Captain Phillips Goes to Libya
A major American movie this year was Captain Phillips. It told the story of a brave ship captain (played by American Hero Tom Hanks) and the brave Navy SEALS who recaptured his ship off the coast of Somalia after it was hijacked by pirates who boarded it in international waters.
For more than a week, an oil tanker from somewhere floated in the Mediterranean. The tanker at one point flew a North Korean flag, but even the North Koreans have disavowed any connection. The Libyan government announced they were going to bomb the tanker “into scrap” but somehow that did not happen and the ship put to sea.
On March 17, U.S. Navy SEALS boarded the ship in international waters and seized it. Supposedly no shots were fired, and American Sailors took control of the ship and are sailing it back to Libya. No word on what happened to the “pirates” aboard. The “pirates” were “Libyan rebels” who were seeking “the black market.”
The funny part is that the pirates/rebels, under their militia leader Ibrahim Jadran, had been recruited by the Libyan government to guard crucial oil ports. But eight months ago, they instead seized them, blocked some oil exports, and demanded shared revenues for their eastern region where most of the oil originates. Jadran, for his part, says the Libyan government is corrupt and unfit to rule.
So Why the U.S.?
Why did the U.S. do this? Grab a ship full of oil in international waters?
The oil belongs “to the Libyan National Oil Company and its joint venture partners,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki explained. Those partners included some U.S. companies, which one guesses is the connection to the United States here. Supposedly the Libyan and for some reason the Cypriote governments requested the U.S. to do all this out in international waters.
Psaki also said “Any oil sales without authorization from these parties places purchasers at risk of exposure to civil liability, penalties and other possible sanctions.” This would presumably involve someone suing the pirates for something. The imagine of lawyers parachuting in with the SEAL team is amusing.
Also, per the New York Times, “the American intervention is a salvation to the fragile transitional government in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, which would have faced the loss of its main source of revenue and its sole source of political power if renegade militias succeeded in selling Libya’s oil.”
Libya has seen its oil exports shrink to just 12.5 percent of its output since U.S. led bombing campaign that led to the death of longtime leader Qaddafi. Oops.
So, as a status check, here we are in late Winter 2014: shilling for American oil companies with the SEALS while trying to prop up a crappy U.S. puppet government in a country the U.S. helped turn from stability to chaos. Now, this is payback, or more like rent due: after making the same promises for Iraq and seeing those fall through, the USG is now showing it is indeed a government of its word.
P.S. Denizens of the internet: I get it that the Somali’s boarded Captain Phillips’ ship to steal it, and the SEALS boarded the Libyan tanker to steal it back. The point here is to examine the use of military power for the sleaziest of purposes while trying to bathe it all in the perfume of truth, righteousness and the American Way.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
“You just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests,” John Kerry said on Meet the Press. “This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really 19th century behavior in the 21st century.”
Following Kerry’s comment, laughter could be heard from Iraq (twice), Afghanistan, Libya, many undisclosed parts of Africa, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria and across the Middle East. Faint chortles echoed out of Grenada, Bosnia, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Snickers in Panama, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and El Salvador.
The Triumph of Syria
Kerry of course had previously brought the joy of laughter to the world in the midst of the last Syrian “crisis.” Kerry clumsily tried to soften resistance to the Obama administration’s urge to launch strikes against al-Assad’s regime with the bizarre claim that such an attack would be “unbelievably small.”
But like any good comedian, Kerry saved the big joke for last, when, in London enflight to the new, bestest war ever, Kerry famously and offhandedly said conflict could be avoided if the Syrians turned in their chemical weapons. In practically the same heartbeat, the Russians stepped into the diplomatic breach, with Vladimir Putin as an unlikely peacemaker. The U.S. did not attack Syria and the show ended with a good belly laugh for all.
Onward to the Ukraine
With Kerry once again taking the show on the road by flying to the Ukraine, all of cable TV has arisen as one demanding options, demanding cards to be played, demanding a catalog of “what the U.S. can do.” As a public service, here is that catalog of U.S. options for the Crimean Crisis:
–Seal Team 6 will infiltrate Russia, ring Putin’s doorbell late at night and run away in Operation DING&DITCH. Ashton Kutcher will lead the Team.
– A senior U.S. Embassy official in Moscow will cluck his tongue and roll his eyes disapprovingly.
– State Department social media rangers will send out Tweets calling Putin a “poopy head.” The Russian translation by State will actually come across as “A green dog’s sandwich” but sure, they’ll get we’re mad.
– The NSA will hack Putin’s web cam sessions, showing him shirtless. Putin himself will turn around and post the video online.
– The NSA will also break into Putin’s NetFlix queue and change everything to romantic comedies and Jack Black movies.
– The U.S. will recruit remaining allies Lichtenstein, Monaco, East Timor and Freedonia to enforce sanctions against Russia.
– The State Department will direct Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Victoria Nuland to say “F*ck the E.U.,” in a recorded conversation with the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.
– Obama will unfriend Putin on Facebook.
Flashman at the Charge
As is obvious, there is little the U.S. can, should or will do. The more the U.S. swaggers hollowly about the Crimea, the sadder it all sounds.
John Kerry, in what he thought was a stinging remark, labeled Russia’s invasion of the Crimean “19th century behavior in the 21st century.” As usual, Kerry was close to being right without actually realizing what he said.
The 19th century player in this Great Gameis actually the U.S. itself. After following the footsteps of the British Empire into Iraq, after plunging deep into the graveyard of the British Empire in Afghanistan, after fumbling in the British swamp of Pakistan, the U.S. now returns to the land of the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Crimea. Like the Victorian British, the U.S. imagines the world as a chessboard where it can move pieces around with predictable results, shaping world affairs to its own advantage while placing opponents in check. If that was ever true, the events of the last decade demonstrate it is not true anymore.
As with everyone else who failed to learn the lessons of history and thus will be doomed to repeat them, inevitably next, the U.S. will slip beneath the waves as did the British Empire, over-extended, bankrupt and endlessly tied to foreign policy adventures that mean nothing while the world changes around it. It’s been a good run though, right?
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
“Who the hell are you?”
“Why Barack, I’m the Christmas Ghost of Presidential Legacies Past. I visit second-term presidents to help them map out their foreign policy legacy.”
“Dude, Christmas was last week. It’s 2014, the New Year.”
“Yeah, sorry, traffic was bad, and I lost most of a day trying to sign up for healthcare.”
“I’m calling the Secret Service. Get out of my bedroom!”
“No need Mr. President. No one can see me but you. I’m here to talk about the future, about America overseas, so you can achieve your place in history. I am here to help guide you.”
“You do this for all presidents? What happened with Bush, then?”
“That was unfortunate. It turned out Karl Rove had been a hyena in a previous life and could somehow still smell me, so I got chased out. And see how it ended up for Bush? His legacy is fear of overseas travel, wondering how far the Hague’s reach really is.”
“OK Spirit, what do you want from me?”
“Barack, you were elected the first time on the promise of hope and change. You got reelected mostly by not being Mitt Romney. You need to reclaim the original mantel. You need to be bold in foreign affairs and leave America positioned for this new world. You won the election by not being the candidate from the 1950s. Now, you need to establish a foreign policy for an America of 2014 instead of 2001.”
“What do you mean, Spirit?”
“Stop searching for demons. Let’s start with the Middle East. You inherited a mess in Iraq and Afghanistan, certainly, thanks to Rove and his canine sense of smell, but what did you do with it?”
“I ended the war in Iraq.”
“No, you agreed not to push back when the Iraqis threw the troops out in 2010. The war continues there, just without us, fought in little ugly flare-ups among Iranian proxies. But that’s spilled milk. What you need to do is reclaim your State Department from what is now a lost cause.”
“What do you mean?”
“Much like the way Vietnam destroyed the army, Iraq and Afghanistan gravely wounded your State Department. Why does America still maintain its largest embassy in a place like Baghdad? That massive hollow structure sucks money and, more importantly, personnel, from your limited diplomatic establishment. Scale it back to the mid-size level the situation there really requires, and move those personnel resources to places America badly needs diplomacy. As a bonus, you’ll remove a scab. That big embassy is seen throughout the Middle East as a symbol of hubris, a monument to folly. Show them better — repurpose most of it into a new university or an international conference center and signal a new beginning.”
“You mentioned Iranian influence in Iraq, so yeah, thanks, George Bush, for that little gift. I have the Israelis up my back looking for a war, and it seems every day another thing threatens to spark off a fight with the Iranians.”
