Our Republican friends think they have President Obama between a rock and a hard place on the issues of Benghazi, the IRS, and the Justice Department review of some phone records of a number of Associated Press reporters. In my opinion, there is less there than meets the eye.
Let's look at these issues one at a time.
Benghazi. On September 11, 2012, the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked. The US ambassador and three other Americans were killed. The next day, President Obama referred to what had happened as "acts of terror."
UN Ambassador Susan Rice described the situation on the Sunday talk shows four days after the event. She referred to a 14 minute video ridiculing Islam that had just recently been translated into Arabic. The video caused an outbreak of violence in Cairo, and her preliminary assessment was it had contributed to a volatile situation in Benghazi that "heavily armed extremist elements" exploited.
Anyone who was in Washington DC when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 could relate to how an event could cause a spontaneous reaction, which is then exacerbated and prolonged by heavily armed extremists with an agenda. I was there, and saw it happen. Ambassador Rice's description of events in Benghazi, which she clearly described as "preliminary" made sense to me.
The Right goes nuts if something happens and is not called "Islamic terrorism" immediately. Obama likes to gather facts, and proceed based on what is known. The country prefers that approach. If they wanted impulsive bluster, they would have taken McCain-Palin. If they wanted someone who would do what Sheldon Adelson wanted, they would have taken Romney and the Marathon Man.
Finally, words matter. Our law (22 USC 2656) defines terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups." To call the attack on Benghazi "terrorism" immediately is to say that we know, without any investigation, that a nation is not involved. After all, a nation cannot be a "subnational group."
The Obama way is fact-based and devoid of bluster. It also sends a message to countries that wish us ill that we have not ruled out their possible involvement up front. Isn't that what we want?
IRS. The Right would have us believe that starting in 2010, the George W. Bush appointed Commissioner of the IRS, Doug Shulman, oversaw a program of targeting Right-leaning advocacy groups who were applying for tax-exempt status under Section 503(c4) of the Internal Revenue Code. Once again, a look at the law is appropriate. The section states that an organization may be exempt from taxation if it engages in activities "exclusively for the promotion of social welfare."
The whole problem in this area starts with the IRS adopting a regulation years ago that allowed organizations to get tax-exempt status by engaging "primarily" in social welfare activities. In other words, they took the language Congress enacted, which said that the benefit of tax-exempt status was available only if social welfare activities were what one did "exclusively" and said you can get the benefit if you did those activities "primarily."
This is bureaucratic BS. It's wrong and illegal, and any court would treat it as such if a proper case were brought.
When the IRS started to receive an avalanche of applications from tax-exempt groups that used the term "Tea Party" they rightly concluded that it was highly likely that many of these applicants wouldn't be doing anything that was related to "social welfare". There's no question the IRS was a little ham-handed in the way it proceeded.
What they should have done is rescinded their regulation that changed the clear meaning of the law and gone back to requiring that the tax-exempt status was only available to those organizations engaged "exclusively" in social welfare work. Now try and wrap your brain around the idea of Karl Rove meeting that standard.
The bottom line is that whatever clumsiness that existed on the part of the IRS happened on the watch of a Republican appointed IRS Commissioner, and there has been no evidence of improper influence by the Obama White House on the IRS.
Associated Press. The Justice Department obtained and reviewed phone records of a number of Associated Press reporters without a court order and without negotiating with the senior management of the AP as preferred practice recommends. Justice did not tap phones or listen to conversations. They did review logs of incoming and outgoing calls on individual reporters. While not pretty, the Department of Justice is allowed, under current law, to do what they did.
The operation was prompted by the piecemeal disclosure of our government's ability to infiltrate an Al-Qaeda cell and thereby foil a particular terrorist plot. This is apparently the first time we've been able to insert someone working for us into an active Al-Qaeda cell as an agent.
My guess is that 65% of the country would agree it was the correct thing to do.
This is a special post. I will post again on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 (or before, if the news flow dictates) and, for the time being, I will post on the first Wednesday of each month.
Comments are welcome at tomc[at]wednesdayswars[dot]com. Name and town if you wish to opine. Comments will be addressed in subsequent posts.