Bob Barr

While the soap opera “All the General’s Girls” currently occupies the top spot in the Washington, DC ratings wars, the “Benghazi Chronicles,” with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice in a starring role, continues to enjoy strong ratings – as it should.

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney played it safe during the campaign -- refusing to press the many questions surrounding the September 11th fatal attacks on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

The campaign was the perfect forum from which to demand and obtain answers to questions about why the United States was so poorly prepared for the violent attacks in Benghazi. It also served as an appropriate stage on which to discover why the Administration continued to mislead the American public about the forces behind the attacks.

With those opportunities badly flubbed by Romney, attention is now focused on Republican leaders in the Congress to use their confirmation, legislative and oversight powers to do what Romney did not – play hardball and demand answers.

Republicans should quickly and firmly brush aside Obama’s symbolic bravado during last week’s news conference, when he dared the Republicans to “take [him] on” and leave Rice alone. This is a red herring. The GOP also should be firm in casting aside the nonsense being mouthed by Rice’s defenders, such as Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, who are playing the Race Card by claiming criticism of Rice is founded in racial prejudice.

What Republicans should not brush aside, but should continue to focus on, is that “Benghazi-Gate” represents a most serious series of errors committed by the Obama Administration – errors in judgment, intelligence, security, and policy that began long before the September 11th attacks; and which continued even after the tragic death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

This is serious business; and whatever smokescreens the Administration and its defenders throw out there – charges of “sexism,” “racism,” “partisanship,” or whatever – must not be permitted to pull the GOP off target. The GOP is the loyal opposition in this equation, and must not allow itself to be bullied into submission or start chasing animals down irrelevant rabbit holes. If the Republicans in either House flub this, then the incompetence displayed by the Obama Administration in meeting the challenges not only in Libya, but in Iran, Egypt and elsewhere, will continue and likely result in future debacles.

While the importance of Benghazi-Gate extends far beyond Susan Rice, the stakes for her are especially high. She is Obama’s personal choice to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. For the President, if this truly is the proverbial “ditch” in which he has decided to fight to the death, its outcome will greatly impact how successful he will be in moving his second-term agenda forward on a number different issues.

On paper, Susan Rice clearly is qualified to serve as Clinton’s successor at Foggy Bottom – Stanford University, Rhodes Scholar, National Security Council, and youngest-ever Assistant Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton. She is accurately described as tough, smart and, according one biography, unafraid to offer “direct” and “plainspoken” assessments.

Why then is there such controversy swirling around her potential nomination to State, based on clearly erroneous assessments of what happened in the Benghazi attack offered publicly by her in the tragedy’s aftermath? The answer to this series of questions actually is rather straightforward and simple.

Rice inserted herself into the eye of the Benghazi hurricane, and became the face of the Obama Administration’s efforts to downplay and explain away the attacks in the final weeks leading to the November 6th election. No Republican Senator or Representative forced Rice into what turned out to be the unenviable position of describing the Benghazi attack as nothing more than a spontaneous response to an obscure film with anti-Islamic overtones. She either chose to enter the fray (perhaps hoping to burnish her credentials in anticipation of an Obama win), or she was too weak to resist efforts by others in the Administration to push her into the front lines so they could stand in the shadows and not be tarnished.

Either way, legitimate questions are raised about Rice’s judgment and about her ability to operate in the tough, complex political milieu in Washington.

The explanation by Obama and others, that Rice should not be criticized for her post-Benghazi statements because she was “just reading the talking points that had been given to her,” are equally devoid of merit. Do we want or need someone as Secretary of State who blithely reads talking point stuck in front of her, regardless of their merits or whether they make sense?

The answer to this and related questions clearly is “No”; and Republican leaders in both the House and the Senate must use their considerable powers to withhold funds, block nominations, and subpoena witnesses to get to the bottom of this fundamental foreign policy and national security debacle. If they don’t, who will?

Bob Barr

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7th district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 -2003 and as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986-1990.