President Barack Obama pledged on the 2008 campaign trail that his administration would be the most transparent in history. Similarly, he said when welcoming his White House in 2009: “I will also hold myself as president to a new standard of openness …. Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.” An official memorandum reads: “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.” But in making the promise repeatedly, he gave his opponents quite an opportunity to criticize his abilities as president.
Perhaps more than any other event in Obama’s presidency, the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans proved how difficult governmental transparency can be to implement, especially in a country with as great a partisan divide as the United States. But with every promise comes the need to follow through, and Republicans in Congress have made the incident a symbol of the failings of the Obama administration. In past nineteen months, conservative lawmakers have accused the White House of orchestrating a coverup of how the attack was mishandled. And the administration has acknowledged that it did initially blame the assault on the American diplomatic mission solely on fallout from the circulation of the “Innocence of Muslims” video, which sparked protest across the Middle East for its derogatory depiction of the prophet Muhammad.
Undeniably, the pressures of November’s congressional midterm elections have contributed to the party’s desire to prove the Obama administration’s foreign policy failings, and by extension the Democratic party’s weak stance on international relations. Benghazi was a point of debate for presidential candidates in the 2012 elections, and once again an important topic for Congress, revealing the hyper-partisan nature of Washington politics. Now, with new documents released by the State Department, the GOP has new evidence on which to base it renewed its investigation into what happened in Benghazi.
There are a few basic facts regarding the attacks that can are not in dispute. On September 11, the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks, a U.S. embassy was attacked, resulting in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. While the Obama administration initially blamed the incident on a protest that escalated into a tactical assault, it was later discovered that an al Qaeda-affiliated organization along with Islamist militants conducted what was a full-fledged and coordinated terrorist attack. Controversy was born in that discrepancy. When then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice appeared on Saturday morning television five days after the attack, saying that it had developed out of protest against the video, Republicans took note of her misstep and labeled it an attempt by the White House to conceal a key breakdown in national security, one that signaled a broader problem with the Obama administration’s foreign policy in the region. The party has long characterized Obama as too weak in asserting American power abroad.