Commentary Magazine


Topic: Libya

The Real Libya Scandal

The dramatic testimony of Gregory Hicks, former U.S. deputy chief of mission in Libya, has shone the media spotlight on what happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, when U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in a terrorist attack. Republican lawmakers and conservative journalists have managed to raise substantial and serious questions about the administration’s response to the attack, both as it was occurring and in the days that followed. The mainstream news media have been obliged to follow suit, putting White House spokesmen on the defensive, even if charges of a “cover up” remain far from proven.

But, oddly enough, almost no one is talking about what I regard as the real scandal here–the shameful failure of the Obama administration to extend state-building assistance to Libya’s pro-Western leaders after having helped them to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. The inability of the Libyan government to control its own territory created the conditions that led to the 2012 attack–and those conditions have not changed since.

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The dramatic testimony of Gregory Hicks, former U.S. deputy chief of mission in Libya, has shone the media spotlight on what happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, when U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in a terrorist attack. Republican lawmakers and conservative journalists have managed to raise substantial and serious questions about the administration’s response to the attack, both as it was occurring and in the days that followed. The mainstream news media have been obliged to follow suit, putting White House spokesmen on the defensive, even if charges of a “cover up” remain far from proven.

But, oddly enough, almost no one is talking about what I regard as the real scandal here–the shameful failure of the Obama administration to extend state-building assistance to Libya’s pro-Western leaders after having helped them to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. The inability of the Libyan government to control its own territory created the conditions that led to the 2012 attack–and those conditions have not changed since.

A recent Reuters dispatch from Tripoli notes: “More than 18 months after the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s new rulers have yet to impose a firm grip on a country awash with weapons. Rebel groups that helped to overthrow him are still refusing to disband, and remain more visible on the streets than the state security forces.”

Libya ostensibly has democratic institutions, but in reality it seems to be prey to mob rule. At the end of last month, for example, gunmen besieged the foreign and justice ministries, demanding the passage of a law to ban anyone who had held a senior position in the Gaddafi government. As Reuters further notes: “Parliament bowed to the demand and approved the legislation a week later, despite criticism from rights groups and diplomats who said it was sweeping, unfair and could cripple the government.”

The U.S. is being derelict in not doing more to help the elected government in Libya to establish its authority–and in the process we are allowing an opening for al-Qaeda and its ilk. Shouldn’t someone in a position of authority in Washington be talking about this? And, even better, doing something about it?

No doubt President Obama, in the full grip of Iraq Syndrome, regards any attempts to stabilize Libya as the first step toward getting involved in a “quagmire.” And no doubt, too, Republicans are loathe to criticize him on this front because “nation building” remains as anathema in their ranks as it does in the Obama administration. But in the process we are not doing nearly enough to address the critical threat in Libya, which could result in more attacks on U.S. personnel and interests in the future.

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The Return of Clintonian Politics

Stephen Hayes’s scoop on Benghazi is probably more significant than it may have seemed at first glance, even though he didn’t provide much in the way of new information. His article was built around the emails released by a group of Republican House committee chairmen after a congressional investigation into the Obama administration’s response to the September 11 anniversary attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya. Those emails detailed the efforts of the administration to craft talking points that downplayed or omitted information the administration already knew about the role of Islamic terrorist actors in the attacks, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens.

The resulting talking points were designed to mislead the American public about what happened, because then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s leadership at Foggy Bottom was marked by negligence and incompetence, and the new talking points were written to exonerate her. But Hayes provided a key piece of information: names. Specifically, he revealed the authors of some of those emails. As a result, it’s far easier to piece together what happened. Hayes explains that State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland raised concerns that the original talking points too accurately portrayed the incompetence at the highest levels of State. Hayes continues:

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Stephen Hayes’s scoop on Benghazi is probably more significant than it may have seemed at first glance, even though he didn’t provide much in the way of new information. His article was built around the emails released by a group of Republican House committee chairmen after a congressional investigation into the Obama administration’s response to the September 11 anniversary attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya. Those emails detailed the efforts of the administration to craft talking points that downplayed or omitted information the administration already knew about the role of Islamic terrorist actors in the attacks, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens.

The resulting talking points were designed to mislead the American public about what happened, because then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s leadership at Foggy Bottom was marked by negligence and incompetence, and the new talking points were written to exonerate her. But Hayes provided a key piece of information: names. Specifically, he revealed the authors of some of those emails. As a result, it’s far easier to piece together what happened. Hayes explains that State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland raised concerns that the original talking points too accurately portrayed the incompetence at the highest levels of State. Hayes continues:

In an attempt to address those concerns, CIA officials cut all references to Ansar al Sharia and made minor tweaks. But in a follow-up email at 9:24 p.m., Nuland wrote that the problem remained and that her superiors—she did not say which ones—were unhappy. The changes, she wrote, did not “resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership,” and State Department leadership was contacting National Security Council officials directly. Moments later, according to the House report, “White House officials responded by stating that the State Department’s concerns would have to be taken into account.” One official—Ben Rhodes, The Weekly Standard is told, a top adviser to President Obama on national security and foreign policy—further advised the group that the issues would be resolved in a meeting of top administration officials the following morning at the White House.

As I’ve written in the past, there is simply no way around Clinton’s failure to address security needs, her dismissal or ignorance of threats on the ground, and the general chain-of-command disorganization and bureaucratic confusion that prevailed during her tenure at State. But Clinton also wants to run for president, presumably, or at least have the option open to her. So her staff demanded the White House tell the public a different story, and the White House complied. (The mainstream media comes out of this looking ever worse, by the way.)

What came next wasn’t very surprising to anyone who has endured the brand of politics practiced by the Clintons. Though it was obviously on Clinton to explain what had just happened, she didn’t want to be within a mile of accountability. So Clinton kept silent and the administration sent out Susan Rice to deliver the misleading talking points on the Sunday shows. That proved a setback to Rice–who should have seen the whole thing coming a mile away–in her quest to succeed Clinton when the latter stepped aside after the election. But Clinton wants to be president and doesn’t want Rice elevating her stature and developing her own power base, so Clinton’s allies in the media fairly brazenly sabotaged Rice’s sputtering nomination.

As Clinton gears up to attempt to return to the White House, the Benghazi episode is worth keeping in mind as a reminder of the Clintonian politics of personal destruction and ruthless dishonesty that would surely return with her. But the Benghazi revelations weren’t the only such reminder in the news recently. MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry drew some attention for cutting a promo for the network lamenting the lack of a “collective” notion of child-rearing, suggesting that “we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”

This generated the attention MSNBC was looking for, since it was creepy and mildly totalitarian, and people seemed genuinely surprised that this was the image the network wanted to project of its own programming. (If the public actually watched MSNBC they would probably be less surprised, but they don’t.) Yet if Harris-Perry’s Orwellian idea of who your children belong to sounded familiar, it should: as Jonah Goldberg wrote in a 2007 column, Hillary Clinton once said that “As adults we have to start thinking and believing that there isn’t really any such thing as someone else’s child. … For that reason, we cannot permit discussions of children and families to be subverted by political or ideological debate.”

