Political Animal


February 21, 2013 11:33 AM Brennan, Benghazi & Drones

By Ed Kilgore

Speaking of strategery: the New York Times’ Scott Shane and Mark Mazetti have published a hypothesis about how the White House is handling John Brennan’s confirmation hearings that if true ought to make some Democratic heads explode:

Rather than agreeing to some Democratic senators’ demands for full access to the classified legal memos on the targeted killing program, Obama administration officials are negotiating with Republicans to provide more information on the lethal attack last year on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, according to three Congressional staff members.
The strategy is intended to produce a bipartisan majority vote for Mr. Brennan in the Senate Intelligence Committee without giving its members seven additional legal opinions on targeted killing sought by senators and while protecting what the White House views as the confidentiality of the Justice Department’s legal advice to the president.

I suppose this tilt towards accommodating GOP demands for more grist for their fantasy machine about the ontologically crucial Benghazi! event—perhaps the most important global incident since the Thirty Years War—while stiffing Democrats who want to know about the rationale for an ongoing killing operation, makes sense from a squeaky-wheel perspective. But it may well cause more wheels to squeak among Senate Democrats. The other problem, of course, is that everything about the Benghazi! furor suggests a plunge down the rabbit hole that by design can never end. So the White House better get some iron commitments of votes for Brennan’s confirmation if they plan to feed this particular beast.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • max on February 21, 2013 11:46 AM:

    The other problem, of course, is that everything about the Benghazi! furor suggests a plunge down the rabbit hole that by design can never end.

    The advantage of that is that if the R's are running around trying to capture Harvey the Rabbit, they'll be too busy to stir up any other mischief.

    I'm not sure what they're covering for with the memo.

    ['They probably just don't want to get any static.']

  • Josef K on February 21, 2013 11:48 AM:

    There might be another calculation at work, and I know I'll sound just a tad paranoid to suggest this: the White House can't share details on the whole 'targeted killing' process because either (a) it doesn't exist and the SOP is 'kill whoever the President says to', or (b) the target selection process is so loose and subjective, Senators on both sides of the aisle will realize they could be designated 'targets'.

    And given the publicity that's already spun up around this mess, the White House has probably calculated any further public exposure to this will be too much to risk (at least to its freedom of action on the issue; I don't know if they're necessarily discerning the dangers to the country here). Hence the willingness to feed the GOP's Benghazi!fever further; if nothing else, it'll make their own actions look more measured and sane.

  • MikeH on February 21, 2013 11:51 AM:

    Could be some more of the multidimensional chess that Obama is so good at. I mean, how long can the Republicans keep beating that carcass before the public realizes how irrational the whole thing is? If Obama provides more info and Butters, Cruz, and the rest of the Repub nutcases continue to run around shrieking with their skirts around their heads, people may finally begin to notice.

  • jhm on February 21, 2013 11:55 AM:

    Less paranoid, but similar to JK above, I think that the legal rational is so obviously a Bush/Yoo-class piece of BS, that the few Dem pols who've seen it will be exposed and made vulnerable in 2014.

  • kevmornj on February 21, 2013 12:09 PM:

    "perhaps the most important global incident since the Thirty Years War"

    I would suggest that the more relevant precedent would be the Second Crusade. Charges of "Who Lost Palestine?" were heard all over Europe after the Mideast debacles of the Crusader Kingdoms. Heads rolled after that.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on February 21, 2013 2:24 PM:

    I'll be keeping an eye out for Benghazi! at this year's Tony Awards. Does kabuki get its own category?

  • Doug on February 21, 2013 6:10 PM:

    As I understand it, for matters pertaining to the operation of the Executive branch, the DoJ IS responsible for providing the President with legal advice in regards to the Executive branch qua the Executive branch. Agreeing to let Democratic Senators see the answers to those seven questions means not only allowing those Senators, but the entire world. It also, and possibly even more importantly, opens the Executive branch to further requests concerning the drone strikes - questions not necessarily by Democrats...
    As the law currently stands, Congress has assigned to the President the sole responsibility for determining the targets for drone strikes, if they don't like it, change it so THEY also bear some responsibility.
    I'll be waiting...

  • Yellowdog on February 22, 2013 11:33 AM:

    The great Charles Pierce has some must-read thoughts on this issue at his blog, under title "A Bad Idea Gets Worse"