The Accountability Review Board appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to look into the deadly assault on the Benghazi consulate has come back with a damning series of findings. The panel, chaired by retired diplomat Thomas Pickering, found “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” which resulted in security “that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.” Not surprisingly, the panel affirmed what the intelligence community has been saying for months now, that contrary to what administration spokesmen said immediately afterward, there was no protest before the attack; it was simply a well-executed terrorist attack.
But for all of the rigor of the panel’s work, it was narrowly focused on the State Department’s handling of the situation. There is little said about the military response to the attacks, beyond the sending of a drone aircraft and the evacuation of the diplomats in Benghazi; and there is even less about the White House role in managing the response to the crisis, even though senior officials, up to and including the president, must have been aware of the attacks as they were occurring. Nor is there anything in the report about the failure, so far, to bring the perpetrators of the attacks to justice. Why, for example, has the administration seemingly decided to treat this as a law enforcement matter, with the FBI in the lead, rather than treating it as an act of war, with the armed forces in the lead? A fuller explanation of those issues awaits, presumably, more congressional digging.
State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland reiterated today that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will not be testifying on a Benghazi report before congressional committees later this week because of a concussion she reportedly sustained after fainting from dehydration. According to Nuland, Clinton has sent letters to the heads of the House and Senate foreign affairs committees, apologizing for her absence.
When pressed on whether Clinton will testify after she’s recovered, Nuland hedged a bit before saying that Clinton has made if clear that if there is an “ongoing conversation in January” that she’s “available for that.”
Though there has been no official announcement, it appears John Kerry will be nominated to serve as the next secretary of state. This isn’t surprising, and one of the reasons newspapers feel so confident reporting it is that there have been no other names mentioned seriously for the post since conventional wisdom solidified around Susan Rice and Kerry as the two main choices. (Earlier in the process there were indeed other names floated, but the same process that brought down Rice’s shot at the post elevated Kerry.)
The question, then, is not who will be nominated but why there isn’t any such question. One answer is that President Obama had a clear first choice–Rice–and never intended to use her understudy. Kerry’s name was bandied about as an easier way to flatter the longtime senator. Since Kerry was always the bridesmaid but never the bride, having been passed over for this position before, it would have seemed cruel to make him compete for second place. Like a football team that goes into a game with only two activated quarterbacks and then loses its starter, the second-string quarterback gets the ball without much fuss. But that raises another question, posed by Yochi Dreazen in the Washington Post: Why would the Democrats have so few options in the first place?
I wrote yesterday that Susan Rice’s decision to withdraw her name from consideration to be the next secretary of state was as much the result of a steady campaign against her from the left as it was a result of John McCain and the GOP’s campaign against her from the right. I wrote that the GOP side hadn’t been really driving this campaign for a while now. The Atlantic Wire offers a timeline that backs this up.
The timeline shows McCain shifting his criticism as early as November 20. But as I noted, by that time Democrats had latched on to the fight and the bipartisan effort doomed Rice. But events also make a convincing case for what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, in defense of Rice: this was D.C. insider politics on a grand scale. Rice didn’t just lose to McCain or Hillary Clinton; she lost to Washington. It’s worth recalling, then, just how the elements of the capital worked against her.
Though the discussion appears to be moot now that Susan Rice has apparently withdrawn her name from consideration to be secretary of state, I agree with Max that the criticism of Rice’s undiplomatic style would seem to be complements when coming from conservatives. But I fear an important point is being lost: this criticism was not coming from the right, by and large. The attacks on Rice’s disposition have been driven by the left. Indeed, what is remarkable about the controversy over Rice is how thoroughly the left took command of it–and greatly expanded the effort to prevent her nomination.
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Republicans on the Hill had basically limited their critique of Rice to her misleading statements following the Benghazi attack. Liberals, on the other hand, made it personal. Dana Milbank suggested Rice had an attitude problem. Maureen Dowd said Rice was too ambitious and unprincipled for her own good–or the country’s. Yesterday at the Daily Beast, Lloyd Grove launched a bizarre attack on Rice that accused her of having a personality disorder. The left has also been driving the less personal attacks as well. Howard French said Rice’s Africa legacy is the further empowerment of dictators. Human Rights Watch’s Tom Malinowski knocked Rice for essentially enabling atrocities in Congo.