Goldberg protested:

But here’s the thing: There really is such a thing as somebody else’s child. I don’t want to live in a country where there’s no such thing as somebody else’s child, because that means there’s no such thing as my child. And the fact is, my child is mine and nobody else’s (save, of course, for her mother). Almost as important, I don’t want to live in a country where I am a “subversive” simply by offering political or ideological debate against this vision.

That objection to Clinton’s worldview was relevant then and is relevant now. Clinton is popular largely because she has stayed out of the partisan fray and enjoyed the approval ratings shared by secretaries of state from both parties (though a lower approval rating than some of her predecessors). But if and when Clinton runs for president again, it’s worth remembering what brand of politics she’ll bring with her.

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More Consequences of Leading from Behind in Libya

The evidence of the baleful effects of the Obama administration’s shameful neglect of post-Gaddafi Libya continues to pile up.

We already know that by failing to help the pro-Western government to establish control of its country, we not only created the conditions which led to the death of our ambassador and other Americans last September 11 but also destabilized neighboring countries. The outflow of arms and fighters from Libya tipped the balance of power in Mali and allowed al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to seize control of the northern part of the country until a French intervention dislodged them (perhaps only temporarily).

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The evidence of the baleful effects of the Obama administration’s shameful neglect of post-Gaddafi Libya continues to pile up.

We already know that by failing to help the pro-Western government to establish control of its country, we not only created the conditions which led to the death of our ambassador and other Americans last September 11 but also destabilized neighboring countries. The outflow of arms and fighters from Libya tipped the balance of power in Mali and allowed al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to seize control of the northern part of the country until a French intervention dislodged them (perhaps only temporarily).

As soon as the Islamists established their authority in northern Mali, they set up training camps where militants from all over the region flocked. Now we are seeing the consequences in Nigeria. The Wall Street Journal reports that as many as several hundred Boko Haram members from Nigeria trained in Mali on the use of rocket-propelled grenades, which they are now employing for the first time in their homeland: “Militants used shoulder-fired grenades against soldiers in the mud-brick town of Baga on Friday night and Saturday, officials said, in fighting that was believed to mark the first major use of rocket-propelled grenades by the group, Boko Haram.”

There are two obvious lessons to be drawn: First, we need to do more to stabilize countries such as Libya after a transfer of power. Second, we can’t afford to ignore Islamist attempts to take over territory in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. If successful, they will surely export terrorism elsewhere.

This is a particularly important lesson to keep in mind as the administration debates how many troops to leave in Afghanistan post-2014. Those who argue for minimal or no commitment at all suggest we have nothing to fear from a Taliban takeover because it will have no impact beyond Afghanistan itself. The history of 9/11–and, more recently, the experience of Libya and Mali–suggests otherwise.

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Libya Is Still Unraveling

Barack Obama became president in no small part by castigating the Bush administration for its errors in Iraq. Now, ironically enough, as president he appears bent on repeating the biggest Bush error of all—namely toppling an existing Middle East strongman without doing enough to build up a stable state in his wake.

Jeffrey Fleishman of the Los Angeles Times has filed a disturbing report from the southern Libyan city of Sabha that vividly shows the consequences of administration inaction. He finds, almost a year and a half after Muammar Qaddafi’s demise, a total absence of Libyan security forces. Instead ill-armed, unpaid militiamen are  “battling smugglers, illegal migrants bound for Europe and armed extremists who stream across a swath of the Sahara near the porous intersection of southern Libya, ChadNiger, and Algeria.” That is, they are battling these threats when they are not battling each other—which is a more common occurrence.

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Barack Obama became president in no small part by castigating the Bush administration for its errors in Iraq. Now, ironically enough, as president he appears bent on repeating the biggest Bush error of all—namely toppling an existing Middle East strongman without doing enough to build up a stable state in his wake.

Jeffrey Fleishman of the Los Angeles Times has filed a disturbing report from the southern Libyan city of Sabha that vividly shows the consequences of administration inaction. He finds, almost a year and a half after Muammar Qaddafi’s demise, a total absence of Libyan security forces. Instead ill-armed, unpaid militiamen are  “battling smugglers, illegal migrants bound for Europe and armed extremists who stream across a swath of the Sahara near the porous intersection of southern Libya, ChadNiger, and Algeria.” That is, they are battling these threats when they are not battling each other—which is a more common occurrence.

This is a matter that should be of urgent attention to the United States. As Fleishman notes:

Even under Qaddafi, the nation produced Islamic militants who reached well beyond the country’s borders. Libyan extremists are now connected to an Al Qaeda branch in Algeria, rebels in Syria and the fighters trying to establish an Islamic caliphate in Mali. Security officials also are concerned about reports of militant training camps with caches of weapons hidden in the desert south of Sabha.

Government officials in the south shy away from discussing the region’s chaos. An activist was recently shot and killed after publicly criticizing the lack of law and order. Much of the danger stems from tribal animosities that were suppressed during four decades of Qaddafi’s rule and are now playing out in the kind of security vacuum that Islamic militants have exploited in countries such as Somalia and Yemen.

Yet the Obama administration is doing far too little to buttress the pro-Western government of Libya so that it can field security forces capable of controlling its own soil. We have already paid a heavy price for this inaction with the death of our ambassador and other government employees in Benghazi last September 11. The price of a hands-off American policy will only continue to grow if, as appears likely, Islamist militants have greater success in the future in exploiting the Libyan security vacuum.

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Obama Flunks Mali’s Lesson

After criticizing French plans to counter Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in northern Mali, the Obama administration is slowly increasing its support to the French, as the French military conducts a mission vital to U.S. interests as well as their own.

Mali is a beautiful country, one which I visited as a tourist a decade ago. (My thoughts from the time are encapsulated in this New Republic article). It was also the Muslim majority country which Freedom House had, for years, rated as most free. Despite being one of the poorest countries on earth and democratic, Mali was for years ignored by the United States.

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After criticizing French plans to counter Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in northern Mali, the Obama administration is slowly increasing its support to the French, as the French military conducts a mission vital to U.S. interests as well as their own.

Mali is a beautiful country, one which I visited as a tourist a decade ago. (My thoughts from the time are encapsulated in this New Republic article). It was also the Muslim majority country which Freedom House had, for years, rated as most free. Despite being one of the poorest countries on earth and democratic, Mali was for years ignored by the United States.

Only with last year’s coup—and the acceleration of insurgency fueled by loose weapons from Libya—has Mali come to America’s strategic notice. Simply put, with the consolidation of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s presence in northern Mali, officials on both sides of the Atlantic recognize the danger of a vacuum.

