Vermont Public Radio comment for Thursday May 16th, 2013 

INTRO: In the modern era, American presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton faced major scandals in their second terms. Today President Barack Obama's integrity and competence is being challenged on three separate fronts. This morning, commentator and veteran ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore has some thoughts on these matters. 

TEXT: Obama scandal number one is what Republicans claim was a "cover-up" by the administration of its handling of the terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi last September in which four Americans including the ambassador were killed. The congressional hearings held so far have revealed bureaucratic in-fighting but no genuine political malfeasance. 

Scandal number two emerged after the IRS admitted targeting Tea Party affiliated groups claiming tax-exempt status under new campaign finance rules which followed the Supreme Court’s landmark decision giving personhood to corporations. An internal review by the Inspector General blamed “ineffective” IRS management. The FBI has now launched a criminal investigation. 

Scandal number three is a significant First Amendment dispute in which two months of telephone records of editors and reporters of the Associated Press were secretly subpoenaed. Attorney General Eric Holder says the Justice Department was investigating a major national security breach. The AP report in question concerned a foiled terrorist plot in Yemen to blow up an American bound plane last May. At the time, Republicans in Congress accused the administration of leaking vital intelligence information to make itself look good.
As to how these scandals rate with those of other recent second term presidents:

-There is absolutely nothing on the horizon which compares to the Watergate scandal for which Richard Nixon was forced to resign. 

-Bill Clinton faced impeachment proceedings for lying under oath about his sex life but was acquitted by the Senate.

-Ronald Reagan secretly sold arms to Iran to try to get the release of hostages being held in Lebanon. Some of the money from the arms sales was then used to secretly fund the CIA trained Contras who were trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua. Such funding was explicitly forbidden by an act of Congress. Seventeen members of Reagan’s administration were indicted and several were convicted though later pardoned. 

It remains to be seen what impact his scandals will have on President Obama’s ability to govern for three more years. The mainstream news media, Internet bloggers and social media pundits are already in feeding frenzy mode. This is natural and to be expected. The down side is that such scandals take up all the oxygen - while other important issues go wanting for attention.  

For example, the focus on an alleged political cover-up over Benghazi ignores the more compelling question: After leading the rebel overthrow of the dictator Qaddafi, why did America, NATO and Arab oil states basically just up and leave Libya in political chaos - knowing it had few if any institutions of governance. As a result, Qaddafi’s arsenals have become the source of arms for a growing number of al Qaida extremist groups throughout north and central Africa. And Libya itself is in danger of becoming a new center of Islamic extremism.

 Serious reflection on what happened after the Libyan dictator was overthrown would be most useful in assessing the possible costs of deeper American military involvement to oust the dictator in Syria.

 

 

 




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