Yesterday, Rick Richman doubled down on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s continued acquiescence to Israel’s exclusion from the Global Counterterrorism Forum, the Obama administration’s marquee counterterrorism diplomatic program. Rick is right that the State Department is embarrassing itself, and rendering meaningless any outcome to the forum. But the willingness to exclude Israel for the mirage of success is not the exception, but rather the norm.
Consider the United Nations’s regional groupings. Logically, Israel should be part of the United Nations’s Asian Group, simply on the basis of geography. But Arab states block Israel’s membership—because, it seems, in the Middle East hatred trumps logic. That other United Nations members allow this nonsense demeans the entire body. After all, North Korea doesn’t block South Korea or vice versa, nor does India block Pakistan. While not a regional issue, the United States holds its nose and allows Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit New York on UN business. Israel’s exclusion from the Asian Group has encouraged the worst excesses: Prior to Mary Robinson’s anti-Semitic Durban “anti-racism” Conference, the worst excesses came out of the Asian Group’s preparatory meeting in Tehran.
One of the most pronounced recent changes in the attitudes toward leadership and order of the two major American political parties is the reversal in affection for handing off the baton to the next in line. Republicans had long bestowed the party’s presidential nomination on last time’s runner-up, or a candidate who had put in his time and whose turn, it was believed, had come.
But the battle for the 2016 GOP nomination is looking wide open, and will likely consist of a cast of young, more conservative candidates competing to set the party’s new direction. The Democrats, on the other hand, nominated Barack Obama in 2008 with the rallying cry of striking out against political entitlement, embodied by Hillary Clinton. Next time, however, Democrats seem to want a coronation, not a nomination. And they would like the beneficiary of this appointment with history to be Hillary Clinton. Here’s James Carville yesterday on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”:
Michael Rubin’s incisive post on the apparent exclusion of Israel from another meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) identifies a significant effect of U.S. acquiescence in the exclusion: an implicit U.S. endorsement of the drive to delegitimize Israel, by signaling that even on the issue of counterterrorism (on which Israel has obvious knowledge and expertise); even in the case of a prominent international forum on that subject (co-founded and co-chaired by the United States); and even though the U.S. has repeatedly announced its “commitment” to the inclusion of Israel, the U.S. will continue to permit Israel’s exclusion.
There is another unfortunate effect, highlighted by the way the issue was treated at yesterday’s State Department press conference, where the deputy spokesman announced that Secretary Clinton would participate in the December 14 ministerial meeting of the GCTF. The following colloquy occurred:
Last year, the Obama administration and State Department promoted the Global Counterterrorism Forum, but acquiesced to Turkey’s demand that Israel be excluded from the forum. Apparently, as seen by his repeated endorsements of Hamas, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan believes that terrorism is always bad, unless directed at Israelis.
Last July, Rick Richman and Jonathan Tobin noted that long after Secretary Clinton had promised to do what was necessary to win Israel’s inclusion, forum meetings were going ahead without the Jewish state’s presence. Well, it’s happened again.
In a 2009 story about the succession of the Dalai Lama, the New York Times reported that the “search for the present Dalai Lama commenced in earnest in 1935 when the embalmed head of his deceased predecessor is said to have wheeled around and pointed toward northeastern Tibet.” The Times continued: “Then, the story goes, a giant, star-shaped fungus grew overnight on the east side of the tomb. An auspicious cloud bank formed and a regent saw a vision of letters floating in a mystical lake, one of which — Ah — he took to refer to the northeast province of Amdo,” where a young child was found and determined to be the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.
Though not quite so fanciful and dramatic, the search for the next mayor of New York City, after two very high-profile mayors who became national figures, sometimes attracts a disproportionate amount of intrigue and suspense. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is alive and well, but he, too, turned his head in an attempt to guide his people to their next leader–and apparently fixed his gaze on Foggy Bottom. The Times reports today:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated today what President Obama had said earlier, announcing while in Prague that any use of chemical weapons by Bashar Assad is “a red line for the United States.” She went on to issue a not-so-veiled threat: “I’m not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people. But suffice to say we are certainly planning to take action.”
