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Benghazi and the Vile “Least Bad Option”

What has irked congressional Republicans from the beginning of the Benghazi fallout has been the State Department’s callous opposition to accountability. It was typified most famously in Hillary Clinton’s moment of entitlement and exasperation at being questioned over her massive failure that resulted in the death of a U.S. ambassador and three others in Libya. And so it probably won’t surprise anyone that after the release of the bipartisan Senate report detailing that failure, the State Department barely managed to stifle a yawn, as the Washington Post reports:

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said the Senate report adds little new information and does not do much to expand the government’s understanding of the attacks. “We should have been better then, and we need to get better going forward,” she said.

Yet in an important way, Harf is actually correct. The Senate report is full of information, but it all conforms to common sense. We are told, for example, that the attacks were preventable, that the administration knew the dangers lurking in Benghazi, that more had to be done and wasn’t. Conservatives have said all this from the beginning, and this certainly confirms it. But of course conservatives were right about this: does anybody seriously believe that the United States intelligence services, with the CIA nearby, were unaware of the state of the country whose government the U.S. had, in cooperation with Europe, just decapitated?

Of course no one seriously believed that. But the report sheds light on just what U.S. officials knew. For example, it states:

On July 6, 2012, CIA produced a report entitled, “Libya: Al-Qa’ida Establishing Sanctuary.” In the report, CIA stated: “AI-Qa’ida-affiliated groups and associates are exploiting the permissive security environment in Libya to enhance their capabilities and expand their operational reach. This year, Muhammad Jamal’s Egypt-based network, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have conducted training, built communication networks, and facilitated extremist travel across North Africa from their safe haven in parts of eastern Libya.”

And the warnings:

On July 9, 2012, Stevens sent a cable to State Department headquarters requesting a minimum of 13 “Temporary Duty” (TDY) U.S. security personnel for Libya, which he said could be made up of DS agents, DoD Site Security Team (SST) personnel, or some combination of the two. These TDY security personnel were needed to meet the requested security posture in Tripoli and Benghazi. The State Department never fulfilled this request and, according to Eric Nordstrom, State Department headquarters never responded to the request with a cable.”

And the revelations that “tripwires” were established to trigger operational and personnel adjustments on the ground, yet were ignored. But most infuriating to read are the parts about the Libyan security the mission relied on, and why:

Video footage shows-and the ARB also found-that, at 9:42p.m. Benghazi time, a local police vehicle stationed outside the Mission facility withdrew as soon as armed attackers advanced toward the U.S. compound. In addition, the TMF in Benghazi had been vandalized and attacked in the months prior to the September 11-12 attacks by some of the same guards who were there to protect it.

Local security guards, especially security guards who are not operated and overseen by the host government, are an inherently less reliable security force than security provided by U.S. forces or the military or police forces of a host government. According to the State Department, the Mission facility did not store classified information, and therefore no Marine contingent was present. Although U.S. Government security forces are always preferred, the CIA and State determined that local militias would provide the so-called “least bad option” in post-revolutionary Libya. The former Chief of Base stated: “There was no alternative. You know, there really is no functioning government there. And the militia groups that both we, and the State Department, depended on were in fact kind of the de facto government there in Benghazi.”

The “least bad option”? In what universe is that true? Well, the universe in which dwell the brilliant minds who brought us “leading from behind,” our enlightened president’s strategy to prosecute American foreign policy through magical thinking. In the months before the major assault, the mission was apparently attacked by the guards hired to protect it. And yet the “least bad option” was to rely on the same system as threats continued?

The kindest thing that could possibly be said about that strategy is that it’s fundamentally and irredeemably insane. You know what’s “less bad” than relying on thugs who vandalize what you hire them to protect in a city set upon by terrorist networks? Putting American soldiers or security officials there instead. Ah, but that would technically constitute putting boots on the ground. In other words, it would require the administration to admit its best and brightest were so very wrong. This is the Obama doctrine, such as it is. And let this Senate report be its epitaph.


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