Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
The Washington Post broke a big scoop on Tuesday with the news that US special forces, working with FBI agents, mounted a secret raid in Libya this past weekend that captured Ahmed Abu Khattala, who is suspected of masterminding the attack on the US diplomatic facility in Benghazi that resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The Post story noted that the operation had been months in the making. In fact, US Special Forces had a plan to apprehend Abu Khattala last October, days after US commandos in Tripoli snatched Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, who was accused of bombing US embassies in East Africa in 1998. But that attempt to apprehend Abu Khattala had to be called off at the last minute.
So for a long stretch, maybe a year or more, the Obama administration had been trying to figure out how best to grab Abu Khattala, who was identified as a possible Benghazi ringleader soon after the September 11, 2012, assault. Yet for much of that time, Republican critics of the president have repeatedly criticized Obama for not capturing the Benghazi perps. Even though it took a decade to nab Osama bin Laden, GOPers have depicted Obama as feckless on the Benghazi front, with some even saying that he was not truly interested in bringing the Benghazi killers to justice.
Here's a sampling of those GOP attacks:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas): In November, Cruz criticized the Obama administration for failing to use a State Department program that offers rewards to people with information about terrorists in order to track down the Benghazi attacker: "The State Department's Rewards for Justice Program exists to help the US identify and apprehend its enemies, but the Obama administration has not used it to pursue the terrorists who attacked our personnel in Benghazi," he said.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.): In August, Issa, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which has held numerous hearings on the Benghazi attack, harped on the administration's "delay" in apprehending Abu Khattala: "If our government knows who perpetrated the attack that killed four Americans, it is critical that they be questioned and placed in custody of US officials without delay," he said. "Delays in apprehending the suspected Benghazi killers will only put American lives at further and needless risk."
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and John McCain (R-Ariz.): In a February letter to Obama, the three GOP senators wrote, "In almost 17 months, none of the terrorists have been brought to justice. The families of the murdered Americans deserve to see the terrorists brought to justice. Moreover, terrorists around the world need to know that if they kill Americans, we will hunt them down and bring them to justice. Allowing terrorists apparently involved in the attack to sit and give interviews in cafés sends a dangerous message that there are no consequences for killing Americans."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah): "[L]et's not forget the Benghazi terrorist attackers," Chaffetz told USA Today in October. "There's been no visibility on whether or not we're pursuing that."
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.): In August, when the Justice Department filed charges against Abu Khattala, Wolf suggested the administration wouldn't have acted without Republican pressure. "I think they're feeling pressure to do something, to show they're making progress," he told the Washington Times, adding that charges against suspects have likely been delayed by "confusion" among US law enforcement authorities.
By now, it should be obvious: It can take a while—even years—to capture a suspected terrorist overseas. (Ruqai, the embassy bombings suspect, was apprehended 15 years after the attacks.) Yet that didn't stop these Republicans and other conservatives from slamming the president and suggesting publicly—in a real underhanded dig—that Obama was not seeking the murderers of Benghazi. Now what will they say? That his heart wasn't really in it?
This past weekend, as the crisis in Iraq intensified, Paul Wolfowitz appeared on Meet the Press to share his wisdom on the current predicament there. Wolfowitz was the deputy defense secretary and an architect of the US invasion of Iraq during the Bush-Cheney administration, and he remarked on the show that talk of sectarian violence in Iraq was misguided: "This is more than just those obscure Shia/Sunni conflict[s]." He advised that the United States should "stick with our friends, and those friends are not always perfect." Wolfowitz seemed to be suggesting that the Obama administration should stand strong with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, despite Maliki's authoritarian, corrupt, and inept ways. But moments later Wolfowitz said, "It's a complicated situation in which you don't just come up with, 'We're going to bomb this, we're going to do that.'" And then he said, "Maliki is a big part of the problem. He's not a leader of Iraq. We need to find people there."
It was confusing. After the invasion of Iraq, the Bush crew backed a consolidation of power by the Maliki-led coalition of religious-oriented Shiite parties and decimated the Sunni establishment that had previously controlled the government and the military. And now Wolfowitz was saying that Washington should hang tough with its pal—but that its pal was also the problem. Huh? The big brain behind the Iraq War had nothing of consequence to recommend.
1. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney invaded Iraq with no clear and comprehensive plan for what to do after the invasion and the end of Saddam Hussein's regime. Weeks before the war, the administration stated there was no reason to fear that sectarian conflict would ensue after Saddam was booted.