On one level this is unobjectionable. Chemicals are a terrible weapon, a fact widely recognized since their widespread use in World War I. The Chemical Weapons Convention (to which Syria has not signed up) is intended to ban their possession. Their very awfulness–combined with their limited utility (gas, after all, has a way of wafting back to one’s own lines)–has limited their use in warfare over the past hundred years. So it makes sense that Obama and Clinton are making clear their abhorrence of this weapon and signaling stern consequences if it is employed.
The New Yorker’s David Remnick writes that Hillary Clinton’s Friday night address at the Saban Forum (and the fawning video introduction) left no doubt that she’s running in 2016:
Friday night, however, was on the record—and surprisingly revealing. Hillary Clinton was the main speaker. In a packed ballroom of the Willard Hotel, she was greeted with a standing ovation and then a short, adoring film, a video Festschrift testifying to her years as First Lady, senator, and, above all, secretary of state. The film, an expensive-looking production, went to the trouble of collecting interviews with Israeli politicians—Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni—and American colleagues, like John Kerry. Tony Blair, striking the moony futuristic note that was general in the hall, said, “I just have an instinct that the best is yet to come.”
The film was like an international endorsement four years in advance of the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. The tone was so reverential that it resembled the sort of film that the Central Committee of the Communist Party might have produced for Leonid Brezhnev’s retirement party if Leonid Brezhnev would only have retired and the Soviets had been in possession of advanced video technology. After it was over there was a separate video from the President. Looking straight into the camera, Obama kvelled at length: “You’ve been at my side at some of the most important moments of my Administration.”
Lost in all the speculation about the next secretary of state is the degree to which Foggy Bottom will need someone who can put the pieces back together. While Hillary Clinton coasted for much of her term on the good press that comes with being a Clinton, until the last couple of months she was having a decidedly average run as secretary of state. But the Benghazi debacle–which was in large part the result of Clinton’s incompetence and lack of attention–followed by the expected defection of most of our European allies at the UN vote on the Palestinians today, reveals a State Department marked by ineptitude and surprising irrelevance.
To be sure, as the New York Times has thoroughly documented, diplomacy has always been one of President Obama’s more glaring weaknesses. But the well funded, high-profile State Department’s mission is to be the public face of American diplomacy, and should at least be able to keep the support of our allies. But the reported decision by Germany, France, Italy, and Britain to abandon the U.S., Canada, and Israel at the UN today left Israeli diplomats proclaiming: “We lost Europe”–to say nothing of Washington’s inability to prevent Mahmoud Abbas from going forward with this stunt in the first place:
Two weeks ago, I asked a question about the administration’s handling of the Benghazi terrorist attack and its aftermath to which we have yet to get a response: Why does Secretary of State Hillary Clinton still have her job? The CIA made mistakes in Benghazi too, and the agency’s director has since resigned (mostly over an affair, but the point is that he’s no longer in charge of the CIA). President Obama’s evasions and misdirections after the attack were brought up in the second presidential debate and were even briefly a campaign issue. And now Susan Rice, who became the public face of the administration’s false talking points, is fighting for her reputation and her political future, which she hopes will involve running Foggy Bottom.
Yet we still hear nothing about Clinton, who should own the lion’s share of the blame. That our ambassador had to even request adequate security (requests that were denied) in a war zone testifies to Clinton’s incompetence on the issue. And so while it’s absolutely appropriate to seek answers from Rice–who volunteered to be the administration’s point person on this–there is something unseemly about the focus on Rice and the threats to hold up her possible nomination at State.
It’s not, as the Washington Post’s thoroughly reprehensible editorial suggested, about Rice’s race. (Republicans have been far more inclined than Democrats to nominate African Americans for secretary of state.) It’s not about gender either, of course. It’s about a certain chummy Washington insider mentality. Here’s Politico yesterday:
Hillary Clinton announced the deal at a Cairo press conference this afternoon. Reports haven’t included all the details of the agreement just yet, but it’s supposed to take effect shortly:
Nov 21 (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday the ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza had come at a crucial time for countries of the Middle East.
