Jane Mayer: Tip O'Neill Handled Beirut Attack Appropriately, While Issa Touts Benghazi 'Non-Scandal'

Chris Matthews's recent book Tip and the Gipper examined how President Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill sometimes set aside their ideological differences in favor of compromising and dealmaking. In a Tuesday post, the New Yorker's Jane Mayer also portrays the '80s O'Neill positively, but in her case it's to contrast his statesmanlike reaction to terrorist attacks that occurred on Reagan's watch with Darrell Issa's hackish exploitation of Benghazi.

Mayer writes that this past Friday, Issa "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." She goes on:

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.

After recapping the 1983 Beirut bombings at the U.S. Marine barracks and the American embassy, Mayer offers her take on the relationship between partisan politics on Capitol Hill and safety for U.S. officials abroad (emphasis added):

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...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...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...

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.

Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson is a contributing writer for NewsBusters