While viewing the Congressional hearings this week on the Libyan/Benghazi fiasco and the grievous loss of American life, it was apparent that, intragovernmental protocols, courtesies and deferences notwithstanding, many members were genuinely, at times passionately and eloquently, outraged at the conduct of our State Department, and the Obama Administration in general. While the scales seem to tip back and forth between incompetency and malicious neglect and coverup, one thing is clear: there are enough crimes of omission on professionalism, attention to detail and devotion to duty to go around in this sordid affair.
Besides the outrage and incredulity over the dereliction in matters of security, what caught my attention was the members questioning the witnesses on the normal functioning of the various offices at the State Department and in the Intelligence Offices, and between them and the White House. Who reports to whom, what are the definitions of security, the responsibilities of officials and the contracting out of services – all these things that must be quite tedious under normal circumstances, but must be awfully extenuated in periods of national and regional unrest like the one in the Middle East right now. If most of them weren’t a bunch of socialist one-worlders at State and the other agencies, you might even feel sorry for them.
But my concern in watching the congress people try to get a handle on all this is one of after-the-fact oversight of the administration by the Congress. I often feel like legislators should be of the citizen variety – in for a term or two and then back to private life. But then something like Benghazi happens, or some natural or economic catastrophe, and you have the eager young bucks coming in trying to play catchup with these career people and just figure out what they do every day before they can even begin to redress grievances, and it makes you appreciate their difficulty in the oversight role.
The size and complexity of the federal bureaucracy, including the Foreign Service and all the global interaction that the US government is involved in concerning trade and other international considerations, as well as the outrageously large domestic apparatus, must be a daunting challenge to our legislators, even the ones who want to do a good job. And while we on the right are forever pushing for a reduction in the size and scope and number of the Federal government’s departments and agencies, the reality of it is that even ideally it can only shrink so much. It is truly a shame that our lack of energy independence necessitates so much foreign entanglement, but that, coupled with the proliferation of technology subject to weaponization and other advantages in the modern world preclude our withdrawal.
When we get mad at Congress, we start threatening term limits, but then when something like Benghazi happens we ask “How come our Congress guys and gals weren’t watching?” The answer is that many of those in the House just got there and in the first year had to learn Congressional protocols and where the mailroom was and in their second year had to crank up their re-election campaign. Doesn’t leave much time to find out, of your own effort, that there is such a thing as the Assistant Deputy for International Programs over at State who is licensed to grant or reject requests for security at sensitive overseas outposts. What Senators do, except make guest appearances on Greta Van Sustern’s TV show every night, is a mystery even to us veteran political watchers.
I don’t know what the answer is. Perhaps a reduction in the number and scope of intrusions into State Sovereignty on domestic matters will free up our Senators and Representatives to keep a closer eye on Foreign Affairs. Perhaps a push for revamping Senate Rules to force those members, who have six-year terms, to do their duty instead of sloughing it off on the House, would help. Perhaps extending the terms of House members to four years instead of two, while capping the number of terms they could serve, would help. I truly do not have any concrete suggestions; I only point out that accountability is like the weather – everybody talks about it but nobody ever does anything about it.
One thing is for sure, and this is just one example out of thousands: a US Congress that is unable to keep a domestic agency like the Government Accounting Office from running wild within the confines of the continental United States is going to have a heckuva time ensuring that Al Quaeda is not allowed to run roughshod over our overseas installations.