Commentary Magazine


Topic: Thomas Pickering

Blame the Middle Manager for Benghazi?

Nine months after the terrorist attack in Benghazi that cost four American lives, we’re finally finding out who it was that the State Department thinks is responsible for the debacle: the middle managers. Josh Rogin’s exclusive interview at the Daily Beast with the only person to lose his job over the tragedy doesn’t tell us much about why Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were left without security in the face of clear danger from an al-Qaeda affiliate. But it does tell us everything we need to know about how Hillary Clinton’s State Department functioned.

Benghazi is one of the worst disasters in American diplomatic history, but the sum total of accountability for it is limited to the career of Raymond Maxwell, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) who was placed on administrative leave in December after the now-famous Administrative Review Board (ARB) led by Thomas Pickering issued its report. Pickering didn’t bother interviewing the person in charge of the department—Secretary Clinton—but according to Rogin’s sources, Maxwell was consigned to perdition for not reading his daily intelligence reports. If so, perhaps he deserves his fate even though Maxwell claims he had “no involvement to any degree with decisions on security and the funding of security at our diplomatic mission in Benghazi.” That is something that cannot be said of others, including the secretary, who sent Stevens on what proved to be a fatal mission. Yet what comes across loud and clear in the piece is that what happened at Foggy Bottom in the aftermath of the debacle was that a middle manager was made to walk the plank while all senior personnel were spared from the consequences of the mistakes that were made.

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Nine months after the terrorist attack in Benghazi that cost four American lives, we’re finally finding out who it was that the State Department thinks is responsible for the debacle: the middle managers. Josh Rogin’s exclusive interview at the Daily Beast with the only person to lose his job over the tragedy doesn’t tell us much about why Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were left without security in the face of clear danger from an al-Qaeda affiliate. But it does tell us everything we need to know about how Hillary Clinton’s State Department functioned.

Benghazi is one of the worst disasters in American diplomatic history, but the sum total of accountability for it is limited to the career of Raymond Maxwell, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) who was placed on administrative leave in December after the now-famous Administrative Review Board (ARB) led by Thomas Pickering issued its report. Pickering didn’t bother interviewing the person in charge of the department—Secretary Clinton—but according to Rogin’s sources, Maxwell was consigned to perdition for not reading his daily intelligence reports. If so, perhaps he deserves his fate even though Maxwell claims he had “no involvement to any degree with decisions on security and the funding of security at our diplomatic mission in Benghazi.” That is something that cannot be said of others, including the secretary, who sent Stevens on what proved to be a fatal mission. Yet what comes across loud and clear in the piece is that what happened at Foggy Bottom in the aftermath of the debacle was that a middle manager was made to walk the plank while all senior personnel were spared from the consequences of the mistakes that were made.

The ARB actually fixed the blame for Benghazi at the assistant secretary level that would have meant that Maxwell’s boss, Beth Jones, should have been the one to fall on her sword along with others of similar rank. But according to Rogin:

But Jones was not disciplined in any way following the release of the report, nor was the principal deputy assistant secretary of State at NEA, Liz Dibble, who is slated to receive a plush post as the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in London this summer. In the DS bureau, the assistant secretary, principal deputy, and deputy assistant all lost their jobs. In the NEA bureau, only Maxwell was asked to leave.

Jones and Dibble were responsible for security in Libya, Maxwell and three State Department officials said. What’s more, when Maxwell was promoted to his DAS position in August 2011, most responsibility for Libya was carved out of his portfolio, which also included Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Although Maxwell did some work on Libya, all security related decisions were handled by Dibble and Jones, according to the three officials.

At the time he was placed in career limbo, Rogin reports Maxwell was told that after the political storm about Benghazi blew over, he would come back to his department and get a senior job. But apparently Clinton and Mills reneged, leaving him out in the cold to face the music while they were allowed to go on in their positions.