Obama may congratulate himself on once again leading from behind, but his actions on Mali only highlight the fact that the president does not understand—or care—that far from resolving the problem, he is on the verge of making it worse. Perhaps France, in conjunction with contingents from some neighboring West African states, will contain the problems in Mali, but Obama does not recognize that by creating a vacuum in Afghanistan, he will be setting the stage for further Al Qaeda empowerment. No one will be able to rely on neighboring states when those states are Iran and Pakistan. And while India should take a greater regional role, it is too inward looking—and the logistical hurdles too great for landlocked Afghanistan—for it to take the actions it should to help buttress Afghanistan.

With the United States abdicating its international responsibilities so that Obama can claim to be true to his own political schedule, the question is not who will fill the vacuum Obama helps to create in Afghanistan, but rather who will be the victims of Al Qaeda’s return to Afghanistan.

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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back on Obama’s Gay Marriage “Evolution”

One of the most memorable moments for many liberal activists from Monday’s inauguration came with President Obama’s remarks on gay rights. Obama made two references to gay rights during his speech; the first mention (Stonewall) came juxtaposed with mention of Seneca Falls and Selma, locations famous for advances in women’s rights and civil rights, respectively. Obama’s second mention was far more overt:

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

Quietly yesterday, however, Obama press secretary Jay Carney tempered those remarks. The Washington Examiner reports:

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One of the most memorable moments for many liberal activists from Monday’s inauguration came with President Obama’s remarks on gay rights. Obama made two references to gay rights during his speech; the first mention (Stonewall) came juxtaposed with mention of Seneca Falls and Selma, locations famous for advances in women’s rights and civil rights, respectively. Obama’s second mention was far more overt:

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

Quietly yesterday, however, Obama press secretary Jay Carney tempered those remarks. The Washington Examiner reports:

The White House reaffirmed the president’s position that the issue should be decided by the states, rather than the federal government.

“The president believes that it’s an issue that should be addressed by the States,” Carney asserted at the White House Press Briefing today when asked by a reporter about the issue.

Before the election (and before Obama’s “evolution” on gay marriage became complete) I expressed doubts about the depth of Obama’s dedication to the cause off of which he has fundraised heavily. As the situation for gays across the world in Egypt, Iran, and Libya (to name a few) continues to deteriorate, President Obama’s dedication to the cause of gay rights seems to only extend to giving lip service to vague promises of “equality” in the U.S. without any tangible policy advancements or proposals attached to them. While it may cost Obama too much political capital to move gay marriage to the forefront of his agenda, if Obama were truly dedicated to the cause of gay rights, perhaps his focus, even if it’s just in the form of talk, should extend to the human rights abuses suffered by gays worldwide.

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The Non-Response to Benghazi, Four Months Later

Today marks four months since the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, which killed our ambassador and three other Americans. Justice still has not been done—and it looks increasingly unlikely that it will ever be done.

Just a couple of days ago a Tunisian court freed Ali Harza, a Tunisian man who was one of the few to be charged in connection with the assault. This is what comes from giving the FBI the lead in the response to this assault on American territory. The criminal investigation appears to be going nowhere fast, which is hardly surprising given how hard it is to gather evidence and bring indictments under such chaotic conditions. The only mystery is why this isn’t being treated as what it is—an act of war on the United States that deserves a military response.

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Today marks four months since the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, which killed our ambassador and three other Americans. Justice still has not been done—and it looks increasingly unlikely that it will ever be done.

Just a couple of days ago a Tunisian court freed Ali Harza, a Tunisian man who was one of the few to be charged in connection with the assault. This is what comes from giving the FBI the lead in the response to this assault on American territory. The criminal investigation appears to be going nowhere fast, which is hardly surprising given how hard it is to gather evidence and bring indictments under such chaotic conditions. The only mystery is why this isn’t being treated as what it is—an act of war on the United States that deserves a military response.

The Obama administration does not hesitate to use extra-judicial means to kill our enemies in Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia, but in Libya it appears to be hamstrung by legalistic niceties. There are, to be sure, legitimate concerns about undermining the sovereignty of a fledgling pro-American regime. But while unilateral American action could prove embarrassing for Libyan officials, doing nothing is the worst course of all. It sends a signal—similar to the non-response to the USS Cole bombing by the Clinton and Bush administrations—that a symbol of America can be attacked and Americans killed with impunity. That is a very dangerous message to send in a very rough region of the world.

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Senate Report Raises Benghazi Questions

One of the many unanswered questions of the Benghazi attack is why it took so long for CIA backup forces to get from Tripoli to Benghazi. According to a new Senate report, this may have been an intentional delay by the Libyan government. Eli Lake reports:

The biggest recent development—which was overshadowed by the fiscal cliff negotiations—came on New Year’s Eve, when the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released a report that raised the question of whether Libyan officials assisted the Benghazi terrorists. The report found that a team of CIA contractors dispatched from Tripoli to Benghazi on the night of the attacks waited at least three hours after arriving at the Benghazi airport before departing to the scene because of negotiations with Libyan government officials. According to the report, members of Congress still don’t know the exact reason for the delay. “Was it simply the result of a difficult Libyan bureaucracy and a chaotic environment or was it part of a plot to keep American help from reaching the Americans under siege in Benghazi?” the report asks. 

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One of the many unanswered questions of the Benghazi attack is why it took so long for CIA backup forces to get from Tripoli to Benghazi. According to a new Senate report, this may have been an intentional delay by the Libyan government. Eli Lake reports:

The biggest recent development—which was overshadowed by the fiscal cliff negotiations—came on New Year’s Eve, when the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released a report that raised the question of whether Libyan officials assisted the Benghazi terrorists. The report found that a team of CIA contractors dispatched from Tripoli to Benghazi on the night of the attacks waited at least three hours after arriving at the Benghazi airport before departing to the scene because of negotiations with Libyan government officials. According to the report, members of Congress still don’t know the exact reason for the delay. “Was it simply the result of a difficult Libyan bureaucracy and a chaotic environment or was it part of a plot to keep American help from reaching the Americans under siege in Benghazi?” the report asks. 

As Eli goes on to note, the night of the attack was chaotic. Still, based on this first-hand account in the Daily Beast, there were indications that bad actors were among the Libyan group that met the CIA team in Tripoli. The Senate report simply raises the question of whether Libyan government officials were somehow involved.

Of course, with the Libyan government in transition, it’s hard to pinpoint who would have been responsible for this. There wasn’t really anyone in charge at that point. But if it turns out there was a faction inside the government that was preventing American help from reaching the diplomatic mission, that raises additional concerns about Obama’s Libya policy, his light-footprint intervention, and the future of America’s relationship with the Libyan government.

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Have Patience with the Arab Spring

Watching political developments unfold in the Middle East—from Libya’s post-Qaddafi chaos to the growing authoritarianism of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and of Nouri al-Maliki in post-Saddam Hussein, and now the violent dissolution of post-Bashar Assad Syria—it is easy to despair of the possibility of real democracy taking root in the region or to pine for the days of the strongmen. Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Columbia University, offers a must-read counterpoint in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. She reminds us that the process of democratic development was not very smooth in Western Europe either—that in fact it took decades, even centuries.

