How Scandalous Are These Scandals, Anyway?

Sean A. McElwee, May 15, 2013

With the manufactured Benghazi scandal tying with the IRS for the story that the right is pretending is a story, it’s worth looking back at what a real scandal looks like. Most people think of Watergate when they think “scandal” but by Nixon standards, Watergate is just a little icing on the cake.

The premise behind the Benghazi scandal is that the President failed to label the attack an “act of terror,” and misled Americans about the attack; both for political reasons. Some Conservatives are even calling for impeachment. Aside from the dubious nature of the allegations, it may be worth asking the right to examine the plank lodged in its eye before inventing a speck in the President’s.

Consider, for instance, Nixon sabotaging the Paris Peace Accords for blatantly political reasons. Christopher Hitchens wrote in his compact but explosive expose on Kissinger, The Trials of Henry Kissinger,

In the fall of 1968, Richard Nixon and some of his emissaries and underlings set out to sabotage the Paris peace negotiations on Vietnam. The means they chose were simple: they privately assured the South Vietnamese military rulers that an incoming Republican regime would offer them a better deal than would a Democratic one. In this way, they undercut both the talks themselves and the electoral strategy of Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The tactic “worked,” in that the South Vietnamese junta withdrew from the talks on the eve of the election, thereby destroying the peace initiative on which the Democrats had based their campaign.

The recently released Johnson tapes confirm that not only is Nixon partially responsible for the tens of thousands of Americans and Vietnamese who needlessly died after the talks fell apart, but Johnson was aware of the “treason.”

And what about the Iran-Contra affair? Even today, many Americans may be surprised at just what the Reagan administration did: high level officials secretly sold weapons to Iran through Israel (to get hostages freed for political purposes) and then used the money to illegally fund the Contras in Nicaragua. After tens of thousands of innocent civilians were maimed by the guerrilla forces that were fighting against the elected government of Nicaragua, the Nicaraguans took the U.S. to the World Court and won. The court found the U.S. guilty of “hereof which involve the use of force, has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to use force against another State.” Reagan ignored the decision and the U.S. used its position on the Security Council to block any enforcement of the judgement.

But, what about the IRS targeting Tea Party groups? Well, a little paperwork certainly is annoying, but it’s hardly the worst thing the U.S. government has done to political enemies. Consider COINTELPRO, the FBI’s program to disrupt domestic political organizations. The program included reporting members of the Socialist Workers Party to their bosses, a “war” against to discredit Rev. King Jr. and after spending years subverting the Black Panthers, evenually assassinating a Black Panther leader, Fred Hampton. Read that twice.

We could discuss Ford giving Suharto a go ahead to invade East Timor, Operation MONGOOSE, the recent discovery that the U.S. killed enemies of the Pakistani government for access to airspace, but the larger point remains: the Benghazi “scandal” is a product of the right-wing echo chamber, not legitimate outrage over truly nefarious actions. Those who follow hyperlinks will note with despair that most of my sources come from foreign media, where most of the reporting on real scandals occurs. The American media (with the exception of outlets like Antiwar.com free of commercial censorship) will largely report on minor scandals, leaving the good stuff to be buried decades in the future. Even today, most Americans know of Watergate, but few know of COINTELPRO and the Paris Accords.

Sean McElwee has previously written for The Day and The Norwich Bulletin and on WashingtonMonthly.com and Reason.com. He is a writer for The Moderate Voice. Visit his blog at http://www.seanamcelwee.com.




16 Responses to “How Scandalous Are These Scandals, Anyway?”

  1. It may come out sooner or later that key Republican leaders in Congress both knew and supported IRS actions against the Tea Party groups.

    The Tea Party groups were born as a political repsonse to the government bailout of the Wall Street zombie banks and the so-called TARP program.

    Republican members of Congress supported the Wal Street bailout.

    Obama has continued to do Wall Street's bidding as well, including voting for TARP as US Senator.

    Don't be surprised of the IRS produces letters or e-mails to prominent GOP members of Congress informing them of the clampdown on the Tea Party groups. Most of the blatantly fascist actions of government nearly always have bi-partisan support.

  2. If you are in New York on May 23, Kissinger is receiving an award from the Intrepid Museum for – we kid you not – "his distinguished career defending the values of freedom and democracy."

