Thursday, November 05, 2015

'13 Hours': The Non-Political Benghazi Movie that Hillary Can’t Avoid

By Stephen L. Miller — November 5, 2015

Two long weeks ago, Hillary Clinton was declared the undisputed winner in her face-off with Republicans on the House subcommittee over the part she played during the Benghazi attacks of September 11, 2012. But that was before an Optimus Prime–sized hole was blown right through her campaign’s and the media’s narrative that Benghazi has finally been put to rest.

The bomb was the release of two new trailers for 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, director Michael Bay’s action-heavy portrayal of events (already labeled “Bayghazi” by the Internet), which hits theaters January 15. Its pop-culture treatment of events that night will have people talking and debating in a way that all the Fox News specials and C-SPAN hearings in the world couldn’t. The recently released trailer has shown that no matter how scarce the names “Hillary Clinton” and “Barack Obama” are in the film, their involvement in what’s depicted is unmistakable. The film is based on the Mitchell Zuckoff bestseller of the same name, which deals primarily with events on the ground that night, and the efforts of a small group of operators and security forces to extract their fellow Americans from the attacks.

To assume much about a film prior to its opening is a mistake (unless it involves Ben Affleck as Batman), but the trailer suggests that any viewers going in thinking this will finally be the comeuppance Obama and Clinton have deserved for their failure to act that night should probably turn elsewhere. Likewise, anyone looking for the satisfaction of a dramatic scene of Jack Nicholson playing Hillary Clinton pounding her fist on the table screaming, “What difference at this point does it make?!” as a gavel slams in slow motion to a dramatic score should temper their expectations. And Bay probably hasn’t thrown in a sweaty nervous Sid Blumenthal screaming into a phone at the beginning or end or nervously tapping away on his blackberry while the blurry image of an American flag waves behind him.

All the Michael Bay hallmarks are there. Sweaty close ups in warm, gold-and-green tones. Extreme pyrotechnics and dialogue delivered in teeth-grinding, over-the-top growls. The film even features at the center of the action a bearded John Krasinski, better known as Jim from The Office (who I’m half expecting will just look at the camera and shrug sheepishly after killing every terrorist).

Politics look likely to be almost completely excluded, but the trailer shows that referencing Clinton or failure of leadership that night directly may not be necessary. It still has the potential to once again rock a campaign that three years later is still trying to explain the fallout from that night, and rightfully so.

We can expect 13 Hours to follow the big-Hollywood credo of not pointing fingers at the leaders in the party they agree with. It looks from the trailer to be aiming any blame for bad decision-making that night straight at the CIA operatives on the ground (“We’re not even supposed to be here” an agent growls and not at Hillary Clinton’s packing it in while the attack was still happening or at whatever Barack Obama’s orders were.

The film is surely not going to feature portrayals of Barack Obama and Joe Biden traveling the country to thump their chests and proudly declare that al-Qaeda was on the run and bin Laden was dead, therefore the threat of terror in hostile foreign countries was largely over. The film will ignore Hillary Clinton blaming a YouTube video while standing in front of four flag-draped coffins.

But none of that may matter. Examining the scenes in the trailer alone points to a failure of leadership extending up the chain of command, which ends with Mrs. Clinton’s State Department and Barack Obama’s apparent delinquency while resting for a campaign stop the next day, a campaign stop he did not cancel. The film will most likely lay blame on a big, mysterious, and complicated bureaucratic system of red tape that led to a string of intelligence failures without ever showing faces or revealing names. The problem with this narrative is that the people ultimately in charge of those failures are named Obama and Clinton.

Questions damning to Obama and Clinton are implicitly raised in the dialogue. One snippet from the trailer has someone under attack at the embassy begging the soldiers for “immediate assistance,” while another character demands that they wait, all delivered in typical over-the-top Michael Bay dramatics and punctuated with the gritty delivery of  the order to “stand down!” from the station chief played by David Costabile. But we don’t actually know if a “stand order” was given that night by anyone, because, to this day, we still don’t know what orders Barack Obama, our commander-in-chief, gave.

“If you don’t send air support, Americans are going to die” another character warns. Air support was never sent, and Americans died. Why?

A panicked voice on a radio proclaims, “If you do not get here soon, we are all going to die!” Forces never arrived. Why?

The film’s slug lines of “No support” and “The true story you were never told” are damning just by themselves, and that’s how the film can ultimately harm Hillary Clinton; it doesn’t even need to mention her name or Barack Obama’s to simply remind casual observers of the indisputable facts: that four Americans were left to die, on the anniversary of 9/11/01, by a State Department and White House that seemingly couldn’t be bothered in the middle of electioneering to deal with the crisis at hand. U.S. personnel on the ground were left to take matters into their own hands without U.S. military support. Why?

To this day, the American public has zero answers as to what Barack Obama’s orders over the course of those 13 hours were or what he was doing inside the White House and who was advising him. Thus far, our dutiful media have failed to ask those questions. Senator Chuck Schumer’s name appears on the White House log books from that night, and he has never gotten a question about the president’s whereabouts. Despite the film’s scapegoating the typical sweaty CIA station chief, viewers cannot help but note the failure of leadership at the top. And Mrs. Clinton won’t be helped by her admission to a House committee two weeks ago that midway through the attack, she packed her things and went home.

For all the dismissals from the media that will occur (it’s just a Michael Bay movie!) and have already begun, it should be more telling that the American public has to rely on a guy that gave us CGI noise-fests based on Transformer children’s toys to help explain, or at the very least dramatize, what exactly did or did not happen that night.

The trailer also conjures images of another failed operation under a Clinton: the one in Mogadishu, Somalia. 13 Hours invites comparisons in both substance and style to Ridley Scott’s graphic depiction of Blackhawk Down, the operational disaster in Mogadishu. In Scott’s film, once again U.S. special forces are outnumbered on the ground while the higher-ups refuse to send in reinforcements, who stand by at base helplessly while their fellow servicemen are under assault and pencil-pushers at the top worry more about the optics and the politics.
Both times, a Clinton was involved and a president was AWOL, and it doesn’t take a political partisan to realize how this is an inconvenient narrative for Hillary and Bill heading into a national election.

Ultimately, how well 13 Hours performs at the box office will be a deciding factor in how much, as pro-Clinton media like to declare, this is all behind her. Nine hours of little-followed testimony on C-SPAN 3 is completely different from a major motion-picture release, and the rabid success of American Sniper (released the same time last year), along with the outrage over the Obama administration’s snub of Chris and Taya Kyle, could very well be a hint at what’s to come.

The filmmakers and actors on their media circuits will certainly declare this film was not made for political purposes and was instead crafted to show the incredible heroics of the men on the ground, and those men certainly deserve to be honored. But as is clear from a simple two-minute trailer, there will be inconvenient narratives that Hillary Clinton simply cannot avoid, even when the mythmakers are on her side.

— Stephen L. Miller is a writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y. He publishes The Wilderness, which focuses on viral politics and social media​.

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