She offers the examples of France, Italy, and Germany: all now well-established liberal democracies but at one point they were anything but.

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Watching political developments unfold in the Middle East—from Libya’s post-Qaddafi chaos to the growing authoritarianism of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and of Nouri al-Maliki in post-Saddam Hussein, and now the violent dissolution of post-Bashar Assad Syria—it is easy to despair of the possibility of real democracy taking root in the region or to pine for the days of the strongmen. Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Columbia University, offers a must-read counterpoint in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. She reminds us that the process of democratic development was not very smooth in Western Europe either—that in fact it took decades, even centuries.

She offers the examples of France, Italy, and Germany: all now well-established liberal democracies but at one point they were anything but.

France, after all, transitioned from absolute monarchy by way of the French Revolution and its Reign of Terror. This was followed by numerous further upheavals that Berman does not mention, including the Bourbon restoration from 1815 to 1830, the July Revolution of 1830, the Revolution of 1848, the proclamation of the Second Empire in 1851, the creation of the Third Republic in 1870, the Vichy regime from 1940 to 1944, and, finally, in 1958 the overthrow of the Fourth Republic and the birth of the Fifth Republic which has lasted to this day.

Germany, for its part, was forcibly created by Bismarck out of numerous smaller states in the decades leading up to 1871 and democracy did not emerge until after World War I—only to be snuffed out starting in 1933 by Adolf Hitler. Out of the post-war rubble emerged a West Germany that was democratic and an East Germany that was not. A unified, democratic Germany was not created until 1990.

As for Italy, it, too, did not emerge as a unified state until relatively late (1870). And it, too, saw its nascent democracy usurped by a fascist (Benito Mussolini), and it did not become a true liberal democracy until after World War II.

Nor was the process of democratization painless in the United States: It took two outright wars (the War of Independence and the Civil War) to establish self-government and another period of violent upheaval (the Civil Rights era of the 1950s-60s) to realize the potential of the Constitution.

Considering the tribulations suffered by the U.S. and Europe on the road to democracy, it is hardly surprising that the process of political reform is proving painful in the Middle East. As Berman reminds us: “Stable liberal democracy requires more than just a shift in political forms; it also involves eliminating the antidemocratic social, cultural, and economic legacies of the old regime. Such a process takes lots of time and effort, over multiple tries.”

She is right. Anyone who reads her article, “The Promise of the Arab Spring,” should gain a measure of patience and understanding for what it is currently happening in the Middle East. We cannot expect overnight miracles, but that does not mean that it is possible to cling to the rule of discredited strongmen—any more than Europe today could possibly return to the rule of absolute monarchs.

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Benghazi Report Makes Clear Clinton’s Failure–and Obama’s

Since the terrorist attack in Benghazi killed our ambassador there and three others, I’ve been asking just how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has managed to avoid accountability for what was clearly her State Department’s failure. Others have begun asking that same question, including former Clinton administration official Aaron David Miller. Miller offered a few possible answers, one of which was that her expected run for the presidency in 2016–which is already in motion–has convinced the Washington establishment to stay on her good side.

Miller was asking the question in the context of the strangely effusive praise she has been receiving for her work as secretary of state, even though she has been surely unremarkable–and that was before the debacle in Benghazi (and, I would add, Foggy Bottom’s failure with regard to the Palestinians’ unilateral declaration of statehood at the UN). It’s possible that Miller is right–that most people don’t actually believe what they’re saying about Clinton, but are simply speaking flattery to power. But yesterday’s release of the inquiry into Benghazi should inspire at least some honesty about Clinton’s manifest failure there. It also explains why Republicans have latched on to Benghazi with such force: as the report shows, the tragedy in Benghazi was evidence of the failure of the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy across the administration.

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Since the terrorist attack in Benghazi killed our ambassador there and three others, I’ve been asking just how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has managed to avoid accountability for what was clearly her State Department’s failure. Others have begun asking that same question, including former Clinton administration official Aaron David Miller. Miller offered a few possible answers, one of which was that her expected run for the presidency in 2016–which is already in motion–has convinced the Washington establishment to stay on her good side.

Miller was asking the question in the context of the strangely effusive praise she has been receiving for her work as secretary of state, even though she has been surely unremarkable–and that was before the debacle in Benghazi (and, I would add, Foggy Bottom’s failure with regard to the Palestinians’ unilateral declaration of statehood at the UN). It’s possible that Miller is right–that most people don’t actually believe what they’re saying about Clinton, but are simply speaking flattery to power. But yesterday’s release of the inquiry into Benghazi should inspire at least some honesty about Clinton’s manifest failure there. It also explains why Republicans have latched on to Benghazi with such force: as the report shows, the tragedy in Benghazi was evidence of the failure of the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy across the administration.

As the report makes clear, there is a serious management problem at the State Department:

Communication, cooperation, and coordination among Washington, Tripoli, and Benghazi functioned collegially at the working-level but were constrained by a lack of transparency, responsiveness, and leadership at the senior levels. Among various Department bureaus and personnel in the field, there appeared to be very real confusion over who, ultimately, was responsible and empowered to make decisions based on both policy and security considerations.

The report also knocks the State Department for not responding appropriately to requests for more security in Libya, and for needing those requests in the first place. The report wonders why the State Department’s decision makers didn’t understand the situation on the ground, and goes on to name 20 separate instances of violence or attempted violence against foreign missions and NGOs in the six months leading up to the attack on the American mission in Benghazi.

So Clinton was detached and ill-informed about the mission to an inexcusable degree. But President Obama himself shares some of the blame. After all, as the report notes, Libya was in a state of lawlessness for a reason:

It is worth noting that the events above took place against a general backdrop of political violence, assassinations targeting former regime officials, lawlessness, and an overarching absence of central government authority in eastern Libya. While the June 6 IED at the SMC and the May ICRC attack were claimed by the same group, none of the remaining attacks were viewed in Tripoli and Benghazi as linked or having common perpetrators, which were not viewed as linked or having common perpetrators. This also tempered reactions in Washington. Furthermore, the Board believes that the longer a post is exposed to continuing high levels of violence the more it comes to consider security incidents which might otherwise provoke a reaction as normal, thus raising the threshold for an incident to cause a reassessment of risk and mission continuation. This was true for both people on the ground serving in Libya and in Washington.

Behold the product of “leading from behind,” the Obama administration’s light-touch approach to foreign intervention. The Libya mission left a decapitated country in the midst of civil war descending into anarchy ruled by gang-led violence. The Obama administration chose to wash its hands of the ordeal when Muammar Gaddafi was gone. It was into this chaos that Clinton sent our ambassador with insufficient protection.

The report also finds fault with the intelligence establishment, though former CIA Director David Petraeus has already resigned and thus won’t be held doubly responsible for what happened. Max has also noted the confused and clumsy military response to the attack as well.

The harsh Republican response to Benghazi, then, was not just about Susan Rice and her talking points (though that was an issue for them as well, certainly), but about the broader strategic and management failures across all relevant departments of the Obama administration, and the pitfalls of the “leading from behind” strategy of military engagement.

