Sunday, May 12, 2013

Moral Consistency From Here To Benghazi

Published at FORBES with archives. A shortened version was published in The Tennessean, Sunday, May 12, 2013.

by Richard J. Grant

When our political leaders tell us lies, we can forgive them when they do so for clear national security reasons. That is, when they lie to protect us, not merely to protect themselves.

We can also forgive error when it is not due to negligence or incompetence. Uncertainty dogs our decisions at the best of times, but during an emergency requiring immediate action the uncertainty can bite hard.
The official immediate response (or lack of response) to the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi might have been explained away retrospectively as an attempt to minimize losses. It might be argued that fewer Americans would have died in the attacks had everyone obeyed orders to stand down. A decision based on this belief would be forgivable, unless those in charge should have made a better assessment of the full context and had a better knowledge of the capabilities of available assets.
It seemed obvious at the time that not only had the rescue been botched by decision-makers at the highest level, but also the situation arose because an American ambassador was inadequately protected on hostile territory. Eight months later, with new information finally coming out, it appears that the obvious was true.
It had also been obvious that the Obama administration, which was two months away from an uncertain reelection, wanted the whole issue to go away. Clearly the events did not fit with the campaign narrative, and release of the full facts would have jeopardized the president's reelection.
By the time our ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, appeared on several Sunday television programs to assert that the Benghazi consulate attack was a spontaneous reaction to a video offensive to Muslims, the absurdity of this claim should have been obvious to her and to everyone else. Now, eight months later, few question that the narrative was false.
Assessment of the response to the security failure remains important but is necessarily overshadowed by the question of who tried to cover it up. The two are inseparable.
Some might also be surprised by the smoothness with which the Obama administration shifted into cover-up mode. But there was no shift necessary. Given the administration's transformative social and economic agenda, the resulting state of constant policy failure makes necessary a constant state of cover-up.
Four years after the official end of the last recession, economic growth remains below our long-term average and joblessness remains high. As cover, the fact that we are no longer at the bottom is hailed as a policy achievement. The so-called stimulus programs and assistance packages, far from helping, have delayed recovery, weakened civil society, and hindered economic progress. The Obama administration's complicity in the stagnation must be denied, not for our benefit, but for theirs.
It is no accident that the response of the Obama administration (and many predecessors) to any perceived problem, especially healthcare costs and financial market reforms, resulted in bigger and more intrusive government. In the course of enhancing their own power, they create the very problems from which they pretend to protect us.
As Friedrich Hayek warned 70 years ago, the propaganda necessary to support the transfer of power from civil society to central government “is destructive of all morals” because it undermines one of their foundations: “the sense of and respect for truth.”
Members of Congress have been trying for several months to get the facts on the Benghazi fiasco. In a classic evasion of responsibility and reality, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked, “What difference does it make?” Alas, the truth is not her friend.

Richard J. Grant is a Professor of Finance and Economics at Lipscomb University and a Senior Fellow at the Beacon Center of Tennessee. His column appears fortnightly on Sundays in the print and online versions of The Tennessean. He is also a regular FORBES contributor. E-mail messages received at: rjg@richardjgrant.com

Follow on Twitter @richardjgrant1

Copyright © Richard J Grant 2013