Sunday, January 01, 2017

Benghazi: All's Fair In Politics IYAR


There are dangerous places in the world. There always have been. And there have always been brave people who have accepted those dangers in service to their countries, both as soldiers and as diplomats. Over the decades the US has lost hundreds of countrymen not engaged in direct military action with its enemies. The loss of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others was tragic but not extraordinary. The political fallout, I would assert, was.

The fatal attack on the Benghazi Consulate in Libya was immediately preceded by violent protest across the world, in countries such as Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Sudan, India, Pakistan, and Indonesia. In Egypt the US Embassy walls were breached by protesters, and the US flag was replaced by a black Islamist flag. The subject of these protests was a video called "The Innocence of Muslims" released on the Internet that Muslims considered to be an insult to the Prophet Mohammed. Radical leaders used this video to stir up Muslims to commit acts of violence against the US in these several countries. In this context, the initial idea that the attack on the Benghazi Consulate was a protest against that same video can be seen as a very realistic explanation.

The tragedy of the loss of life in Benghazi immediately became a political tool. In the heat of the 2012 presidential campaign, any attack against Americans, especially one characterized as an act of terror, could be seen as detrimental the Obama reelection campaign and ammunition for the Romney campaign. And Romney was quick to fire at Obama while the consulate was still smoldering from the attack. As usual, Obama was more deliberate in his initial response in which he referred to "an act of terror" without explicitly saying that the attack on Benghazi was one. By the weekend, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, given the assignment to represent the administration on the Sunday talk shows, performed the "full Ginsberg" by appearing on all five of the major networks and proclaiming that the attack was the result of a protest against a video clip viewed as insulting Islam. Republicans immediately said that the protest characterization was an obfuscation of the "fact" that the Obama administration was failing in its fight against radical Islam. Politically, the most immediate victim of the attack was Rice, who was blamed for the obfuscation (lying), and who was subsequently denied the planned succession to Secretary of State upon Hillary Clinton's departure. But that was ONLY the beginning.

The Talking Points

The administration and the State Department recognized immediately that the attack on the consulate was an act of terror, probably planned. They began putting together talking points for the president and for the State Department when the attack was discussed with the media. The talking points went through a number of iterations, but the most important edit was the CIA's assertion that the attack emanated from a "spontaneous" protest over the insulting video. Thus, the Rice talking points were a reflection of the CIA's early assessment of the situation. To some degree this interpretation of the tragedy took the onus off of the campaigning Obama; however that was not acceptable to the GOP. As the days went by it became clear that the attack was much more than a spontaneous protest; it was a deliberate, planned attack by organized radicals. Ergo, what the administration had said initially was a lie deliberately manufactured to save the Obama campaign, according to administration opponents. Rice, who did no more than deliver the CIA talking points, was black balled by the Senate GOP.

After multiple Congressional investigations as well as investigations by the State Department and a number of news organizations, it is now known that the attack on Benghazi was a planned attack by Islamic radicals, BUT that the leaders admittedly used the insulting video to enrage and recruit the attackers. Thus, the Rice/CIA talking points were not lies and were consistent with what was known at the time and within the context of world-wide protest over "The Innocence of Muslims".

Hillary's Email to Chelsea

Clinton enemies believed that the focus on the video was a misdirection by her and Obama to relieve them of blame for the Benghazi attack. When Clinton met with the families of the Benghazi victims, two of the family members claimed that she explicitly blamed the death of their loved ones on the video. The GOP believed it was a lie, and they used this claim to stir up outrage against Clinton, even bringing the grieving mother of one of the dead before the Republican National Convention four years later. The investigation into Clinton's emails (more later) brought to light the fact that on the night of the attack Hillary emailed her daughter and also informed a foreign state diplomat that the Benghazi Consulate had been attacked by terrorists. This revelation provided, the GOP believed, the "smoking gun" that Clinton knew all along blaming the video was a lie.

However, to accept this finding as a "smoking gun" one must believe that on the night of the Benghazi attack Hillary Clinton had available intelligence that was immediate, complete, and unambiguous. That this would be the case is laughable. It is very reasonable that her initial reaction would be mitigated by the conclusions of the CIA days later. What Clinton said to the survivors is debated and likely to be clouded by the circumstances, but even if the video were mentioned, it would not have been a lie.

Hillary Left Four Americans To Die

This claim is so absurd it make eyes roll. The State Department is not a military organization and does not have direct control over any military forces. There is simply no context within which it could be said that Hillary could have done anything to save the lives of the Benghazi victims. There is no way in which Clinton could have directed a military counter attack or a rescue operation, and therefore, no circumstance in which she would have or could have issued a "stand down" order of any kind.

Any capability to assist in rescuing the Americans lay with the Defense Department (the military) and the CIA which had personnel only a mile away. The President met with the head of the CIA and the Chairman of the JCOS in the Oval Office at the time of the attack. All have reported that the President instructed both to do what ever was necessary to assist the Americans. There is no evidence or reason to believe that there was a stand down order given by Clinton, Obama, or the top officials of the military or the CIA. Whatever order that may be characterized as a stand down order originated in Libya with local command and was tactical in nature due to the lack of knowledge about opposition forces.

There continues to be dispute over whether and when Chris Stevens requested additional security for himself in Libya. It is the State Department's position that any such request would have been handled at levels below the Secretary. It is also believed that Stevens did not want security beyond his immediate personal guards and the locals who were hired for protection in order to maintain a low profile within Benghazi.

Hundreds of Americans were lost during the Reagan administration at the bombing in Beirut, and many more diplomats have died in service to America over the years. Congressional investigations = 0. But all's fair in politics if you are Republican (IYAR).


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