“Iran can be your finest achievement. Nixon went to China, remember.”
“You know Spirit, you actually look a little like Henry Kissinger in this light.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot. Coincidences, right? Barack, you can start the process of rebalancing the Middle East. Too many genies have slipped out of the bottle to put things back where they were and, like it or not, your predecessor casually, ignorantly allowed Iran to reclaim its place as a regional power. Let’s deal with it. Don’t paint yourself into a corner over the nukes. You know as well as I do that there are many countries who are threshold nuclear powers, able to make the jump anytime from lab rats to bomb holders. You also know that Israel has had the bomb for a long time and, despite that, despite the Arab hatred of Israel and despite the never-ending aggressive stance of Israel, their nukes have not created a Middle East arms race. Yet. Keep talking to the Iranians. Follow the China model (they had nukes, too) and set up the diplomatic machinery, create some fluid back channels, maybe try a cultural exchange or two. They don’t play ping-pong over there, but they are damn good at chess. Feel your way forward. Bring the Brits and the Canadians along with you. Give the good guys in Tehran something to work with, something to go to their bosses with.”
“But they’ll keep heading toward nuclear weapons.”
“That may be true. America’s regular chest-thumping in the Middle East has created an unstoppable desire for Iran to arm itself. They watched very, very closely how the North Koreans insulated themselves with a nuke. The world let that happen and guess what? Even George W. stopped talking about North Korea and the stupid Axis of Evil. And guess what again? No war, and no nuclear arms race in Asia. Gaddafi went the opposite route, and look what happened to him, sodomized while your then-Secretary of State laughed about it on TV.”
“But what about sanctions?”
“Real change in Iran, like anywhere, is going to have to come from within. Think China again. With prosperity comes a desire by the newly-rich to enjoy their money. They start to demand better education, more opportunities and a future for their kids. A repressive government with half a brain yields to those demands for its own survival and before you know it, you’ve got iPads and McDonalds happening. Are you going to go to war with China? Of course not. We’re trading partners, and we have shared interests in regional stability in Asia that benefit us both despite the occasional saber-rattling around elections. Sure, there will always be friction, but it has been and can be managed. We did it, with some rough spots, in the Mediterranean with the Soviets and we can do it in the Gulf, what President Kennedy called during the Cold War the “precarious rules of the status quo.” I don’t think this will result in a triumphant state visit to Tehran, but get the game started. Defuse the situation, offer to bring Iran into the world system, and see if they don’t follow.”
“I can’t let them go nuclear.”
“Well, I don’t know if you can stop it without exploding the entire region, and focusing just on that binary black and white blocks off too many other, better options. Look, they and a whole bunch of other places can weaponize faster than you can stop them. What you need to do is work at their need to weaponize, pick away at the software if you will, the reasons they feel they need to have nukes, instead of just trying to muck up the hardware. Use all the tools in the toolbox, Barack.”
“But they’re Islamos.”
“Whatever you want to call it. Islam is a powerful force in the Middle East and it is not going away. Your attempts, and those of your predecessor, to try and create ‘good’ governments failed. Look at the hash in Syria, Libya and, of course, Iraq. You need to find a real-politick with Islamic governments. Look past the rhetoric and ideology and start talking. Otherwise you’ll end up just like the U.S. did all over Latin America, throwing in with thugs simply because they mouthed pro-American platitudes. Not a legacy move, Barry. It will feel odd at first, but the new world order has created a state for states that are not a puppets of the U.S., and not always an ally, but typically someone we can deal with, work with, maybe even influence occasionally. That’s diplomacy, and therein lies your chance at legacy. Demilitarize your foreign policy. Redeploy your diplomats from being political hostages in Baghdad and Kabul and put them to work all over the Middle East.”
“Sure Spirit, nothing to it. Anything else you want me to do before breakfast?”
“Hey, you asked for the job — twice — not me.”
“Spirit, sorry to go off topic, but is that an 8-track tape player you’re carrying around?”
“Hah, good eye Barack. KC and the Sunshine Band, Greatest Hits. Things work oddly in the spirit world and one of the quirks is that unloved electronics from Christmas’ past migrate to us. Here, look at my cell phone, big as a shoebox, with a retractable antenna. I still play games on an old Atari. We got Zunes and Blackberries piled up like snow drifts over there. But back to business.”
“What else, Spirit?”
“As a ghost, I’m used to taking the long view of things. I know better than most that memory lasts longer than aspiration, that history influences the future. You have it now in your power to finally amend an ugly sore, America’s dark legacy of the war of terror. Guantanamo. You realize that every day that place stays open it helps radicalize dozens of young men for every one you hold in prison. Demand your intel agencies give you a straight-up accounting on who is locked away there. For the very few that probably really are as horrible as we’d like to believe, designate them something or the other and lock them away in an existing Federal Super Max. Just do it, override Congress and take the heat. Heck, you’re not very popular even among your former supporters anymore, so why not go for a win for the base. Turn the others in Gitmo over to the UN or the Red Cross for resettlement. It is an ugly deal, but it is an ugly problem. Close the place down early in 2014 over the first three-day weekend to defuse the media, let the short-term heat burn off and move on.”
“Same thing. Cut your losses. Afghanistan will be on a slow burn for, well, probably forever no matter how many occupiers you can leave in place. Among other reasons, Pakistan needs it to stay that way. They like a weak but not failed state on their western border and you can manage that. The special ops guys you secretly leave behind can deal with any serious messes. Corruption and internal disagreements mean there will never be a real Afghan nation-state, no matter how badly you want one. The soldier suicides, helicopter accidents and green-on-blue attacks are a horror, and so unnecessary at this late stage of the great game. You are going to accomplish nothing by dragging that corpse of a war around with you for two more years, so cut it off now.”
“Next is drones, right?”
“Yes Barack, next is drones. This is fool’s gold and you bought into it big. You thought it was risk-free, no American lives in danger, always the 500 pound elephant in the room when considering military action. But, to borrow a phrase, look at the collateral damage. First, you have had to further militarize Africa, setting up your main drone base in Djibouti. Like Gitmo, every thug you kill creates more, radicalizes more, gives the bad guys another propaganda lede. Seriously, haven’t you noticed that the more you kill, the more there seem to be to kill? You need more friends for America and fewer people saying they are victims of America. Make your intel people truly pick out the real, real bad guys, the ones who absolutely threaten American lives. Be comfortable in publicly being able to articulate every decision. Don’t be lazy with bringing death. Don’t continue to slide downhill into killing easier and easier just because you have a new technology that falsely seems without risk. Drones are a tool, not a strategy. Seek a realistic form of containment, and stop chasing complete destruction. You need an end game. The risk is there my friend, you just have to pull back and see it in the bigger picture.”
“Bigger picture, eh? That’s what this legacy business is all about, isn’t it? Seeing Iranian nukes not as the problem per se, but as part of a solution set that doesn’t just leave a glowing hole in the ground, but instead fills in things, builds a base for more building.”
“You’re getting it now. And even as domestic politics suffers in gridlock, you have room to do things in foreign policy that will mark history for you. As a second term president, you are freed from a lot of political restraints, just like you told Medvedev you would be.”
“Open mikes, who knew, right? But what about my successor? The party wants me to leave things ready for 2016.”
“Don’t worry about that. I’ve got Springsteen working on new songs for the campaign. Hey, you know anything that rhymes well with ‘Hillary’? Right now we’ve only got ‘pillory’ and ‘distillery.’ Bruce is stuck on that.”
“But look, Spirit, I appreciate the advice and all, but to be honest, all this you propose is a lot of work. It’s complicated, needs to be managed, has a lot of potential for political friction. I could, you know, just stick with things the way they are. Ordering the military to do things is easy, we’ve got an online form for it now where I just select countries to attack from a drop-down list. People seem to have gotten used to a permanent state of low-level warfare everywhere, drone killings, the occasional boil flaring up like Benghazi. It wasn’t a serious election issue at all. Why should I bother?”
“Well, among other things Barack, you’ve got two very sweet, wonderful reasons sleeping just down the hallway. It is all about their future, maybe even more than yours.”
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, foreigners would point at awkward people in brightly colored shorts, and socks with sandals, and know they were American tourists visiting their country. Goofy, then-rich and usually benign, they were the face of America abroad.
These days, if a foreigner encounters an American, he is mostly likely a special forces guy.
