Thursday, January 16, 2014

Return to Benghazi

For several years now I have proposed this hypothesis: when people who have neither the knowledge nor experience to grasp the realities of foreign policy set out to conduct it, they will act as though they are living in a fiction.

Today, we are all absorbing the Senate Intelligence Committee report on Benghazi. The headline reads that the committee found that the attack on the consulate was “preventable.” By implication, but not quite explicitly, the report is saying that the deaths of the U. S. Ambassador and three others were the consequence Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s manifest incompetence.

Analyzing the report in The New Yorker, Amy Davidson argues, correctly that the administration failed because it treated the situation as it wished it was, not as it was:

The Senate Intelligence Committee report on what happened in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, is, in many ways, a catalogue of what can happen when one decides to act as though a situation is what one wishes it to be, not what it is. Benghazi, the report sensibly points out, was a dangerous place, and a lot of people knew it. But it was also supposed to be an enchanted place, the birthplace of a rebellion America had generously fostered and the home of scrappy militias who were grateful to us. We had, supposedly, already arrived at the happily-ever-after part of the Libyan tale. Maybe that’s why the Obama Administration, in particular the State Department—led by Hillary Clinton—didn’t consider all the ways the plot could turn, or that the epilogue might involve the attacks on an American diplomatic installation and a C.I.A. annex. 

Davidson understands clearly that Hillary Clinton was responsible:

But her [Clinton’s] reluctance to change course may have been influenced by her heavy investment in the decision to take military action in Libya; the former defense secretary Robert Gates writes in his new memoir that hers was the voice that swayed the balance. (Joe Biden was on the other side.) Libya was one of the things she had managed in her stint as Secretary of State, for which she had been so praised. Also, again, Libya was supposed to be something we were done with; now it will be a question Hillary Clinton has to contend with in 2016, and, in fairness, rightly so.

And Davidson is also correct to see President Obama’s failure in the same context. Obama never understood the situation in Libya for what it was. Within the fiction he had conjured, he was not required to invoke the War Powers Act before intervening in the first place. He acted as though the conflict did not, Davidson writes, “rise to the level of ‘hostilities’.”

This is something Obama has to answer for, too. He made the decision to intervene militarily in Libya without invoking the War Powers Act—and that, and not some phantom version of the talking points, is the purloined letter in this case….

By saying that he didn’t have to get Congress’s permission because whatever we were doing didn’t rise to the level of “hostilities,” he was willing it to always be so.

Unfortunately, for America, wishing did not make it so.


Nameless Cynic said...

Aw, you're cute. Trying to blame the entire thing on Ms Clinton, mostly by ignoring little things like "DoD confirmed to the Committee that Ambassador Stevens declined two specific offers from General Carter Ham, then the head of AFRICOM, to sustain the SST (Site Security Team) in the weeks before the terrorist attacks."

(And that wasn't the first time he'd turned additional security down, either.)

Oh, and this: "According to a January 4, 2013, letter from the Acting Director of the CIA,
Michael Morell, '[t]he nature of the attacks suggested they did not involve significant pre-planning'... the collective assessment of the IC remains that the attacks 'were deliberate and organized, but that their lethality and efficacy did not
necessarily indicate extensive planning.' "

You have to get your blame from a partisan reading of the report, because,strangely enough, you can't get that from the bipartisan report, or the findings of any of the eight committees that have investigated this attack and found nothing.

Weirdly, none of the 13 embassy attacks under Bush, many of them much worse, received this kind of scrutiny. I wonder why that is? Maybe if they had, some of these systemic issues could have been fixed.

The system was broken, and had been for more than a decade. I know you really, really want to blame Clinton for all this (a year ago, you really, really wanted to blame Obama). But you can't, and neither can Ms Davidson.

Sam L. said...

Trolls are out early this morning, Stuart. OK, one so far, and morning is almost over at your location.

Amy's not going to get any great party invites now, being a deviationist from the party line. I'm guessing The New Yorker editors and publisher are now on the non-invite list as running-dog imperialists.

Anonymous said...

Nameless Cynic:

This is the first time an ambassador has been killed in over 30 years. It is a big deal.

The issue is really about the fact that U.S. forces were not on alert on the 9/11 anniversary, regardless of where the flashpoint was in the world. On any 9/11 after 2001, I would think two places would be of particular interest: (1) the homeland and (2) the Muslim world, which Libya is a part of.

The reason this event was so odd is no one in the administration seemed to do anything about it. This is a diplomatic mission in the Middle East during a particularly crucial time in that region. Where was President Obama? Where was Secretary of State Clinton? What were they doing?

There are no answers to these questions. They try to avoid the issue at every turn, despite the disproportionate Susan Rice appearances on ALL the Sunday talk shows with this weird explanation. In other words, their actions betray their words. They thought this warranted damage control in the media.

And it challenges the narrative that Al Queda was on the run, and we were building bridges in the Middle East. This was important two months before the national election.

It begs scrutiny. I don't care who the president is. The idea that Bush's foreign policy didn't receive "scrutiny" is laughable.

And lastly, what system is broken? As far as I can see, all government systems are broken. Yet they get bigger and bigger. Meanwhile, leaders are less and less accountable. 4 people died in Benghazi, as ambassadors, staffers and protectors of the U.S. presence in Libya. It's not small potatoes.

I'm not clear what you're trying to defend. It's indefensible. And it is treated as unimportant. The only person who's been held accountable is some nobody who made a clumsy internet video. The Administration bent over backwards to blame and jail this man as a demonstration of our contrition to the Muslim world for killing 4 people in Benghazi and damage at other embassies. That is contrary to our national values of free speech. Did the Dutch apologize to the Muslim world for Theo Van Gogh's movie after he was murdered?

The real problem with the Obama Administration is they are more concerned about everyone's feelings than they are about the overall, long-term national interest. This is true domestically and in foreign policy.