Benghazi vs. Watergate: Which Was Worse? Part 1

With a hearing on Benghazi scheduled for tomorrow in Darrell Issa’s Oversight and Government Reform Committee, this is an opportune moment to begin assessing the potential importance of the Benghazi scandal. As with any major scandal in the modern era, comparisons with Watergate are probably inevitable. Michael Ramirez makes the analogy explicit:

So, which was worse? Watergate or Benghazi? This is a topic to which I intend to return in a series of posts; we will know more about the answer, of course, in the coming weeks. But let’s start at the beginning, with the crime.

Conventional Washington wisdom holds that the cover-up is always worse than the crime, but I don’t particularly agree with that adage. The crime, it seems to me, is generally the heart of the matter. So let’s start with the crime, where I think it is beyond dispute that Benghazi is far worse than Watergate. It must be admitted, of course, that Watergate began with an actual crime, a breaking and entering, whereas the conduct that gave rise to the Benghazi cover-up was appalling, but not criminal.

That said, the Benghazi “crime”–the conduct that the administration tried to cover up–was infinitely worse than the Watergate break-in. The Obama administration was grotesquely negligent in failing to respond to pleas for better security that came all the way from the top, from Ambassador Chris Stevens himself. It is extraordinary that Hillary Clinton’s State Department could so cavalierly ignore such patent dangers. Libya is a lawless place; its government was obviously an unreliable guardian of American personnel; there had been several recent attacks in Benghazi, including an attack on the British ambassador; we had plenty of military assets in the region; the anniversary of September 11 was at hand; and yet Hillary Clinton, or aides seeking to carry out her instructions, figuratively tossed Stevens’ pleas for help into the wastebasket. Frankly, I wouldn’t have believed it if we didn’t know it to be true.

As a result of the administration’s wanton negligence, four Americans, including an ambassador, were savagely murdered by our bitterest enemies, al Qaeda terrorists, assisted perhaps by a howling mob. In any administration except Obama’s, such a disaster would be the lowest point imaginable.

Contrast that with the Watergate burglary, a minor incident in itself. The Watergate burglars didn’t kill anyone, let alone an ambassador. In fact, no one has ever quite figured out the motive behind the burglary. But whatever it was, its consequences were several orders of magnitude less than the Obama administration’s catastrophic failure in Libya.

Another factor should be considered as well. President Nixon had nothing to do with the Watergate break-in. There is no evidence that he had any knowledge of it, and it is universally assumed, as far as I know, that he did not. Neither did any senior member of his administration. I am not sure whether the genesis of the burglary was ever fully unraveled, but I believe it originated with low-level types like Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt. In contrast, the Benghazi scandal goes straight to the heart of the Obama administration. The State Department’s refusal to grant additional security as requested by Ambassador Stevens went out over Hillary Clinton’s signature. Moreover, on the fatal evening of September 11, 2012, both Clinton and President Obama were apprised of the al Qaeda attack on our Benghazi facilities. Neither did anything. Obama went to bed and got up the next morning to attend a fundraiser in Las Vegas, always his top priority.

This is, of course, the joker in the deck: could Obama and Clinton have saved at least some of those who perished in Benghazi, if they had cared enough to give the order? The answer is not yet known, and may always be debatable. But no one suggests that President Nixon or any senior member of his administration had a similar opportunity to avert whatever damage was caused by the Watergate burglary.

So Round One goes to Benghazi. The original sin of Benghazi was, by any rational standard, a thousand times worse than the Watergate break-in. In future posts I will consider the subsequent cover-ups.