A Quick Recap on Libya
Today’s case in point, Libya. But first a quick recap. In August 2011 (just a little more than two years ago), then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the country:
The events in Libya this week have heartened the world. The situation remains fluid, but it is clear that the Qadhafi era is coming to an end, opening the way for a new era in Libya—one of liberty, justice, and peace. We join the Libyan people in celebrating the courageous individuals who have stood up to a tyrant and defended their homes and communities against Qadhafi’s violence. The United States and the international community have stood by the Libyan people during many difficult days in the last six months. Together, we prevented a massacre, and we supported the people’s efforts to gain their freedom.
In October 2011, Clinton herself traveled to Libya, bringing along $46 million in U.S. aid, after freeing up over $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets. Hopefully some opposition researcher is collecting these choice moments ahead of the 2016 elections.
Good times, yes, good times.
Two Years Later…
So here we are, two years later and the news out of Libya is about other Americans visiting. A few days ago, a convoy of Americans “from the embassy” raced through a checkpoint in Libya. One car had no license plates. Another shot past guards and caused an accident, after which the vehicle “suddenly caught fire which authorities could not explain,” said al-Taher al-Gharbali, an army colonel in the local military council. Eventually four armed Americans with U.S. embassy ID cards were arrested by some form of the Libyan authorities (i.e., a couple of guys with AK-74 on loose slings.)
After a lot of initial silence, the Department of Defense confirmed that the travelers were U.S. military personnel. While their unit identification was not made public, one can probably surmise they were not clerk typists on shore leave. DOD said they were scouting evacuation routes for embassy personnel. The embassy said they were part of security preparedness. A State Department spokesperson said “the United States valued its relationship with ‘the new Libya’”.
Elsewhere, we have learned that the four Americans wounded in South Sudan as part of the humanitarian evacuation process were Navy SEALS.
And who can forget American Citizen Raymond Davis, who, while touring Pakistan, killed a couple of local guys. Davis wasn’t Special Forces; he worked for the CIA, perhaps as their actual employee, perhaps as a mercenary for the private security contractor Xe, formerly known as Blackwater.
While it is kinda hard to find a list of all the places U.S. Special Forces are currently deployed abroad, it is comforting to know that the U.S. military as a whole has armed personnel in more than 150 nations worldwide. The U.S. Special Operations Command has over 67,000 acknowledged personnel and a known budget of $7.483 billion for Operations and Maintenance; $373 million for Research, Development, Test, & Evaluation; $1.6 billion for Procurement; and $441 million for Military Construction funding.
BONUS: An excellent list of U.S. military interventions abroad, 1890-2011.
The terrorism threat against the United States is increasing and Americans are not as safe as they were a year or two ago, the leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Rogers, said.
Feinstein: “There are more terrorist groups than ever, with more sophisticated and hard-to-detect bombs. There is huge malevolence out there.”
Rogers: “The job is getting more difficult because al-Qaeda is changing, with more affiliates around the world — groups that once operated independently but have now joined with al-Qaeda.”
Now, to be clear, both Feinstein and Rogers were attempting to make the case that the U.S. needs more NSA spying to combat these threats. Rogers was blunt: “We’re fighting amongst ourselves here in this country about the role of our intelligence community… And so we’ve got to shake ourselves out of this pretty soon and understand that our intelligence services are not the bad guys.”
Despite the lawmakers’ intention, the truth is more obvious. 9/11 happened twelve years ago. In between that day and this today, we have seen the dismantling of our Constitution via the Patriot Act and its secret interpretations by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, the turning of companies like Google into tools of the national security state, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, torture, rendition, secret prisons, global drone and special ops wars, indefinite imprisonment at Guantanamo, military intervention in Libya, bin Laden and a endless string of al Qaeda “leaders” killed, the failure to support the Arab Spring, creation of a stasis of grinding death in Syria and the rest of the horrors and abominations committed by these United States. Add in the incalculable deaths and costs, the domestic army of disabled veterans, the gutting of our economy and the entrenchment of the military-industrial monster, the elevation of security theatre at our airports, the irradiation of the mail, militarization of our police and the thousand daily cuts of a metastasized bureaucracy, all in the name of “fighting terror.”
And none of that is enough.
In fact, as stated by Feinstein and Rogers, somehow despite all that, things are actually worse. Al Qaeda, once a regional player, now is a global franchise. The fuel of terrorism– hatred, fear and opposition to the U.S. and its policies abroad– creates more terrorists. Indeed, as the two intelligence committee chairs are clear in pointing out, we are less safe now than then.
We are a stupid, violent people. America is indeed an exceptional nation, exceptional in that it exists in a bubble, emerging only to lash out at others. Inside the bubble, rational thought and reasoned discussion have ceased, the air sucked out of them. Any attempt at such actions is met either by deflection (“oh, let’s not talk politics here at the office/party/election debates”) or polemics. Finger pointing– it’s the Republicans! No, it’s the Democrats at fault! is both a convenient way to tamp down debate and to create the appearance of debate while having none. We have simply stopped thinking.
Having stopped thinking, we fall into the comfort zone of repeating things like a mentally disabled child happy to spend hours walking in circles. Not quite for comfort, not quite for safety, just simply because it is what we were doing and so we keep doing it. We convince ourselves that the answer to failed policy is to keep repeating that policy. We ignore the empirical evidence of our failure– there it is people, the things done to make us safer have not made us safer– to twist logic into meaning we must keep doing what has already failed.
Does that make sense? If it does, forget about a career in Washington.
I recently joined a panel discussion at the Library of Congress on the topic “Freedom, Security, and America’s Role in the World.” In light of the ongoing clusterfutz in Syria, the sub-theme for the evening was really a debate on whether or not America should keep intervening abroad and if so, when and how.
Panelists tried to present both sides, but as you’ll see in the video, I was a bit disappointed with the quality of the argument. I was really looking forward to getting into it, but the pro-intervention arguments were just weak cliches (maybe they don’t have anything else?) with a criminal disregard for facts and history.
The Lady in Red (from Fox; her website features her standing next to a Kissinger who looks like the Cryptkeeper) for example claimed Saint Reagan never intervened abroad, leaving out Central America, our hissy fit in Grenada, Lebanon and the gift that keeps on giving, arming bin Laden and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The other “pro” kept setting up weak strawman arguments (“If we disbanded our military…”) His capper statement after I pointed out the selectivity of our intervening (Syria dead kids bad, North Korean dead kids no matter) was “Just because we don’t intervene everywhere is no reason not to intervene somewhere” might be better turned around as “Just because we can intervene somewhere doesn’t mean we should.”
The economist to my left in the video wicked schooling the interventionists over and over is Chris Coyne. He is one of the smartest people I know at explaining, coolly and rationally (unlike my approach), why scattered intervention is so wrong. I reviewed his book Doing Bad by Doing Good: Why Humanitarian Action Fails.
Here’s the video. The thing begins with a commercial, then twenty some minutes of Rand Paul announcing War Bad, Debate Good. Mom and Dad: My parts starts at about 27 minutes in, and yes, I know my tie went askew.)
BONUS: Some have made a thing about the fact that the discussion was sponsored by the Koch brothers, and that I should not have “lent my name” to their event. I welcome the chance to speak out, and especially welcome the chance to talk to over 300 people perhaps not predisposed to agree with me. Changing minds is my goal. To do that I have to talk with people from a variety of points of view. This is very different from having any organization put their name on a publication that is mine or paying me to write something; it is more akin to having some organization distribute my work, like a bookstore does. I guess everyone has their price for selling out, but mine’s high enough that even the Koch brothers don’t have the cash. I was not paid for my participation.
My politics are not left or right anymore, but concerned about up and down. But enough theory; watch the video and you can judge for yourself.
Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com
Once again, we find ourselves at the day after 9/11, and this time America stands alone. Alone not only in our abandonment even by our closest ally, Great Britain, but in facing a crossroads no less significant than the one we woke up to on September 12, 2001. The past 12 years have not been good ones. Our leaders consistently let the missiles and bombs fly, resorting to military force and legal abominations in what passed for a foreign policy, and then acted surprised as they looked up at the sky from an ever-deeper hole.