2. Following the invasion, the Bush-Cheney administration decided to prohibit the Sunni-dominated Baath Party from participating in a post-Saddam government and decommissioned the existing Baathist-led military. This caused deep resentment among Sunnis, especially former military commanders and soldiers (who would now be available for an armed opposition). The move had the effect of banishing Iraqis with governing and security experience from the post-Saddam order. That would be good for chaos and conflict.
3. The Bush-Cheney deciders, having decimated the Sunni ruling establishment, backed the creation of a government led by hard-line Shiite religious parties, including the party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The Maliki regime has been corrupt, authoritarian, and incompetent—and allied closely with the Shiite government in Iran. (Iran was a key sponsor of Maliki when he was in exile during the Saddam years.) The thuggish Maliki government, supported by the Bush administration and then the Obama administration, has treated the Sunni areas of Iraq as enemy territory and refused to share power with Sunnis—stoking the deep-seated tensions between Sunnis and Shiites. (As the murderous Sunni ultra-extremists of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, have gained power in Mosul and other Sunni-dominated cities and towns, non-extremist Sunnis have sided with—or tolerated—the jihadists because of their shared hatred of the Maliki regime and the Iraqi military, which Sunnis in Mosul considered an occupying force).
4. President Barack Obama did not leave a residual force of American troops in Iraq after he withdrew US troops because Maliki would not sign a Status of Forces Agreement protecting US soldiers. Though Bush also did not negotiate a long-term SOFA, prominent Republicans, including Senator John McCain and Mitt Romney, have slammed Obama for failing to obtain such an agreement. But Fareed Zakaria reports that a senior Iraqi politician told him, "Maliki cannot allow American troops to stay on. Iran has made very clear to Maliki that it's No. 1 demand is that there be no American troops remaining in Iraq. And Maliki owes them."
5. The United States has provided much training and equipment to the Iraqi military—$25 billion in military aid—before and after the US withdrawal. Yet under Maliki the Iraqi army has not been professionalized and has committed repeated abuses against civilians, according to Human Rights Watch, including unlawful raids and arrests, torture, and indiscriminate shelling. When a relatively small band of jihadists attacked Mosul and Tikrit, four major divisions folded. Training and equipment does not help if soldiers strip off their uniforms and flee because they are not committed to the mission and the government.
6. More US assistance to Maliki and his military may not make the difference. (See No. 5.) Moreover, Iran has sent special forces to Iraq to assist Maliki—bolstering Iraq's dependence on Iran. If the United States were to funnel additional military equipment (and more advanced equipment) to Maliki's army, it could well end up with the ISIS jihadists (given the Iraq military's habit to cut and run) or—get this—with the Revolutionary Guard of Iran. A good deal for Tehran. And if US air strikes are ordered in Iraq to assist Maliki, American fighter jets or drones would be deployed in a tactical alliance with Iran.
7. The current crisis is not the result of inadequate US support of Maliki and the Iraqi military. It is the outcome of Maliki's failures, which have provided the evildoers of ISIS—a band that does threaten civilians and stability in the region—an opportunity, and these failures were enabled by the Bush administration and unaddressed by the Obama crew. Unless the basic dynamic is altered, any military action—whether taken by the United States, regional allies, and/or NATO—will be as effective as pounding sand.
When Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) was anointed last month by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to lead yet another congressional investigation of Benghazi, the second-term tea party congressman, a former prosecutor, was hailed by his Republican colleagues as an evenhanded lawmaker who had no political ax to grind in this endeavor. Boehner called him "serious-minded" and cited his "zeal for the truth." Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) praised him as "cerebral" and said "he has a great capacity to work through an investigation and come to a fair conclusion." And Gowdy himself vowed, "We're going to go wherever the facts take us. Facts are neither Republican nor Democrat. They are facts."
Yet when it comes to another conservative crusade, the supposed-IRS scandal, Gowdy has not been so dispassionate and judicious. As a member of the House government oversight committee led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), which has mounted the main congressional inquiry into this matter, Gowdy has publicly suggested that the vetting of political groups conducted by an IRS office in Cincinnati was part of a scheme hatched in Washington to benefit President Barack Obama and the Democrats. And he has done so without presenting facts to prove this assertion.