  3. What do you expect, it's NYC after all. He has many fellow travelers there, the illustrious Mayor being one of them.

  4. I don't know, the open secret proxy war in Syria seems pretty scandalous

    but you know, it will be another 5 years before anybody in mainspin media 'reports' it for what it's worth.. but, you know, who knows, now that Obama is outed for tapping journalists emails/phones/ keeping tabs etc, well, maybe the gloves will come off and the trafficking weapons into Syria might be exposed.

    think about it for a minute. Iran-Contra…The US didn't OVERTLY or OFFICIALLY sell the weapons. They went via back channels with proxy middlemen doing the job. We just gave the green light. Like, I don't know, CIA selling weapons to Peru in the 1980s. Nobody talks about that either, but it happened.

    just saying -what you think is just poppycock from conservatives most likely is –but that doesn't mean what off-the books operations in Libya were legal.

  5. [...] This piece originally appeared on Antiwar.com [...]

  6. Sean, your downplaying of Obama’s civil rights violations by referencing the political targeting by Obama’s IRS of anti-Obama groups as no more than “a little paperwork” and “annoying” is repugnant to freedom-loving Americans and a disgrace to your profession as a journalist.

    That responding to the “little paperwork” sent by the IRS cost its targets thousands of dollars in legal fees, man-hours, and stifled free speech only underscores your affection for jack-booted government.

    And because the U.S. government enjoys a history of similar abuse against its political enemies is no defense and certainly a recipe for more flagrant abuse of our civil rights in the future. Drones anyone?

    Next time, limit your opinion to the rags of statism that litter the internet, not Antiwar.com.

  7. There's no need to go so far back into the past (although that's always helpful). The war on Libya itself is the scandal here, particularly the fact that a sitting president decided to start it all by himself without any imminent threat and without a shred of moral or legal authority.

  8. [...] This article originally appeared on Antiwar.com [...]

  9. Kissinger oftens gets awards and feted, outside New York and in

  10. Iran Contra was far worse. There was a secret government operating in the white house for starters. Reagan, with his Alzheimer probably was telling the truth when he said he wasn't aware of any of it. The Tower investigation refused to reveal details of it because they actually said it was so bad that it would damage the country to have the details revealed.

  11. I have my doubts that the IRS thing isn't just a political opportunity for politicians seeking the tea party vote. It is most likely a debate on how the IRS hangs its binders. That they used keywords to (properly) weed out groups with a political agenda is far from shocking. How would you have done it? I went through the same process once for a charitable organization and it took me three years.

  12. Your reply is intelligible Gstorm.

    First, that politicians would take advantage of a political scandal to seek votes is a red herring – not only because the guilty deserve to lose votes , but the facts of the scandal rather than the motive of its messengers is material.

    Second, you assert that the IRS only “used keywords to (properly) weed out groups with a political agenda . . .” Rubbish! Read the report by Obama’s own Inspector General of the Treasury at http://msnbctv.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/201310….

    Anti-Obama groups were specifically targeted and pro-Obama groups were intentionally ignored. Apparently, your reading on the topic is shabby at best. See e.g., http://www.politico.com/story/2013/05/the-irs-wan….

    Because you wish something to be true does not transform a fantasy into reality.

    And you seriously inquire, “How would you have done it?”

    Possibly a good start would be to abolish the IRS or at least act in a fair and impartial manner during investigations. Notwithstanding your apologetic defense of Obama and tyranny in general, it is not too difficult Gstorm.

  13. We don't know half the story regarding the proxy war in Syria, so how one could say one is worse than the other seems highly dubious. But creating a dichotomy certainly defuses the focus by saying, 'yeah, this is nothing like Reagan's Iran-Contra" When in reality, Obama's proxy methodology appears strikingly similar.

    Just a little fyi. the lid blew off of Iran-Contra because 1) an Iranian in the know dropped a lead story in Lebanon, but 2) most importantly, a cargo plane filled to the gills w/guns was downed over Nicaragua with a lone survivor. So far, none of the current liaisons are coming out of the woodwork. Obama's admin is doing a cracking job keeping tabs on journalists…something Reagan's WH could only have dreamed of. For example, imagine if the Iranian story didn't publish, and thus create collaboration of evidence. And if Hasenfus died in the crash, all you'd have was a downed commercial C123 and a phone book.

    Just for a start, the amount of cargo shipped out of Croatia is in desperate need of oversight. Commercial -nonmil- cargo planes coming and going into Turkey and Jordan ferrying military hardware. But because these planes aren't flying "directly" into Syria, chances of one of them being dropped is nil. But watch Turkish papers for dissenting politicians fed up with Erdogan,

    Btw, nice touch adding Alzheimer –talk about literally defusing the focus!

  14. Like the main media organisations AND the Republicans, you're failing to ask the important questions. Who knew what BEFORE the attack? Was it a false flag carried out by paid mercenaries to hide or enable something else?

    Seek and ye shall find.

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  16. Hey , Reagan again , headache