At every significant moment in those years, our presidents opted for more, not less, violence, and our Congress agreed — or simply sat on its hands — as ever more moral isolation took the place of ever less diplomacy. Now, those same questions loom over Syria. Facing a likely defeat in Congress, Obama appears to be grasping — without any sense of irony — at the straw Russian President Vladimir Putin (backed by China and Iran) has held out in the wake of Secretary of State John Kerry’s off-the-cuff proposal that put the White House into a corner. After claiming days ago that the U.N. was not an option, the White House now seems to be throwing its problem to that body to resolve. Gone, literally in the course of an afternoon, were the administration demands for immediate action, the shots across the Syrian bow, and all that. Congress, especially on the Democratic side of the aisle, seems to be breathing a collective sigh of relief that it may not be forced to take a stand. The Senate has put off voting; perhaps a vote in the House will be delayed indefinitely, or maybe this will all blow over somehow and Congress can return to its usual partisan differences over health care and debt ceilings.
And yet a non-vote by Congress would be as wrong as the yes vote that seems no longer in the cards. What happens, in fact, if Congress doesn’t say no?
A History Lesson
The “Global War on Terror” was upon us in an instant. Acting out of a sense that 9/11 threw open the doors to every neocon fantasy of a future Middle Eastern and global Pax Americana, the White House quickly sought an arena to lash out in. Congress, acting out of fear and anger, gave the executive what was essentially a blank check to do anything it cared to do. Though the perpetrators of 9/11 were mostly Saudis, as was Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda itself sought refuge in largely Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. So be it. The first shots of the War on Terror were fired there.
George W. Bush’s top officials, sure that this was their moment of opportunity, quickly slid destroying al-Qaeda as an organization into a secondary slot, invaded Afghanistan, and turned the campaign into a crusade to replace the Taliban and control the Greater Middle East. Largely through passivity, Congress said yes as, even in its earliest stages, the imperial nature of America’s global strategy revealed itself plain as day. The escape of Osama bin-Laden and much of al-Qaeda into Pakistan became little more than an afterthought as Washington set up what was essentially a puppet government in post-Taliban Afghanistan, occupied the country, and began to build permanent military bases there as staging grounds for more of the same.
Some two years later, a series of administration fantasies and lies that, in retrospect, seem at best tragicomic ushered the United States into an invasion and occupation of Iraq. Its autocratic leader and our former staunch ally in the region, Saddam Hussein, ruled a country that would have been geopolitically meaningless had it not sat on what Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz called “a sea of oil” — and next to that future target of neocon dreams of conquest, Iran. Once again, Congress set off on a frenzied rush to yes, and a second war commenced out of the ashes of 9/11.
With the mighty American military now on their eastern and western borders and evidently not planning on leaving any time soon, Iranian officials desperately sought out American diplomats looking for some kind of rapprochement. They offered to assist in Afghanistan and, it was believed, to ensure that any American pilots shot down by accident over Iranian territory would be repatriated quickly. Channels to do so were reportedly established by the State Department and it was rumored that broader talks had begun. However, expecting a triumph in Iraq and feeling that the Iranians wouldn’t stand a chance against the “greatest force for liberation the world has ever known” (aka the U.S. military), a deeply overconfident White House snubbed them, dismissing them as part of the “Axis of Evil.” Congress, well briefed on the administration’s futuristic fantasies of domination, sat by quietly, offering another passive yes.
Congress also turned a blind eye to the setting up of a global network of “black sites” for the incarceration, abuse, and torture of “terror suspects,” listened to torture briefings, read about CIA rendition (i.e., kidnapping) operations, continued to fund Guantanamo, and did not challenge the devolving wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. Its members sat quietly by while a new weapon, armed drones, at the personal command of the president alone, crisscrossed the world assassinating people, including American citizens, within previously sovereign national boundaries. As a new president came into office and expanded the war in Afghanistan, ramped up the drone attacks, made war against Libya, did nothing to aid the Arab Spring, and allowed Guantanamo to fester, Congress said yes. Or, at least, not no, never no.
The World Today
Twelve years later, the dreams of global domination are in ruins and the world America changed for the worse is a very rough place. This country has remarkably few friends and only a handful of largely silent semi-allies. Even the once gung-ho president of France has been backing off his pledges of military cooperation in Syria in the face of growing popular opposition and is now calling for U.N. action. No longer does anyone cite the United States as a moral beacon in the world. If you want a measure of this, consider that Vladimir Putin seemed to win the Syria debate at the recent G20 summit as easily as he now has captured the moral high ground on Syria by calling for peace and a deal on Assad’s chemical weapons.
The most likely American a majority of global citizens will encounter is a soldier. Large swaths of the planet are now off-limits to American tourists and businesspeople, far too dangerous for all but the most foolhardy to venture into. The State Department even warns tourists to Western Europe that they might fall victim to al-Qaeda. In the coming years, few Americans will see the pyramids or the ruins of ancient Babylon in person, nor will they sunbathe, among other places, on the pristine beaches of the southern Philippines. Forget about large portions of Africa or most of the rest of the Middle East. Americans now fall victim to pirates on the high seas, as if it were the nineteenth century all over again.
After 12 disastrous years in the Greater Middle East, during which the missiles flew, the bombs dropped, doors were repeatedly kicked in, and IEDs went off, our lives, even at home, have changed. Terrorism, real and imagined, has turned our airports into giant human traffic jams and sites of humiliation, with lines that resemble a Stasi version of Disney World. Our freedoms, not to speak of the Fourth Amendment right to privacy, have been systematically stripped away in the name of American “safety,” “security,” and fear. Congress said yes to all of that, too, even naming the crucial initial piece of legislation that began the process the PATRIOT Act without the slightest sense of irony.
When I spoke with Special Forces personnel in Iraq, I was told that nearly every “bad guy” they killed or captured carried images of American torture and abuse from Abu Ghraib on his cellphone — as inspiration. As the victims of America’s violence grew, so did the armies of kin, those inheritors of “collateral damage,” seeking revenge. The acts of the past 12 years have even, in a few cases, inspired American citizens to commit acts of homegrown terrorism.
Until this week, Washington had abandoned the far-from-perfect-but-better-than-the-alternatives United Nations. Missiles and bombs have sufficed for our “credibility,” or so Washington continues to believe. While pursuing the most aggressive stance abroad in its history, intervening everywhere from Libya and Yemen to the Philippines, seeking out monsters to destroy and, when not enough could be found, creating them, the United States has become ever more isolated globally.
The horror show of the last 12 years wasn’t happenstance. Each instance of war was a choice by Washington, not thrust upon us by a series of Pearl Harbors. Our Congress always said yes (or least avoided ever saying no). Many who should have known better went on to join the yes men. In regard to Iran and George W. Bush, then-candidate for president Senator Joe Biden, for instance, said in 2007, “I was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee for 17 years. I teach separation of powers in constitutional law. This is something I know. So I brought a group of constitutional scholars together to write a piece that I’m going to deliver to the whole United States Senate pointing out that the president has no constitutional authority to take this country to war against a country of 70 million people unless we’re attacked or unless there is proof that we are about to be attacked. And if he does, I would move to impeach him. The House obviously has to do that, but I would lead an effort to impeach him.”
Only a year ago, Biden criticized Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for being too anxious to go to war with Syria. That country, Biden said, “is five times as large geographically [as Libya], it has one-fifth the population… It’s in a part of the world where they’re not going to see whatever would come from that war. It’ll seep into a regional war… If in fact it blows up and the wrong people gain control, it’s going to have impact on the entire region causing potentially regional wars.”
Biden has been missing from the public eye this week. His last public statement on Syria was in late August. Monday, while Susan Rice begged for war and Obama taped multiple TV interviews, the vice president was in Baltimore handing out federal grant money to improve the port. Silence in the face of a car wreck isn’t golden, it’s deadly. Good God, man, hit the brakes before we kill someone!
What If Congress Says Yes?
Some in Congress now are talking about a new resolution that would pre-authorize the administration to launch “fallback airstrikes” — that is, its desired attack on Syria — after some sort of deadline passed for U.N. action, Syrian action, or perhaps just another mythical red line was crossed. Should Congress say yes yet again to such a scheme or anything like it, nothing will change for the better, and much is likely to change for the worse.
An attack on Syria will demand a response; war works that way, no matter how “surgical” the strikes may be. Other countries, and even terrorists, also tend to imagine that, in such situations, their “credibility” is at stake. Fearing reprisals, the U.S. has already preemptively withdrawn its diplomats from a consulate in Turkey near the Syrian border, and from Lebanon. Security has increased in Iraq, with the already fortress-like U.S. embassy there bracing for attacks, allegedly already being planned by Iranian-sponsored sappers.