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Echoes of Afghanistan in Syria?

As if to buttress my earlier item on the dangers of outsourcing support for Syrian rebels to the Qataris and other Gulf Arabs, the New York Times carries this report on the worrisome consequences of earlier outsourcing the support of Libyan rebels to Qatar.

The newspaper reports: “The weapons and money from Qatar strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Qaddafi government.”

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As if to buttress my earlier item on the dangers of outsourcing support for Syrian rebels to the Qataris and other Gulf Arabs, the New York Times carries this report on the worrisome consequences of earlier outsourcing the support of Libyan rebels to Qatar.

The newspaper reports: “The weapons and money from Qatar strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Qaddafi government.”

And it is not only in Libya that those arms have been a destabilizing influence: “Some of the arms since have been moved from Libya to militants with ties to Al Qaeda in Mali, where radical jihadi factions have imposed Shariah law in the northern part of the country, the former Defense Department official said. Others have gone to Syria, according to several American and foreign officials and arms traders.”

The dangers of allowing Gulf states to act as our proxies should have been clear from the experience of Afghanistan in the 1980s where the Saudis empowered the most radical mujahideen groups, some of which are now fighting U.S. troops. Libya reinforces that lesson. Yet, bizarrely, we are making precisely the same mistake today in Syria.

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Obama’s Libya Policy Is a Disaster–and Not Just in Benghazi

Part of the reason Senate foreign policy leaders–such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and newcomer Kelly Ayotte, among others–have focused so much attention on Susan Rice in the last few weeks is that it is the first time they have been able to keep the press focused on the story and get answers to the many outstanding questions about the Benghazi attack and its aftermath. On that note, the New York Times has a welcome story today widening the scope. The talking points that Rice is getting grilled over are only part of a larger story that needs telling. But moving this discussion away from the talking points probably won’t make it any easier on the White House.

The death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in Benghazi was a symptom of a larger problem with the administration’s attitude toward the intervention. “Leading from behind” in Libya succeeded in killing Muammar Gaddafi, but the rush to the exits left a lawless country behind. And that condition persists to this day, and shines a light on the myth vs. the reality of President Obama’s strategy in the North African nation. In the third and final presidential debate with Mitt Romney, Obama touted Libya as a success because he seemed to believe that cutting off the head of the snake—Gaddafi—would subdue the unrest in Gaddafi’s wake. When asked about the Benghazi debacle and his larger Libya policy, the president said:

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Part of the reason Senate foreign policy leaders–such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and newcomer Kelly Ayotte, among others–have focused so much attention on Susan Rice in the last few weeks is that it is the first time they have been able to keep the press focused on the story and get answers to the many outstanding questions about the Benghazi attack and its aftermath. On that note, the New York Times has a welcome story today widening the scope. The talking points that Rice is getting grilled over are only part of a larger story that needs telling. But moving this discussion away from the talking points probably won’t make it any easier on the White House.

The death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in Benghazi was a symptom of a larger problem with the administration’s attitude toward the intervention. “Leading from behind” in Libya succeeded in killing Muammar Gaddafi, but the rush to the exits left a lawless country behind. And that condition persists to this day, and shines a light on the myth vs. the reality of President Obama’s strategy in the North African nation. In the third and final presidential debate with Mitt Romney, Obama touted Libya as a success because he seemed to believe that cutting off the head of the snake—Gaddafi—would subdue the unrest in Gaddafi’s wake. When asked about the Benghazi debacle and his larger Libya policy, the president said:

But I think it’s important to step back and think about what happened in Libya. Now, keep in mind that I and Americans took leadership in organizing an international coalition that made sure that we were able to — without putting troops on the ground, at the cost of less than what we spent in two weeks in Iraq — liberate a country that had been under the yoke of dictatorship for 40 years, got rid of a despot who had killed Americans.

And as a consequence, despite this tragedy, you had tens of thousands of Libyans after the events in Benghazi marching and saying, America’s our friend. We stand with them. Now that represents the opportunity we have to take advantage of.

Later on in the debate, the discussion turned to Syria, and Romney used the subject as an opportunity to criticize Obama’s lack of leadership on the world stage. Obama changed the subject back to Libya, and gave a very revealing answer:

But you know, going back to Libya, because this is an example of — of how we make choices, you know, when we went into Libya and we were able to immediately stop the massacre there because of the unique circumstances and the coalition that we had helped to organize, we also had to make sure that Moammar Gadhafi didn’t stay there. And to the governor’s credit, you supported us going into Libya and the coalition that we organized. But when it came time to making sure that Gadhafi did not stay in power, that he was captured, Governor, your suggestion was that this was mission creep, that this was mission muddle.

Imagine if we had pulled out at that point. That — Moammar Gadhafi had more American blood on his hands than any individual other than Osama bin Laden. And so we were going to make sure that we finished the job.

To Obama, “finishing the job” meant getting rid of Gaddafi. That was, no doubt, part of the job, but to Obama that was it. Once we got rid of Gaddafi, the mission was over. This is in full concert with the president’s hearty embrace of targeted assassination; it is a definable mission that requires no follow-up.

But picking off terrorists in Yemen or Pakistan or Afghanistan is much different than taking out a head of state. And we are seeing the full consequence of this approach today. Elsewhere in today’s paper, the Times reports that Libya seems frozen in anarchist chaos:

“It is impossible for members of a brigade to arrest another,” said Wanis al-Sharif, the top Interior Ministry official in eastern Libya. “And it would be impossible that I give the order to arrest someone in a militia. Impossible.”

The violence was thrown into sharp relief after the September attack on the United States intelligence and diplomatic villas. Libyan and American officials accused militants associated with Libya’s ubiquitous militias, and specifically, members of Ansar al-Shariah.

“The killing of the ambassador brought back the true reality of this insecure state,” said Ali Tarhouni, a former Libyan finance minister who leads a new political party. “It was a major setback, to this city and its psyche.”

Justice itself is a dangerous notion here and throughout Libya, where a feeble government lacks the power to protect citizens or to confront criminal suspects. It barely has the means to arm its police force, let alone rein in or integrate the militias or confront former rebel fighters suspected of killings.

It seems to me this is a discussion McCain and the others would like to have. As for the administration, widening the discussion may take the heat off of Rice, but it’s doubtful it would make the issue any more comfortable for the White House.

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Will French Recognition of Syrian Rebels Convince U.S. to Act?

It is easy to lose sight of it amid the breathless, National Enquirer-style reporting on David Petraeus, John Allen, and their communications with various women, but there are other important things happening in the world. Among those events is France’s decision to recognize the new Syrian opposition council, National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, as the country’s rightful government. This is an important step marking the first time that another state has extended official recognition to the Syrian rebels who have just organized, under much external prodding, this new coalition led by Sheik Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, the widely respected former imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. France has also said it would consider providing arms to the rebel forces.