Suffice to say that if Mrs. Clinton had a shred of personal honor, she would have taken genuine responsibility for Benghazi rather than merely says those words as a figure of speech. If she did, she might not have let her department sacrifice a low-level person like Maxwell for supposedly not reading every item he was sent to read while her defenders claimed it was unreasonable, if not defamatory, to hold her responsible for the documents that went out under her name. Instead, she left State to the applause of her acolytes to wait for a propitious moment to resume her quest for the presidency, all the way claiming none of what happened in Benghazi was her fault.

If the Obama administration took the issue of embassy security as seriously as it claims to—while insisting that any attention paid to the lies it told about Benghazi is a distraction—it might have cleaned house at State in a way that made it clear that all those involved with the refusal to give Stevens adequate security did not escape accountability.

Maxwell’s saga is a depressing reminder of everything that is wrong with Obama and Clinton’s sense of entitlement and a refusal to be accountable for mistakes. It will be up to the Congress and a slowly awakening mainstream press to keep the issue alive and reopen the question who, other than a middle manager with unrelated job responsibilities, should be blamed for Benghazi.

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Pickering Apart Benghazi

The testimony of three State Department whistle blowers raises fours issues regarding Benghazi:

(1)    Who pushed the notion that a YouTube video rather than premeditated terrorism was the cause of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi? Was this simply State Department and White House spin or, even worse, is it possible that Secretary of State Clinton was so insulated in a bubble that she did not understand the threat posed by Islamist extremism?

(2)    Who turned down the consulate’s request for additional security?

(3)    Would the U.S. military have had time to respond had they been called at the earliest opportunity?

(4)    Who ordered the State Department to circle its wagons and suggested to employees that they not speak with congressional investigators? Such actions suggest fear of the truth rather than a desire to determine what went wrong.

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The testimony of three State Department whistle blowers raises fours issues regarding Benghazi:

(1)    Who pushed the notion that a YouTube video rather than premeditated terrorism was the cause of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi? Was this simply State Department and White House spin or, even worse, is it possible that Secretary of State Clinton was so insulated in a bubble that she did not understand the threat posed by Islamist extremism?

(2)    Who turned down the consulate’s request for additional security?

(3)    Would the U.S. military have had time to respond had they been called at the earliest opportunity?

(4)    Who ordered the State Department to circle its wagons and suggested to employees that they not speak with congressional investigators? Such actions suggest fear of the truth rather than a desire to determine what went wrong.

Secretary of State Clinton appointed veteran diplomat Thomas Pickering to chair an Accountability Review Board to investigate just what went wrong in Benghazi. At the time of Pickering’s appointment, the Washington Post explained:

The inquiry announced by Clinton will be carried out by an independent four-member panel chaired by retired diplomat Thomas Pickering. The panel, required by law, will look at whether security procedures were adequate at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and make recommendations to the secretary of state. Pickering was once the boss of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who was killed in the Benghazi attack last week, along with another diplomat and two security personnel.

Many journalists correctly described Pickering as a “veteran diplomat,” and commentators described him as “highly-regarded.” That his name now arises in the context of a cover-up, however, should not surprise: Pickering is also one of the most agenda-driven and political former ambassadors.

  • Pickering was at the forefront of lobbying for Chuck Hagel.
  • Pickering serves on the board of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) but, when confronted by reporter Eli Lake about NIAC’s activities, Pickering dissembled.
  • Pickering has never been one to allow facts to get in the way of political argument. For example, when castigating supposed U.S. disrespect for the Islamic Republic, he has written that Iranians bristle at the term “carrots and sticks,” even though the official Iranian press has used the same exact phrase.
  • Pickering has a curious sense of what terrorism is. In July 2009, he met with Hamas representatives in Lebanon.

In short, Pickering has never sought to be a measured judge; he has always placed himself at the forefront of policy advocacy. Rather than be a neutral observer, he is deeply enmeshed in a policy agenda which perhaps he sees fit to protect, even if it comes at the expense of full transparency or accountability. That questions are now being raised by witnesses about the breadth of Pickering’s investigation given attempts by the State Department to prevent witness testimony should not surprise. Perhaps it is time for a truly independent counsel to look into Benghazi, not an in-house investigation led by someone whose instincts might be to protect the culture from which he emerged.

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