25, 2011, when over 100,000 inhabitants of Benghazi were cruelly killed in the worst act of genocide since Rwanda. Libya has since descended into a catastrophic civil war on a par with Syria, and yet Colonel Gadhafi is still in power. Worse, the situation has exacerbated extremism and threatens to spur Islamic terrorism throughout the region. The recent intervention of Russian forces in the Libyan civil war ensures that any chance the United States had of ending Gadhafi’s cruel tyranny has been missed. 

This was the greatest moral and strategic failure of U.S. foreign policy in 20 years. And yet there has been little or no accountability. Former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was even promoted to Secretary of State, while former National Security Council staffer Samantha Power stepped down, apparently in quiet protest at the president and Secretary Hillary Clinton’s weak and morally vacuous policy. Ms. Power’s new sequel “A Problem From Hell” has now been made into the Oscar-winning movie “Hotel Benghazi.” This scandal, this moral failing is now seared into the conscience of our nation.

This Special Select Committee was stood up 18 months ago and has been working diligently since that day to build on the work of multiple other congressional inquiries to get at the truth of this national shame. We know that the Obama administration had intelligence about the risk of genocide in Benghazi but it decided not to act. Indeed, the entire world knew. The questions we want answered are: What did the administration know about the approaching genocide? And when did it know it? 

We are joined by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Madam Secretary, we appreciate you taking time off from the campaign trail. I understand you have a short statement. 

Secretary Hillary Clinton: Thank you, Representative Gowdy. This is my fourth time appearing before the U.S. Congress on this issue; 37 members of my staff and family have appeared, and my dog is currently fighting a subpoena. So I will keep this brief.

While we deeply regret the Benghazi genocide, we must remember that we had incomplete information about Colonel Gadhafi’s intentions. We were faced with a difficult choice: Should we intervene to stop an uncertain atrocity, committing U.S. troops to an uncertain mission with no exit plan and no vital national interest? Or should we try to shape events without the use of U.S. forces, using the many other tools at our disposal? 

We decided that U.S. military intervention was not prudent. We were worried about a failed state and losing U.S. personnel on the ground. The administration instead sought to mobilize the international community to prevent any genocide and ultimately to bring Gadhafi and his henchmen to justice at the International Criminal Court. 

We continued throughout my tenure as secretary of state—and until this day—to work to bring the civil war to an end and to help the moderate Libyan opposition to overthrow the regime. 

We made some tough calls and we must acknowledge that we were not always right. Knowing what we know now, I wish that we had acted more forcefully. Indeed, I was personally in favor of a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians. But hindsight is twenty-twenty and the president decided to stay out. 

Representative Gowdy: Madam Secretary, with all due respect, Gadhafi’s intention was quite clear. Just days before the slaughter he said, and I quote: “All of these germs, rats and scumbags, they are not Libyans.” He told them “It’s over…We are coming tonight…We will find you in your closets, ” adding: “We will show no mercy.” U.S. NGOs on the ground provided detailed information of troop movements. What more evidence did you need of imminent war crime? Why did you not act? Isn’t the role of the secretary of state to persuade the president? 

If something went wrong, I would be the first to say war is unpredictable and involves risk. I am confident the Congress would have fully supported you.

Secretary Clinton: Congressman, with all due respect, Congress at the time steadfastly opposed our intervention. Had we acted and had the aftermath been messy—as we fully expected—I have no doubt that you would be calling me here to account for that, noting that our own assessments showed we had no capacity to bring stability to Libya. What if we had lost U.S. military personnel or diplomats? What if a U.S. overthrow of the Gadhafi regime merely led to more and different chaos and violence, as we saw in Iraq?

Representative Gowdy: Madam Secretary, the greater shame is clearly inaction in the face of a moral imperative. I can assure you, and I feel confident I speak for all of my colleagues, that had you acted, we would have had your back, come what may. If something went wrong, I would be the first to say war is unpredictable and involves risk. I am confident the Congress would have fully supported you. 

Secretary Clinton: Thank you Congressman, but you will excuse me if I still have some doubts on that score. I guess we’ll never know.