Once again, as in Libya last year, this places France—this time under President Francois Hollande, rather than Nicolas Sarkozy—at the forefront of important events in the Middle East. President Obama and the U.S. continue to lag behind in trying to influence events in another important country, in spite of the major role played by American diplomats in helping to organize the Syrian National Coalition. That is a major problem, because there is only so much France—or other states such as Qatar and Turkey, which are eager to topple Bashar Assad—can do.

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It is easy to lose sight of it amid the breathless, National Enquirer-style reporting on David Petraeus, John Allen, and their communications with various women, but there are other important things happening in the world. Among those events is France’s decision to recognize the new Syrian opposition council, National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, as the country’s rightful government. This is an important step marking the first time that another state has extended official recognition to the Syrian rebels who have just organized, under much external prodding, this new coalition led by Sheik Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, the widely respected former imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. France has also said it would consider providing arms to the rebel forces.

Once again, as in Libya last year, this places France—this time under President Francois Hollande, rather than Nicolas Sarkozy—at the forefront of important events in the Middle East. President Obama and the U.S. continue to lag behind in trying to influence events in another important country, in spite of the major role played by American diplomats in helping to organize the Syrian National Coalition. That is a major problem, because there is only so much France—or other states such as Qatar and Turkey, which are eager to topple Bashar Assad—can do.

Only the U.S. can organize a coalition to impose a no-fly zone and thus hasten the end of the barbarous Assad regime. If we fail to act, the humanitarian and strategic costs of the war will continue to grow—as witness recent incidents of Syrian forces directing fire near to, and sometimes over, the borders with Israel and Turkey.

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CBS Sat on Key Obama Benghazi Quote

Remember this clip from President Obama’s “60 Minutes” interview on September 12, where Obama seems to agree the Benghazi attack was more than just a spontaneous demonstration? CBS released it on October 19, and has used it to support the president’s claim that he called the attack “terrorism” from day one. 

But, as Bret Baier reports, that wasn’t the whole interview. CBS has just released new footage of Obama declining to call the attack terrorism when pressed, saying it’s “it’s too early to tell”:

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Remember this clip from President Obama’s “60 Minutes” interview on September 12, where Obama seems to agree the Benghazi attack was more than just a spontaneous demonstration? CBS released it on October 19, and has used it to support the president’s claim that he called the attack “terrorism” from day one. 

But, as Bret Baier reports, that wasn’t the whole interview. CBS has just released new footage of Obama declining to call the attack terrorism when pressed, saying it’s “it’s too early to tell”:

KROFT: Mr. President, this morning you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word terrorism in connection with the Libya Attack, do you believe that this was a terrorism attack?

OBAMA: Well it’s too early to tell exactly how this came about, what group was involved, but obviously it was an attack on Americans. And we are going to be working with the Libyan government to make sure that we bring these folks to justice, one way or the other.  

Read Baier’s full analysis above, which gets into why this is so critical for the Benghazi timeline. In short, it’s a clear refutation of Candy Crowley, the White House, Obama’s comments during the debate, and the whole hopelessly spin-able “but he said it in the Rose Garden speech!” media. This interview was conducted immediately after Obama’s Rose Garden address. If the president had actually intended to call Benghazi a terrorist attack in the speech, he should have corrected Kroft when Kroft said “This morning you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word terrorism in connection with the Libya Attack.”

But he didn’t. In fact, when asked straight-up if he believed the attack was terrorism, Obama pointedly declined to use the t-word, saying “it’s too early to tell exactly how this came about, what group was involved, but obviously it was an attack on Americans.” He also called the attackers “folks,” which isn’t typically how you refer to terrorists. 

Obama’s “acts of terror” comments in the Rose Garden were exactly what they sounded like — weasel-words designed to give the White House cover on whatever narrative it chose to put out. He couldn’t answer Kroft’s question unequivocally, because at that point the White House was trying to avoid calling it a terrorist attack.

Why did CBS wait until two days before the election to release this? Why didn’t they release it immediately after the debate, since it contradicted a major point of contention? So far, no word from the network other than this non-response response (via Politico): “We’re proud of our Benghazi coverage, which from Libya to Washington has been the most comprehensive original reporting of any network.”

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Intel Officials Push Back on Fox Story

The Associated Press reports that intelligence officials are pushing back on the Fox News story from last week, which reported that CIA officials in Washington told its officers in Benghazi to stand down when the attack on the consulate began, and that requests from security officers for military support were rejected:

According to the detailed timeline senior officials laid out Thursday, the first call to the CIA base came in at about 9:40 p.m., and less than 25 minutes later about the team headed to the consulate. En route they tried to get additional assistance, including some heavier weapons, but were unable to get much aid from the Libyan militias. 

The team finally got to the consulate, which was engulfed in heavy diesel smoke and flames, and they went in to get the consulate staff out. By 11:30 p.m., all of the U.S. personnel, except Stevens, left and drove back to the annex, with some taking fire from militants along the way.

By that time, one of the Defense Department’s unarmed Predator drones had arrived to provide overhead surveillance. … 

The second CIA team headed to the annex, and arrived after 5 a.m., just before the base came under attack again.

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The Associated Press reports that intelligence officials are pushing back on the Fox News story from last week, which reported that CIA officials in Washington told its officers in Benghazi to stand down when the attack on the consulate began, and that requests from security officers for military support were rejected:

According to the detailed timeline senior officials laid out Thursday, the first call to the CIA base came in at about 9:40 p.m., and less than 25 minutes later about the team headed to the consulate. En route they tried to get additional assistance, including some heavier weapons, but were unable to get much aid from the Libyan militias. 

The team finally got to the consulate, which was engulfed in heavy diesel smoke and flames, and they went in to get the consulate staff out. By 11:30 p.m., all of the U.S. personnel, except Stevens, left and drove back to the annex, with some taking fire from militants along the way.

By that time, one of the Defense Department’s unarmed Predator drones had arrived to provide overhead surveillance. … 

The second CIA team headed to the annex, and arrived after 5 a.m., just before the base came under attack again.

That’s not military support; it’s CIA support. We already knew there was a second CIA security team sent in. The question is, who denied military backup? Fox reported that the security officers on the ground were asking for Spectre gunships and air support. The intelligence officers pushing back on the Fox story didn’t deny that these requests were made — in fact, they didn’t even mention them in the AP story at all. 

AP also reports that the Pentagon had moved assets into place in Sicily, but couldn’t move them in without a request from the State Department and a green light from the Libyan transitional government:

As the events were unfolding, the Pentagon began to move special operations forces from Europe to Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily. U.S. aircraft routinely fly in and out of Sigonella and there are also fighter jets based in Aviano, Italy. But while the U.S. military was at a heightened state of alert because of 9/11, there were no American forces poised and ready to move immediately into Benghazi when the attack began. 

The Pentagon would not send forces or aircraft into Libya — a sovereign nation — without a request from the State Department and the knowledge or consent of the host country. And Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the information coming in was too jumbled to risk U.S. troops.