Be assured of one thing: bombs and missiles falling in Syria will cause “collateral damage,” newspeak for images splashed across the globe of Muslim women and children killed by American weaponry. History has ensured that borders in the Middle East are arbitrary and easily enough ignored. As the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq sparked a metastasizing regional Sunni-Shia civil war, so a new intervention in the latest version of that war will lead to further, possibly devastating, and certainly divisive consequences in Lebanon, Iraq, and elsewhere. Think of this as a grim domino theory for the new century.
Should a desperate Assad regime in Syria, or an Iranian proxy from Lebanon, retaliate against Israel, the U.S. could wake up to find itself in the middle of a far larger war. Who knows then what a Russia already moving naval forces into the Mediterranean and with a naval base in Syria itself might do, perhaps citing the need to maintain Putin’s “credibility”?
Even the most optimistic pundits do not believe a single set of strikes over a limited number of days will have much strategic effect. And what if, after giving up some or all of his chemical weapons, Assad just makes or buys more? The famous comment of General David Petraeus during the invasion of Iraq — “Tell me how this ends” — would need answering again. We didn’t like the answer the last time and we won’t like it this time.
Of course, something like half of the anti-Assad rebels fight for Islamic fundamentalist outfits. If, however unmeant, the U.S. essentially becomes the air force over Syria for al-Qaeda-branded and other jihadist outfits, unleashing them to take further territory, that would undoubtedly create even more unsettled and unsettling conditions across the region. A rebel victory, aided by U.S. strikes, would certainly give al-Qaeda the sort of sovereign sanctuary the U.S. has been fighting to eliminate globally since the Clinton administration. No serious scenario has been offered in which the civil war in Syria would begin to abate thanks to U.S. bombs and missiles.
With or without an attack, some things will remain constant. Israel destroyed Syria’s nascent attempts to build nuclear weapons and would do so again if needed. Iran has played a clever game in the regional proxy wars in Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere — they won in Iraq — and will continue to do so. Since the 1970s, Syria has had stocks of chemical weapons that the Assad regime manufactured itself and has never used them against the United States or any other country, nor have they in 40 years transferred those weapons to any terrorists. There is no reason to believe that will change now, not even as a way to strike back should the U.S. attack first (though the fate of those weapons, should Assad fall under U.S. attacks, no one can possibly know.)
With a U.S. president willing, for the first time in decades, to hand over some part of his decision-making powers to Congress (though he dubiously maintains that it would still be constitutional for him to launch strikes against Syria on his own), the Senate and House of Representatives have a chance to courageously re-insert themselves in war policy. Alternatively, they can once again assure themselves of a comfortable irrelevance. On one thing Obama is certainly right: the world is indeed watching the unfolding spectacle.
What If Congress Says No?
If Congress says no to an attack on Syria, the U.S. may for the first time in 12 years have the chance to change the world for the better. Though this is not an overly dramatic statement, it’s also true, as every diplomat knows, that it’s easier to break things than fix them.
The world would at least have seen Washington step back after its citizenry told their government that enough is enough. The world would see an America which, in a modest but significant way, was beginning to genuinely absorb the real lessons to be drawn from our post-9/11 actions: that endless war only fuels more war, that living in a world where foreigners are seen mainly as targets brings no peace, that lashing out everywhere means no safety anywhere.
In the wake of a non-attack on Syria, parts of the world might be more open to the possibility that the United States could help open new paths, beginning with a tacit acknowledgement that we were wrong. Nothing can erase the deeds of the past years or those long memories common not just in the Middle East, but to humanity more generally. Certainly, what we did is likely to haunt us for generations. But when in a deep hole, the first step is to stop digging. Via Congress, the U.S. can take a small first step toward becoming an “indispensable nation” in more than our own minds.
If Congress says no on Syria, it will, just as the president warns, also be sending a message to Iran — not, however, that the United States lacks the resolve to fight. It seems unlikely, given the past 12 years, that anyone doubts this country’s willingness to use force. A clear no from Congress would, in fact, send a message of hope to Iran.
It was only in June that Obama claimed Iran’s election of a moderate as president showed that Iranians want to move in a different direction. “As long as there’s an understanding about the basis of the conversation, then I think there’s no reason why we shouldn’t proceed,” Obama said. “The Iranian people rebuffed the hardliners and the clerics in the election who were counseling no compromise on anything anytime anywhere. Clearly you have a hunger within Iran to engage with the international community in a more positive way.”
Diplomacy is often a series of little gateway-like tests that, when passed, lead two parties forward. A no on Syria would be such a step, allowing Iran and the United States a possible path toward negotiations that could someday change the face of the Middle East. Only three months ago, Obama himself endorsed such a plan. If Congress says no, it won’t destroy credibility with the Iranians; it’s likely, in fact, to enhance it. This decision by Congress could empower both parties to proceed to the negotiating table in a more hopeful way. A yes from Congress, on the other hand, could sideline Iranian moderates and slam the door shut on discussions for a long time.
It is clear that partisan politics will play a significant role in Congress’s decision. That body is fundamentally a political animal, and the House, of course, faces midterm elections in little more than a year. Still, that’s not a terrible thing. After all, for the first time in a long while, when it comes to foreign policy, House members are openly speaking about the influence that a wave of constituent opposition to a Syrian intervention is having on them. They appear to be hearing us speak, even if the impulse isn’t just to do the right thing, but to garner votes in 2014.
Should Congress say no, it seems unlikely that a president, isolated at home and abroad, will go to war. Some of Obama’s top aides have already been signaling that reality. Despite macho talk in the upper echelons of his administration on his right to ignore Congress, as a constitutional scholar and a savvy politician he would be unlikely to risk the demands for his impeachment and the spectacle of a Constitutional crisis by launching Syrian strikes in the wake of a no vote. All the noise about not backing down and his credibility suffering a catastrophic blow should be taken as so much pre-vote political saber rattling. The president may make foolish decisions, but he certainly is no fool.
By saying no, not again, not this time, the current group of gray men and women who largely make up our Congress have the chance to join some of the giants who have thundered in those chambers in the past. At this moment, that body has the opportunity to choose a new meaning for future anniversaries of 9/11. It could be the day that life went on just as disastrously as previously — or it could be the day that changed everything, and this time for the better.
(Follow me on Twitter as @wemeantwell or I’ll just keep repeating myself here)
US isn’t the world’s policeman Obama says. No, we’re the world’s George Zimmerman.
The question no journalist will ask Obama: Mr. President, if you use the military again, tell me how this ends?
And by the way, what wars had Obama ended? Even the end of the Iraq war was negotiated by Bush. (Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, AFRICOM)
Our US military pinpricks are really BIG.
The policy on Syria is in such disarray that it’s obvious Kerry is just making things up as he goes along.
No truth to the rumor that Colin Powell will speak alongside Obama to make the case for war.
Scary White House videos from Syria were on YouTube, but now “significant” as intel community gives stamp of “authenticity”
How’d that last Middle East thingie work out for ya? Marines moved closer to Libya as 9/11 anniversaries approach.
Iran warned the U.S. twice in 2012 that Syrian rebels the U.S. supports have chemical weapons of their own.
Russia proposes Syria turn over chem weapons to avoid war. Predicting U.S. will claim Syria can’t be trusted in 5, 4, 3, 2…
Pathetic: Susan Rice citing Bush officials who sold the WMD scam to Americans on Iraq as supporters of Syria strikes.
When Obama said “There is no NSA spying on Americans,” he lied. But it’s cooool if you trust him on #Syria …
When Obama talks about the dead children in Syria, do ask him why Syria is a crisis but North Korean labor camps are not even mentioned.
日本の歴史の本で発見：”パールハーバー：。ただ空爆、地上の歩兵を持つ” (Found in the Japanese archives: “Pearl Harbor: Just an airstrike, with no boots on the ground.”)
WaPo (slogan: Obama’s Stenographer) fans flames quoting unnamed source (Israel) about new threat– Syria bioweapons!
Because it’s the morally right thing to do: France says it won’t act alone on Syria, waits for the UN.
Obama: the world cannot remain silent on Syria. Meanwhile, the world disagrees and remains silently unconvinced.
The world has set a red line, he says, but somehow he’s the only one in the world talking about it.
Two wrongs don’t make a right, nor a policy. We do not need another war in the Middle East.
Happened to be reading the chem weapons treaty. Says disputes settled by the UN. Nowhere does it say US’ obligation.
Hagel either lied or was stirring up propaganda: Russia does not supply Syria with chemical weapons.
Other popular international norms: don’t torture, don’t render, don’t violate sovereignty by drone, don’t indefinitely imprison people without trial.
