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Carson: Leaders who fail to own mistakes are unfit for office

Published: Friday, May 16, 2014 11:34 p.m. CDT

The recent escalating arguments over whether there should be further congressional hearings on Benghazi are troubling. The fact that there are substantial numbers of people who feel that there is nothing more to investigate when four American lives were lost and no one has answered for this crime provides an indication of how far our sense of justice has slipped.

This should not be a partisan issue, because the implications of ignoring or prevaricating about the underlying mistakes will have far-reaching consequences. The United States has diplomatic establishments throughout the world, and if they can be attacked without consequences, it greatly diminishes our influence despite any protestations to the contrary.

What does it say about our judgment if we have diplomatic establishments for which we make inadequate provisions for protection? This is especially disturbing because it was revealed that requests by the consulate in Benghazi for more protection were refused. There had been attacks on the consulate not long before the fatal attack, and hostile actions had been taken against the British, which they were wise enough to react to appropriately.

Even more confounding was the decision to abandon our personnel at the consulate because someone decided that our military forces could not reach them in time. How could such a decision be made when no one knew how long the hostile action would last? Several military personnel who were in the area ignored orders to stand down and instead rushed to the consulate and resisted hostile forces long enough to allow some of their colleagues to escape, while sacrificing their own lives. Their heroic actions demonstrate the bravery and loyalty that characterize American military forces.

When our top officials make decisions to abandon our own people because they feel the situation is hopeless, they also abandon the concept of American exceptionalism and create doubt in the minds of all future military participants about the intention of their superiors to expend maximum effort to preserve their lives.

Making mistakes is part of being human, but the ever-increasing deception that is necessary to cover those mistakes when honesty is abandoned is evil. Those willing to ignore evil for political reasons should question their fitness for leadership of our nation.

In this case, a blatant falsehood was promoted – namely that the Obama administration had international terrorist activity directed at America under control, and that the Benghazi incident was a spontaneous action by outraged locals who had viewed an offensive anti-Islamic video. Undue importance was placed on promoting an image of U.S. strength during the weeks immediately preceding the presidential election of 2012.

If we, the American people, the American press and the American political class, participate in the cover-up or ignore such an important story, we contribute to the demise of honesty and truth as pillars of our governing structure. In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon put it this way: “If a ruler listens to lies, those who serve him will be wicked.”

We also should be concerned about the attempt by some to ignore or downgrade the significance of the Internal Revenue Service scandal. The fact that something this contrary to the concept of freedom can happen in a country based on constitutional values and be characterized as a “phony scandal” by people who supposedly have the best interests of this country at heart again points to the danger of placing partisan politics above truth and honesty.

 When politicians huddle and try to figure out ways to defend their leader or their party and ignore the well-being of their nation, the people must take notice and do everything within their power to make sure they are represented by those who share their beliefs, and not by those who are simply party loyalists.

Obviously, the IRS was used in inappropriate ways, or Lois Lerner would not have pleaded the Fifth Amendment. It is more than disturbing that the president of the United States and many in his party feigned outrage when the inappropriate actions of the IRS initially were exposed, but now cannot lend support to a full and unfettered investigation.

A bipartisan group should investigate both Benghazi and the IRS scandal in a transparent manner. If wrongdoing is discovered, those responsible must face consequences, and procedures must be established to ensure that such abuses never occur again. 

Most importantly, the people must awaken and look objectively at the actions of both Democrats and Republicans and not simply accept what party leaders say. Freedom is not free, and vigilance in responsible voting is necessary to preserve it. 

• Ben S. Carson is professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University.

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