“This is a critical moment for the region. Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone for regional stability and peace,” she said at a joint news conference with her Egyptian counterpart, Mohamed Kamel Amr.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heading to the Middle East. The outgoing chief diplomat arrives just as a cease-fire may be about to take hold, even though rockets continued to hit Israeli cities today. But whether she seeks to take credit for the halt to the fighting or not, her arrival is bound to set off a wave of speculation about what price the Obama administration is about to try to exact from Israel for its diplomatic support in the past week.
The administration has been steadfast in its rhetorical backing of Israel’s right to self-defense against the storm of Hamas rockets that have been aimed at the country’s cities, towns and villages. But right now what may count most will be what President Obama and Secretary Clinton have been saying to the leaders of Egypt and Turkey as they sought to get Hamas’s allies to persuade the Islamist rulers of Gaza to stop firing rockets at Israel. If the U.S. has privately signaled support for concessions to Hamas or even hinted at eventual recognition of the Gaza regime, that could be the opening for another bout of administration pressure on Israel in Obama’s second term. If so, then the president’s kind words about Israel in the past few days will have come at a high price indeed.
Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain didn’t waste any time responding to President Obama’s claim that they are “going after” Susan Rice because “they think she’s an easy target.”
In a statement, Graham blasted both Obama and Rice, saying she’s “up to [her] eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle”:
“Mr. President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi. I think you failed as Commander in Chief before, during, and after the attack.
“We owe it to the American people and the victims of this attack to have full, fair hearings and accountability be assigned where appropriate. Given what I know now, I have no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle.”
On Greta Van Susteren last night, McCain pushed back on the president’s comments, calling them “juvenile”:
President Obama held a press conference this afternoon, and both the questions and the answers about the Benghazi consulate attack and the scandal surrounding David Petraeus were revelatory in their omission of one aspect of the story. Obama offered a tetchy response to a question about UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who was tasked with selling the administration’s line that it was an anti-Islam filmmaker who was responsible for the events that led to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others that night. The president’s defense of Rice was another salvo in the ongoing fight over whether she should even be nominated to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. (Obama’s defiant air seemed to suggest he does plan to submit that nomination.)
And the Petraeus affair is sordid and steamy–a combination we simply cannot expect the press corps to ignore. But the events of the last week have made clear that Clinton is off the hook for what may have been the most consequential mistake of anyone in this episode. Yes, the CIA seems to have made mistakes in Benghazi, and yes, Susan Rice misled the American people (on the administration’s orders, we can presume). But the State Department was responsible for handling the diplomatic mission’s request for more security–a request they denied. Yet no one is suggesting Clinton should tender her own resignation.
Congressional Republicans aren’t letting up on the Benghazi investigations, and they’re planning a series of committee hearings next week. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has invited Hillary Clinton to testify, Fox News reports:
The House Foreign Affairs Committee has scheduled an open hearing for next Thursday on the Libya terror attack and has invited Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to testify, Fox News has learned.
The committee joins two others planning to hold hearings, albeit closed ones, that day.
Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the consulate in Benghazi. A local Libyan extremist group is suspected of carrying out the attack, but the Obama administration has been criticized for its confusing explanation for the strike and for security warnings that apparently weren’t heeded.
It may be tempting for some to try to turn anti-Muslim filmmaker Mark Bassely Youssef, who was blamed by the Obama administration for the attack in Benghazi, into a martyr for free speech, but the fact is he took the plea deal. If he truly believed he was innocent, or thought a one-year sentence was wildly disproportionate to his charges, he could have fought it out in court. Why pass up the free publicity of a public trial, unless you’re guilty and think a plea bargain is the best deal you’re going to get?
The California man behind an anti-Muslim film that led to violence in many parts of the Middle East was sentenced Wednesday to a year in federal prison for probation violations in an unrelated matter, then issued a provocative statement through his attorney.
The sentence was the result of a plea bargain between lawyers for Mark Bassely Youssef and federal prosecutors. Youssef admitted in open court that he had used several false names in violation of his probation order and obtained a driver’s license under a false name. He was on probation for a bank fraud case.
Shortly after Youssef left the courtroom, his lawyer, Steven Seiden, came to the front steps of the courthouse and told reporters his client wanted to send a message.
“The one thing he wanted me to tell all of you is President Obama may have gotten Osama bin Laden, but he didn’t kill the ideology,” Seiden said.
Asked what that meant, Seiden said, “I didn’t ask him, and I don’t know.”