Obama in Egypt: OK to kill your own people. Obama in Syria: Killing your own people means war.
Assad helped the U.S. torture rendered CIA prisoners.
Some brown-skinned dude called me a sissy in the bar, so I beat him to ensure my credibility. Not related to Syria in any way.
If I hear anyone, ever, say “boots on the ground” again, I will puke. Deal with it: It’s US infantry dying on another MidEast battlefield.
Watching Kerry make things up on the spot today, one can’t help but wonder at what point those pharmaceutical grade hallucinogens kicked in.
Kerry says multiple Arab nations support US attack on Syria, says can’t name countries in unclassified setting because “It’s complicated.”
Party Outta Bounds in Pyongyang Ya’all: Kerry says failure to bomb #Syria will cause celebration in North Korea.
Kerry gives weasel answer on “boots on the ground” ’cause a) special forces likely already on ground and b) more troops may go in to seize chemical weapons.
Just called my Congressional reps’ offices to tell them vote no on Syrian attack. Call your reps today.
Syria, thank you for calling. Your attack is important to us. Please stay on the line, and our cruise missiles will be with you shortly.
What is wrong with these people– Kerry says Syria is now a “Munich moment.”
I took a nap and now the war with Syria isn’t about sending a message to Assad anymore? It’s now about sending a message to Iran?
Legal basis for attacking Syria? If the president does it of course it is legal.
Kucinich: “Syria Strike Would Make U.S. Al Qaeda’s Air Force.” Well, there’s something we can all get behind.
Once-great BBC ran Syrian-rebel supplied propaganda photo– actually taken years ago in Iraq– to stir up war fever.
UN says will take weeks to analyze Syria samples for evidence of chem weapons; Kerry says US already has proof.
Mix n’ Match: Obama’s strategy stands in contrast to 2011, when he sought UN authorization for Libya but not approval of Congress.
Kerry: “Assad regime’s chem attack is a crime against conscience, humanity, the norm of int’l community.” AS ARE DRONES AND GITMO.
If the US is sincere about a humanitarian response, send doctors to the refugee camps and nerve gas antidote and gas masks to Syria.
Don’t you wish Nobel Peace prizes came with an expiration date after which they self-destruct?
This article also appeared on the Huffington Post
Hah! You just crossed my red line with your chemical weapon eyes, clearing the way to me cruise missile you!
But enough about me. Like me, I am sure that you are overjoyed at the prospect of the U.S. inserting itself even deeper into another MidEast civil war (I think it is still Syria at present but the U.S. could have invaded another place between the time this was written and when you are reading it.)
The United Nations does not say to do it. The United Kingdom voted against it, the first time in two decades the U.K. has not supported U.S. military action. The U.S. Congress will not have an opportunity to vote on it, though many members have reservations. Many in our own military have doubts. Half of all American oppose it. Why does the president insist America must attack Syria?
Obama’s reasons seem vague at best, something from the 19th century about “firing a shot across Assad’s bow” as if this is a pirate movie. Or maybe protecting the U.S., though Syria (and others) have had chemical weapons for years without threatening the U.S. Even Saddam did not use chemical weapons against the U.S. during two American-led invasions of his own country. To protect women and children? If that is the goal, the U.S. might best send doctors and medicine to the refugee camps, and nerve gas antidotes into Syria itself.
Vagueness is a very poor basis for the U.S. entering into another war in the Middle East, throwing itself deeper into a chaotic and volatile situation it little understands.
So let’s reprise our handy questions summary:
The U.S. is intervening in Syria’s civil war because maybe it was Assad who used poison gas.
The poison gas killed a couple of thousand people. A horrible thing by any measure.
Close to 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war to date.
The U.S. is thus going to war again in the Middle East because a tiny percentage of the deaths were caused by gas instead of artillery, aerial bombs, machine guns, tanks, rockets, grenades, car bombs, mines, bad food, or sticks and stones.
Because it seems Obama is not asking himself some important questions, here’s a list he may wish to consult:
Is it Iraq again? That went well.
Does it have oil?
Does it pose a direct threat to America, i.e., knife to our throat?
Can you define specifically what U.S. interests are at stake (no fair just citing generic “world peace” or “evil dictator” or a magical “red line”)? Even John Boehner made sense on this question.
Does the Chemical Weapons Treaty say it is the U.S.’ job to take punitive action against violators?
Is Syria’s evil dictator somehow super-worse than the many other evil dictators scattered across the world where the U.S. is not intervening?
Did Syria attack any U.S. forces somewhere? Kidnap Americans? Commit 9/11?
Does the U.S. have a specific, detailed follow-on plan for what happens if Assad departs or is killed?
Does the U.S. have a specific plan to ensure weapons given to the rebels, some of whom are openly al Qaeda, won’t migrate out of Syria as they did in Libya?
Does the U.S. believe its secret deal with the “rebels” whoever the hell they are to hand over Syria’s chemical weapons after they take power is airtight?
With that in mind, can the U.S. tell with accuracy the “good” rebels from the “bad” rebels?
Has the U.S. considered in detail what affect a rebel (Sunni) victory in Syria will have on chaotic Iraq next door and the greater Middle East?
What are the possible unintended consequences of another military strike? Are they worth whatever is hoped to be gained by the strike?
Obama, if the answer was “No” to any of the above questions, you should not intervene in Syria.
BONUS: The U.S.’ use of white phosphorus and tear gas against civilian areas in Fallujah during the liberation of Iraq, and the use of depleted uranium munitions during the Iraq and Afghan crusades clearly do not in any way constitute the use of chemical weapons. Nor did Agent Orange and napalm in Vietnam.
The State Department was beaten up pretty bad in today’s Benghazi hearing, with both Deputy Chief of Mission Greg Hicks (second in charge after the ambassador) and RSO (security guy) Ed Nordstrom from Libya contradicting earlier State Department remarks.
Hicks in particular made it clear that there was absolutely nothing to justify Susan Rice’s September 2012 assertions that the attack had anything to do with an anti-Muslim video demonstration, and that all reporting from Libya, from the first phone call, claimed a terror attack was underway.
Nordstrom was equally blunt that the State Department willfully understaffed security in Benghazi, and ignored evidence that the Consulate was vulnerable.
Hicks, Nordstrom and the third witness, Mark Thompson, came off as credible, dispassionate and very serious. Meanwhile, while Republicans were accused going in of playing politics, it was the Democratic members of the committee who were shrill, crude and desperate in trying to degrade (as opposed to rebut) the witnesses.
Most fingers pointed toward Under Secretary of Management Pat Kennedy and Hillary aid Cheryl Mills as acting as Hillary’s proxies to make the bad, tragic, decisions. Long-term fallout unclear, but a lot of angry people in Foggy Bottom right now. The State Department was portrayed as disorganized, and often far more concerned about political impressions than the safety of its people and informing the American public.
A decent summary of what was said, from CNN.
I live-Tweeted most of the hearing. Search Twitter for @wemeantwell or #Benghazi to review.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa announced three witnesses will appear at a full committee hearing, “Benghazi: Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage,” on Wednesday, May 8, 2013.
The witnesses are Mark Thompson, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Counterterrorism, Gregory Hicks, former Deputy Chief of Mission/Chargé d’Affairs in Libya and Eric Nordstrom, Diplomatic Security Officer and former Regional Security Officer in Libya. Only Nordstrom has testified publically before, basically pointing out tactical security failures.
“I applaud these individuals for answering our call to testify in front of the Committee. They have critical information about what occurred before, during, and after the Benghazi terrorist attacks that differs on key points from what Administration officials – including those on the Accountability Review Board – have portrayed,” said Issa.
Gotta Be Said
OK, let’s get this initial stuff out of the way. Yes, yes, there are lots of important things about America Congress should address, but yes, this hearing is happening, And yes, of course it is aimed at Hillary 2016.
But to play fair, Hillary 2016 is a big deal. If the election were held today, she’d be the next president. So maybe, albeit with some political mud slung alongside, we should pay attention to how she acted, how she failed to act, and whether she enjoyed some sort of coverup/soft-sell over what really happened in Benghazi. To paraphrase Mrs. Clinton’s own political rhetoric, we need to know how she’ll act when that tragic 3am phone call comes through. While past performance is no guarantee of future success or failure, it is how the smart money should bet.
So let’s preview what might happen in the upcoming hearing.
1) Easy Stuff: Lots of shout-outs to fallen colleagues, grieving relatives, brave troops, yeah, yeah.