When tea party challenger David Brat sent Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader, to the ash heap on Tuesday night, vanquishing the incumbent by more than 10 points in the primary race, the politerati were stunned. Political journalists scrambled to answer a question: who is this guy? The political pros knew that Brat had mounted a campaign largely based on two issues: bashing Cantor on immigration (that is, excoriating the congressman, who was quite hesitant about immigration reform, for not killing the possibility of any immigration legislation) and denouncing Cantor for supporting a debt ceiling deal that averted possible financial crisis. But not much else was widely known about this local professor who dispatched a Washington power broker.
A quick review of his public statements reveals a fellow who is about as tea party as can be. He appears to endorse slashing Social Security payouts to seniors by two-thirds. He wants to dissolve the IRS. And he has called for drastic cuts to education funding, explaining, "My hero Socrates trained in Plato on a rock. How much did that cost? So the greatest minds in history became the greatest minds in history without spending a lot of money."
An economics professor at Randolph-Macon College in central Virginia, Brat frequently has repeated the conservative canard that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae brought down the housing market by handling the vast majority of subprime mortgages. That is, he absolves Big Finance and the banks of responsibility for the financial crisis that triggered the recession, which hammered middle-class and low-income families across the country. (In fact, as the housing bubble grew, Freddie and Fannie shed their subprime holdings, while banks grabbed more.)
If you let Americans do their thing, there is no scarcity, right? They said we're going to run out of food 200 years ago, that we're goin' to have a ice age. Now we're heating up…Of course we care for the environment, but we're not mad people. Over time, rich countries solve their problems. We get it right. It's not all perfect, but we get it right.
Update: After Mother Jones published this piece, several videos referenced were set to private.
He did not say what might happen to not-so-rich countries due to climate change and the consequent rise in sea levels, droughts, and extreme weather.
I'll give you my general answer. And my general answer is you have to do what's fair. Right. So you put together a graph or a chart and you go out to the American people, you go to the podium, and you say, this is what you put in on average, this is what you get out on average. Currently, seniors are getting about three dollars out of all of the programs for every dollar they put in. So, in general, you've got to go to the American people and just be honest with them and say, "Here's what fairness would look like." Right. So, maybe the next ten years we have to grandfather some folks in, but basically we're going to move them in a direct line toward fairness and we have to live within our means.
For the first 13 years of your kid's life, we teach them no religion, no philosophy, and no ethics…Who is our great moral teachers these days? Every generation has always had great theologians or philosophers by the century that you can name. Who do we got right now? [Audience: Jay-Z] Right. Right. [Audience: Beyoncé] Right. Beyoncé. When you can't name a serious philosopher, a national name, or a serious theologian, or a serious religious leader, at the national level, your culture's got a major problem. We got a major problem.
Brat railed against Cantor for supporting a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants. Brat called this a policy of "amnesty" and accused Cantor of "getting big paychecks" from groups like the Chamber of Commerce for his position:
If I misspoke and said "secretly," he's been pretty out in the open. He's been in favor of the KIDS Act, the DREAM Act, the ENLIST Act [which Cantor blocked in May]…On the amnesty card, it's a matter of motivation. I teach third-world economic development for the past 20 years, I love all people, I went to seminary before I did my economics, and so you look at the motivation. Why is Eric pushing amnesty? It's not a big issue in our district, everyone's opposed to it, and so why is he doing it? And the answer is, 'cause he's got his eye on the speakership. He wants to be speaker, and big business, right? The Business Roundtable and the US Chamber of Commerce wants cheap labor. So he actually is selling out the people in our district. He's not representing the district, the will of the people, and he's getting big paychecks by doing so. So he's very clear on amnesty.
"Common-" anything I'm against. United Nations. Common everything. If you say common, by definition you're saying it's top-down. I'm going to force this on you. That's what dictators do.
His view of who deploys a top-down approach, naturally, includes President Barack Obama:
The left does not believe in diversity. They believe in top-down, I'm going to force my way onto you. Obama is forcing un-diversity onto everybody. It's not diversity. It's top down, central planning, on everything.
As Mother Jones's Timothy Murphy noted, Brat, a libertarian but not a full Randian, and he doesn't buy the idea that there's anything dangerous about playing chicken with the debt ceiling. Bring it on, he says.
In November, Brat will face Democrat Jack Trammell, a fellow Randolph-Macon professor, in the general election in this Republican district.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated Brat was answering a question about Medicare. In fact, he was asked about Social Security Disability Insurance.