The timeline provided to the AP doesn’t contradict the crux of the Fox News report. Requests for military backup were made, and they were denied. The question is, who denied it? Did Panetta make the decision or the State Department? Was the Libyan government contacted about this, and did they reject it?

The White House also says President Obama ordered troops into the region in preparation for an intervention shortly after the attack began. Obviously, he would have the final say over the State Department and the Libyan government if he wanted to send them into Benghazi. Was he given updates on the situation, and told about the requests? If not, why not? If so, what was his response?

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Report: Help in Benghazi was Available, Waved Off

Earlier today I wrote about the baffling failure to call in the U.S. military to rescue our diplomats besieged in Benghazi. That failure becomes even more puzzling if this Fox News article is right. Reporter Jennifer Griffin writes that former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were working as CIA security personnel at a CIA annex not far from the consulate, and they not only saw the entire attack unfold, but communicated what they saw to Washington in real time.

They wanted to aid the diplomats at the consulate but were told to “stand down”; they ignored those orders and made their way to the consulate and brought back the remaining diplomats, minus the ambassador, who was already dead. Then they took more fire at the CIA annex–this was where Woods and Doherty were killed by a mortar shell at 4 a.m., nearly seven hours after the initial assault began. But their urgent cries for help were not answered. Griffin writes:

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Earlier today I wrote about the baffling failure to call in the U.S. military to rescue our diplomats besieged in Benghazi. That failure becomes even more puzzling if this Fox News article is right. Reporter Jennifer Griffin writes that former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were working as CIA security personnel at a CIA annex not far from the consulate, and they not only saw the entire attack unfold, but communicated what they saw to Washington in real time.

They wanted to aid the diplomats at the consulate but were told to “stand down”; they ignored those orders and made their way to the consulate and brought back the remaining diplomats, minus the ambassador, who was already dead. Then they took more fire at the CIA annex–this was where Woods and Doherty were killed by a mortar shell at 4 a.m., nearly seven hours after the initial assault began. But their urgent cries for help were not answered. Griffin writes:

In fact, at least one member of the team was on the roof of the annex manning a heavy machine gun when mortars were fired at the CIA compound. The security officer had a laser on the target that was firing and repeatedly requested back-up support from a Specter gunship, which is commonly used by U.S. Special Operations forces to provide support to Special Operations teams on the ground involved in intense firefights. The fighting at the CIA annex went on for more than four hours — enough time for any planes based in Sigonella Air base, just 480 miles away, to arrive. Fox News has also learned that two separate Tier One Special operations forces were told to wait, among them Delta Force operators.

This would seem to directly contradict Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s contention that the Pentagon knew too little about what was going on to scramble military forces. As does this tidbit from Griffin’s article: “Fox News has learned that there were two military surveillance drones redirected to Benghazi shortly after the attack on the Consulate began. They were already in the vicinity. The second surveillance craft was sent to relieve the first drone, perhaps due to fuel issues. Both were capable of sending real time visuals back to U.S. officials in Washington, D.C.”

Assuming this account is accurate, it is downright mystifying–and alarming–that in spite of real-time knowledge about the assault as it was happening, and the presence only a short flight time away of considerable military resources, someone in the government (one wonders who?) decided to limit the response to sending 22 lightly armed personnel from Tripoli. Someone at a senior level needs to be held to account for this failure.

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More Evidence of the Administration’s Failure in Benghazi

As Jonathan wrote earlier, Charles Woods, father of the former SEAL Tyrone Woods, is questioning why the Obama administration did not respond with military force to rescue the Americans trapped in Benghazi on September 11. If action had been taken promptly, Ty Woods and the others might have survived.

He’s not the only one raising good questions about the lack of a response. Bing West, a distinguished combat correspondent and former assistant secretary of defense, has produced a timeline of the Benghazi attacks, which went on for most of the night, suggesting there was plenty of time for substantial U.S. forces to scramble from the U.S. base at Sigonella, Sicily, located almost exactly as far away from Benghazi as the Libyan capital of Tripoli, from whence a small, ill-armed quick-reaction force of 22 men was finally sent. “Stationed at Sigonella,” he notes, “were Special Operations Forces, transport aircraft, and attack aircraft — a much more formidable force than 22 men from the embassy.”

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As Jonathan wrote earlier, Charles Woods, father of the former SEAL Tyrone Woods, is questioning why the Obama administration did not respond with military force to rescue the Americans trapped in Benghazi on September 11. If action had been taken promptly, Ty Woods and the others might have survived.

He’s not the only one raising good questions about the lack of a response. Bing West, a distinguished combat correspondent and former assistant secretary of defense, has produced a timeline of the Benghazi attacks, which went on for most of the night, suggesting there was plenty of time for substantial U.S. forces to scramble from the U.S. base at Sigonella, Sicily, located almost exactly as far away from Benghazi as the Libyan capital of Tripoli, from whence a small, ill-armed quick-reaction force of 22 men was finally sent. “Stationed at Sigonella,” he notes, “were Special Operations Forces, transport aircraft, and attack aircraft — a much more formidable force than 22 men from the embassy.”

He continues: “Fighter jets could have been at Benghazi in an hour; the commandos inside three hours…. If even one F18 had been on station, it would have detected the location of hostiles firing at night and deterred and attacked the mortar sites.”

West concludes: “For our top leadership, with all the technological and military tools at their disposal, to have done nothing for seven hours was a joint civilian and military failure of initiative and nerve.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta now explains the decision not to act militarily by saying that he and top military commanders “felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation” because they didn’t have enough “real-time information about what’s taking place.” But of course more real-time information could have been obtained by sending aircraft to overfly Benghazi.

In any case, Special Operations Forces and other military forces are used to acting on incomplete information, especially in a situation where Americans are under fire and in danger of being overrun. At that point, caution is normally thrown to the wind, and Quick Reaction Forces are launched. It is indeed puzzling that there was apparently no standing plan to send a Quick Reaction Force to Benghazi (or other areas in North Africa where U.S. outposts are located) or, if such a plan existed, the decision was made not to activate it.

There is no doubt that there was a serious failure at all levels of the U.S. government before, during, and after the Benghazi attack. This is simply more evidence of the screw-ups that occurred and the need to have better procedures in place the next time an incident like this occurs.

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CNN: Al-Qaeda in Iraq May Be Linked to Benghazi

Officials have already speculated that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was involved in the Benghazi attack, but CNN reports al-Qaeda in Iraq may be linked as well. AQI has been regaining strength since U.S. troops withdrew last year:

U.S. intelligence believes that assailants connected to al Qaeda in Iraq were among the core group that attacked the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, a U.S. government official told CNN. 

That would represent the second al Qaeda affiliate associated with the deadly September 11 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. …

The latest intelligence suggests the core group of suspects from the first wave of the attack on the Benghazi mission numbered between 35 to 40. Around a dozen of the attackers are believed to be connected to either al Qaeda in Iraq or al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the government official said.

The attack had two waves: The first targeted the main compound where Stevens and another diplomatic official were believed killed. A second stage a few hours later involved an annex building approximately a mile away. 