2) The Basics: Lots of in-the-weeds failures to be detailed. Interesting to see if much of this will be blamed on the Libyans, who should have intervened, or soft-pedaled along the lines of “mistakes were made.” Also, budgets cut, requests ignored. At great cost. To fallen colleagues.
Someone else has already neatly discredited the story that some sort of special ops mission could have saved lives in Benghazi, including the possible use of Avis rental cars from their Benghazi outlet. Expect a fair amount of inconclusive, uninformed speculation about what the military should or could have done, but it is likely to hover above disagreement over tactics and below some sort of conspiracy-level move.
Not to be discussed: How Obama’s intervention created a power vacuum in eastern Libya, which eventually led not just to this attack but the sacking of Mali, which was prevented only by the French military with U.S. help, essentially a new war to fix the mistakes of the previous war.
3) The Coverup: Expect Susan Rice to be re-thrown under the bus, then thrown again one more time for good measure. Rice, you’ll recall, pretty much got on national tee vee the Sunday after the Consulate attacks and told fibs, blaming it all on some dumb anti-Muslim movie and trying to avoid any mention of terrorism. She is widely held to have tried to soft-pedal the attack in the run-up to Obama’s re-election in November 2012. Obama was bleating about defeating al Qaeda and crushing bin Laden with his bare hands at the time, so no one wanted a “successful” terror attack on the news. Rice was the designated messenger, with Hillary’s excellent sense of avoiding trouble guiding her into not making substantive statements about her own Consulate and her own Ambassador being murdered.
There will also be a string of sleazy emails, featuring then-State Spokesdrone Victoria Nuland trying to rewrite the talking points to protect Hillary and, if possible, Obama. Absent some real surprise, these are unfortunately business as usual in Washington now. Don’t expect any discussion on how every administration seeks to buffalo the public and the media to its own advantage. Also, drones like Nuland are trained to never mention their boss’ name– Hillary Clinton– per se in any communication. They just say things like “our leadership” or “higher authorities.” This is a clever trick to ensure no name-retrievable documents are ever created, and allows deniability over to whom she was actually referring. It’s inside Washington stuff they don’t teach you at Georgetown kids!
After weeks of delays in late 2012, to include a self-inflicted concussion, as expected, Hillary Clinton’s perfunctory testimony on the deaths of four Americans in Libya a) took “responsibility” for Benghazi in words alone, shucking blame and (in)action onto others, b) wrapped herself in the flag to shout down her questioners and c) revealed nothing new. Always eyes on the 2016 prize, that one.
The re-death of Rice has been clearly signaled by the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya, Gregory Hicks, in his leaked statements slathered all over CNN. The Republicans will go red meat crazy over all this, but they won’t find any smoking gun at the White House or from Hillary Land. Both are too clever, even if they were involved, and Rice was too gullible and too disposable. Poor Susan Rice, she even now on Twitter is just a shell of her old self. Whereas pre-Benghazi she’d often be calling for the blood and stones of some dictator, her Tweets now are just sad little acknowledgments of some International Women’s Day or the like. She’ll hang around the UN where she does not matter and is outside Washington, or drift into some make-work academic slot. Bye.
Proof that Rice is finished? Biden just confirmed the President’s “confidence” in her, even though no one asked.
4) The Big Money Shot: How high did State Department malfeasance for the Benghazi attack go?
Here’s where the action is. State’s own internal review, the so-called After Action Review Board, pinged only some relative worker bees, sending them into administrative leave purgatory. The highest ranking person spanked just changed job titles. The Board, hand-selected by Hillary, never even bothered to interview Hillary. Will the hearing find a way to stick some blame on her? Expect no discussion about the After Action process itself, or why Obama has not appointed an Inspector General for the State Department, a job empty since 2008.
Or maybe not. Hicks’ leaked statement aims a bit higher, but only it seems as high as Under Secretary for Management slug Pat Kennedy. Inside State, this is a big deal, as Kennedy effectively runs the bureaucratic, administrative and personnel sides of the State Department and is thus a very powerful man in there (Diplomatic Security reports to him.) However, outside of State (i.e., on Fox News) he is a nobody. Still, if Kennedy were encouraged to retire after this, an awful lot of garbage would go out the door at State with him, to the betterment of the organization.
If Kennedy is as high as it goes, it goes nowhere really. Kennedy is well-known for throwing himself on his sword to save his Boss, and the likelihood of him implicating Hillary is precisely zero.
Zero with extreme prejudice.
And in the End?
Prediction: Much smoke, nothing more, at least a default win for Hillary 2016, even more for her if Issa makes an idiot of himself.
In one of her final acts as Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton accepted the “resignation” of her head of Diplomatic Security, Eric J. Boswell. Boswell was portrayed in the media as the highest ranking State Department official to lose his job over the security failures in Benghazi, Libya that lead to the deaths of four Americans. Clinton sold the resignation to Congress as a sign of accountability over decisions made and mistakes committed. Case closed, right?
But did Boswell really “resign?” Or is he still employed by the Department of State?
Before his December 19, 2012 “resignation,” Boswell actually held two jobs: head of Diplomatic Security and Director of the Office of Foreign Missions (DS/OFM) at State. The former position held immediate responsibility for the safety of America’s diplomats abroad, while the latter job covered both the security and administrative needs of foreign diplomats in the U.S. As head of OFM, Boswell was responsible for the safety of say the French Embassy in Washington as well as the duty-free import of cars for the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles.
His celebrated resignation was cleverly worded: he resigned as head of Diplomatic Security (Benghazi accountability!) only. In a December 19 statement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she “has accepted Eric Boswell’s decision to resign as Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, effective immediately.” When questioned about whether Boswell really left the State Department’s employ by a cowed media, State would only reissue the carefully crafted statement put out December 19. No one was interested in even a follow-up question– is Boswell still on State’s payroll?
So who is now head of the Office of Foreign Missions at State? Is it Boswell? Turns out that is a hard question to really answer.
Let’s start with the list of senior officials on the State Department website. That page lists the position of Director of the Office of Foreign Missions as vacant. No Boswell.
But, the page for the actual Office for Foreign Missions lists no personnel by name. Curiouser and curiouser.
The main State Department telephone directory lists no position at all as “Director of the Office of Foreign Missions.” That’s kind of odd, as the office should in fact have a Director, they all do, somebody. Boswell’s name also appears nowhere in the phone book. Hmmm.
Just Call Them
So, I just called up the Office of Foreign Missions at the number (202-647-3417) listed in that public directory for the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Foreign Missions, the titular number two person there. I spoke with someone named *****, and said I wanted to write a letter to the Director of the Office of Foreign Missions– to whom should I address it? She helpfully said “Eric Boswell.” I asked “Eric J. Boswell?” and she said yes. I asked what salutation/title I should use and she said “Director.” She then helpfully added “But Director Boswell does not often come in to the office so you should in fact contact the Deputy Assistant Secretary.” ***** would not give me her last name.
Then a concerned citizen still working at State told me on background that Boswell, thanks to a sweetheart deal with Under Secretary for Management Pat Kennedy after the Benghazi hearings, retains his salary and title but basically delegates all of his responsibilities as Director of the Office of Foreign Missions. He did “resign” from one titled position while cleverly keeping his other position, according to my source. Ka-ching!
Accountability for What?
About a week after Boswell “resigned” back in December 2012, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said she could not independently confirm a New York Post report claiming Eric Boswell, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, remains at the State Department.
Ros-Lehtinen said “If these reports are correct, they’re pathetic examples of yet another ruse about the tragedy of Benghazi. State Department officials proclaimed to the world that heads would roll after the deception related to the deceitful video excuse and the non existent spontaneous protest outside the consulate. Now we see that the discipline is a lie and all that has happened is the shuffling of the deck chairs. That will in no way change [the] systemic failures of management and leadership in the State Department.”
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, or any journalist, why not contact the Department of State and simply ask “Who is the Director of the Office of Foreign Missions?” and/or “Is Eric Boswell still employed by the Department of State?” Depending on the answers you receive, better follow-up with this question: If indeed no one lost their jobs over the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, exactly what accountability is there?
And do ask them how the term “resign” is actually defined at the State Department.
U.S. completes half a regime change, over-throwing a stable government but fails to emplace a new government. Chaos results.
Balance of power in Middle East upended, Iran ascendant.
Weapons pour from Iran through Iraq into, among other places, Syria and Lebanon.