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Officials have already speculated that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was involved in the Benghazi attack, but CNN reports al-Qaeda in Iraq may be linked as well. AQI has been regaining strength since U.S. troops withdrew last year:

U.S. intelligence believes that assailants connected to al Qaeda in Iraq were among the core group that attacked the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, a U.S. government official told CNN. 

That would represent the second al Qaeda affiliate associated with the deadly September 11 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. …

The latest intelligence suggests the core group of suspects from the first wave of the attack on the Benghazi mission numbered between 35 to 40. Around a dozen of the attackers are believed to be connected to either al Qaeda in Iraq or al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the government official said.

The attack had two waves: The first targeted the main compound where Stevens and another diplomatic official were believed killed. A second stage a few hours later involved an annex building approximately a mile away. 

The Obama administration is still trying to slowly back away from its “spontaneous reaction” line, pivoting to the claim it was an “opportunistic attack” that didn’t require a lot of pre-planning. Whether it was “opportunistic” or not doesn’t really matter, but it’s a way for the administration to cling to a small shred of credibility after initially telling the public it wasn’t premeditated or preplanned. Either way, if there were a dozen attackers directly linked to two different al-Qaeda affiliates, as CNN reports, that’s still an al-Qaeda attack, no matter how “opportunistic” or “spontaneous” the administration wants to argue it was.

Good thing President Obama’s foreign policy has “devastated” al-Qaeda, right John Kerry?

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Administration Officials: Benghazi Emails “Not Evidence”

It’s too bad the White House press briefing was on Air Force One today, because watching Jay Carney try to spin Mark Hosenball’s Reuters scoop would have been fun. Unfortunately we’ll have to make due with just a transcript

“There was a variety of information coming in,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday on Air Force One. “The whole point of an intelligence community and what they do is to assess strands of information and make judgements about what happened and who was responsible.”

“This is an open source, unclassified email about a posting on a Facebook site,” Carney said. “I would also note that within a few hours the organization itself claimed that it had not been responsible. Neither should be taken as fact. That is why there is an investigation.”

Hillary Clinton also dismissed the story, accusing reporters of “cherry-picking” information:

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It’s too bad the White House press briefing was on Air Force One today, because watching Jay Carney try to spin Mark Hosenball’s Reuters scoop would have been fun. Unfortunately we’ll have to make due with just a transcript

“There was a variety of information coming in,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday on Air Force One. “The whole point of an intelligence community and what they do is to assess strands of information and make judgements about what happened and who was responsible.”

“This is an open source, unclassified email about a posting on a Facebook site,” Carney said. “I would also note that within a few hours the organization itself claimed that it had not been responsible. Neither should be taken as fact. That is why there is an investigation.”

Hillary Clinton also dismissed the story, accusing reporters of “cherry-picking” information:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday a Facebook post in which an Islamic militant group claimed credit for a recent attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya did not constitute hard evidence of who was responsible.

“Posting something on Facebook is not in and of itself evidence. I think it just underscores how fluid the reporting was at the time and continued for some time to be,” Clinton said during an appearance with the Brazilian foreign minister at the State Department.

A single posting on Facebook isn’t a smoking gun. But apparently it was considered noteworthy enough for the State Department’s Operations Center to send White House, Pentagon, FBI and intelligence officials an email alert about it in the critical early hours of the attack. It’s not as if the State Department was recklessly blasting out random bits of gossip and speculation, either. According to the timeline in the Reuters piece, this appears to be the third message they sent out in a span of two hours.

There’s also the inconvenient fact that the email turned out to be correct. Ansar al-Sharia is the main group suspected behind the attack. So whether or not there was a “variety of information coming in,” as Jay Carney said, is irrelevant. Why did the administration dismiss information that correctly linked Ansar al-Sharia to the attack, and instead publicly promote inaccurate information about a “spontaneous protest”? Either they completely dropped the ball, or they were doing some cherry-picking themselves.

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WH Knew Militant Group Took Credit for Attack Within 2 Hours

The White House was informed that Libyan militant group Ansar al-Sharia took credit for the Benghazi attack just two hours after it happened, according to emails obtained by Reuters. Yet the Obama administration maintained it was a spontaneous reaction to the Muhammad video, and downplayed the role of any militant groups for two weeks after the attack. As of today, the administration has never even told us Ansar al-Sharia claimed credit. We had to find out from the investigative press:

A third email, also marked SBU and sent at 6:07 p.m. Washington time, carried the subject line: “Update 2: Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack.”

The message reported: “Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli.”

While some information identifying recipients of this message was redacted from copies of the messages obtained by Reuters, a government source said that one of the addresses to which the message was sent was the White House Situation Room, the president’s secure command post.

Other addressees included intelligence and military units as well as one used by the FBI command center, the source said.

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The White House was informed that Libyan militant group Ansar al-Sharia took credit for the Benghazi attack just two hours after it happened, according to emails obtained by Reuters. Yet the Obama administration maintained it was a spontaneous reaction to the Muhammad video, and downplayed the role of any militant groups for two weeks after the attack. As of today, the administration has never even told us Ansar al-Sharia claimed credit. We had to find out from the investigative press:

A third email, also marked SBU and sent at 6:07 p.m. Washington time, carried the subject line: “Update 2: Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack.”

The message reported: “Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli.”

While some information identifying recipients of this message was redacted from copies of the messages obtained by Reuters, a government source said that one of the addresses to which the message was sent was the White House Situation Room, the president’s secure command post.

Other addressees included intelligence and military units as well as one used by the FBI command center, the source said.

Even as the administration kept these details from the public, White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted the “spontaneous protest” narrative was based on “our initial information, and that includes all information”:

I’m saying that based on information that we — our initial information, and that includes all information — we saw no evidence to back up claims by others that this was a preplanned or premeditated attack; that we saw evidence that it was sparked by the reaction to this video.  And that is what we know thus far based on the evidence, concrete evidence — not supposition — concrete evidence that we have thus far.

Jim Geraghty has a great timeline of UN ambassador Susan Rice’s now-discredited claims as well.

As I’ve written before, Ansar al-Sharia is suspected of close ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The Library of Congress issued a report just this summer that heavily indicated Ansar al-Sharia was Libya’s al-Qaeda affiliate:

Ansar al-Sharia, led by Sufian Ben Qhumu, a former Guantanamo detainee, has increasingly embodied al-Qaeda’s presence in Libya, as indicated by its active social-media propaganda, extremist discourse, and hatred of the West, especially the United States. 

The name Ansar al-Sharia is also being used by al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in so-called liberated areas of Yemen and by Salafist groups in Tunisia. The Facebook sites of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya and the group in Tunisia appear similar in design and content and also share contacts, suggesting coordination between the groups.

No wonder the White House didn’t want to acknowledge Ansar al-Sharia took credit. A successful attack by an AQ-linked group on the 9/11 anniversary two months before the election is politically disastrous for the White House; but perhaps not as disastrous as the bombshell that they kept this information from the public at the time.

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