Americans get killed.
on of Terror. Repeat as necessary.
U.S. completes half a regime change, over-throwing a stable government but fails to emplace a new government. Chaos results.
Weapons pour out of Libya into, among other places, Syria and Mali.
Americans get killed.
Mali has a military coup but fails to emplace a stable government. Chaos results.
Americans and other foreigners are taken hostage in Algeria (asymmetrical war, look it up).
U.S. considers how to intervene militarily.
War on Terror. Repeat as necessary.
That’s not an angry screed, correct? Now, you kids get off my lawn, and turn that damn music down!!!!!!
As expected, Hillary Clinton’s perfunctory testimony on the deaths of four Americans in Libya a) took “responsibility” for Benghazi in words alone, shucking blame and (in)action onto others, b) wrapped herself in the flag to shout down her questioners and c) revealed nothing new.
Exit, stage left. Stick a fork in her, she is done.
But though Hillary slithers off the national stage for hopefully a very long time, the issues she did not attend to at State remain, primarily the lack of adequate management and leadership and specifically the ongoing failure to properly utilize resources in line with policy goals and missions. State is all about the whack-a-mole approach to planning, rushing here and there to nuzzle up to the White House of the day and wondering always why they never seem to have what they need to do the job right (see Iraq, still sucking the oxygen out of State’s budget as the world’s largest and most expensive embassy, because why?)
I could go on, but someone has already said it fairly clearly, so why not just refer you over to Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post, who has written the only intelligent, to-the-real-point essay on Hillary’s Last Stand. Rubin said:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s testimony vividly demonstrated that competence is as critical as ideology when it comes to the highest ranks of national security officials.
Clinton lost it at the hearing when she cried out, “What difference does it make?” with regard to the false narrative the administration put out in the days following the Benghazi attack. On one level this is simply a knee-jerk, defensive reaction. On the other hand it goes to the purpose of her job — to assimilate, analyze and formulate coherent policy based on the world as it is, not as she would want it to be.
Marco Rubio explains why it matters and hence why Clinton’s failure is greater even than Benghazi:
Here is why it matters. Because when they put out word that this was not a terrorist attack — that it sprung out a spontaneous uprising — it furthered the narrative that somehow Al Qaeda was in disarray. That the elimination of Bin Laden had made this extraordinary reduction in the risks in the area. As it turns out, not only was that not true in Libya but we are now seeing it’s not true in other parts of North Africa as well. And the fundamental question is, “Did the administration really believe that?” Because if they did, they badly miscalculated.
the danger of ideologically driven self-delusion and/or management collapse will grow in the second term if yes men who will say whatever the White House deems convenient are confirmed. In Obama’s determination to create a Cabinet of weaklings with a history of bad judgment and highly questionable executive skills, he increases the chances of Clinton-like failures.
Read the whole piece over at the Washington Post.
Colin Powell, you need to shut the fuck up. Like Grandpa Simpson, every time you open your mouth you just embarrass yourself and demean all around you. Your time is done. Let the nurse change your diaper without fussing and just watch Matlock on TBS until you wither fully away.
Colin emerged from the land of creamed corn and denture adhesives to cast a shadow on the Sunday talk shows. He said this about Hillary Clinton and the deaths of four Americans at Benghazi:
I think she’s had a distinguished record. And I don’t think that this one incident–which is one of these things that those of us in government have been through many, many times where suddenly an action happens late at night … I don’t think it’s a blot on her record.
You’re surprised. Somebody gets killed, something gets blown up. And then the after-action reports start and everybody wants to know who was at fault. Who was responsible? ‘Why didn’t you keep this from happening?’ Well, you can’t keep everything from happening. Benghazi was a very, very difficult one and a difficult situation, and maybe they shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
The reader is reminded that Hillary Clinton was the head of the organization that placed those Americans where, in Colin’s words, “maybe they shouldn’t have been there in the first place” and thus might, oh, I don’t know, have some responsibility for what happened. Colin, who likely can’t read anymore even with his damn glasses, wherever the hell he left them, might also recall that the State Department’s own report on Benghazi found “a lack of proactive leadership and management ability in their responses to security concerns posed by Special Mission Benghazi, given the deteriorating threat environment and the lack of reliable host government protection.” Since Slick Hilly was head of the pack that showed such poor leadership, maybe she had some responsibility?
Nothing New for Colin Powell
But of course not being responsible for the deaths of others is Colin’s specialty, actually the hallmark of his career.
Colin Powell, as Secretary of State, lent his considerable credibility and gravitas to the case for war with Iraq.
Powell spoke publicly before the UN General Assembly, and privately in depth with America’s allies, about mobile biowar labs, weapons of mass destruction and the imminent danger Saddam Hussein posed. While many people considered Bush an idiot puppet, and Cheney and Rumsfeld psychopathic fibbers, Powell convincingly represented the United States’ case for war. Of course, everything Powell said was a lie. Pimping his book Colin told all (like Benghazi, it was just a “blot”):
A blot, a failure will always be attached to me and my UN presentation. I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me. There is nothing worse than a leader believing he has accurate information when folks who know he doesn’t don’t tell him that he doesn’t.
So why did no one stand up and speak out during the intense hours we worked on the speech? Some of these same analysts later wrote books claiming they were shocked that I have relied on such deeply flawed evidence. Try to get over failure quickly. Learn from it. Study how you contributed to it. If you are responsible, own up to it.
And My Lai Just Happened Too
Colin famously served in America’s retro-war of choice, Vietnam. He was charged with investigating the My Lai Massacre. Powell wrote: “In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent.” Later, Powell’s assessment would be described as whitewashing the massacre. Almost rehearsing his Hillary lines to the very word, in May 2004 Powell told radio host Larry King, “I mean, I was in a unit that was responsible for My Lai. I got there after My Lai happened. So, in war, these sorts of horrible things happen every now and again, but they are still to be deplored.”
Birds of a Feather
So it is no real surprise that Colin Powell, who took no responsibility for helping America into a horrible war with Iraq, is now dragged out of the retirement home toilet to tell us that Hillary also has no responsibility for the stuff that just kinda happens out there when you go intervening around the world. And hey, in Colin’s own words, you’d be surprised when people want to know who is responsible for the deaths of their sons and daughters. Gosh golly, why would anyone want to know who was responsible for just a blot? And why are we still listening to has-beens like Colin? Have we run out of Kardashians to interview? Do we have to wait for some pathetic sex scandal until we can heap Colin into the dust-bin of once-media-superheroes alongside Petraeus and Lance Armstrong? Colin and Hillary together, what a pair, which is good because without her Colin does not have one.
Thanks Colin, for all your
blots service. Now go away you tired old man. Meanwhile, let’s watch this:
With the start of a new year, it seems pretty common to sort of reflect forward, especially if you’re still drinking and on the sofa a week into 2013. I can’t help but come to the conclusion that the problem seems to be, well, us.
This blog has documented concerns about Hillary Clinton as a leader. Highlights include her glee over the death of a world leader (Qaddafi) overthrown without real point by the U.S. (a decision that coupled with the lack of leadership within her State Department led directly to the unnecessary deaths of Americans), that lack of leadership thing within her State Department led directly to the unnecessary deaths of Americans, her often trite and casual traveling about as if miles logged had some greater meaning and so forth. Most recently, her serial health problems (flu –> dehydration –> concussion –> head clot), real or not, have had the direct result of her not speaking a public word about a significant event on her watch, Benghazi. She is fully absent on critical issues, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, either hiding from bad PR or, more likely, sidelined by a White House that prefers her on the sidelines as it makes its own foreign policy around her happy-talk travels.
On the plus side of the slate, her accomplishments after four years as Secretary of State are… Well, let’s let others catalog her accomplishments.
Time magazine (Slogan: Yes, we’re still publishing) writes from a favorable perch:
Eight months before her self-imposed retirement, Clinton is piling up awards and accolades faster than clear-cut achievements. She hasn’t done anything as momentous as opening the door to China like Henry Kissinger or assembling the first Gulf War coalition like James Baker. Still, the liberation of Libya, establishment of diplomatic ties with Burma and the assembly of a coalition against Iran bear her imprimatur.
Kinda thin, huh? I think I’ve said what needs to be said about Libya. Opening relations with Burma is not a bad thing, but it isn’t much of a thing. Not sure what that coalition against Iran is all about, and there is a lot more history to be written about the U.S. and Iran before anyone can claim anything like credit (or blame. The U.S. has declared war on Iran conducting diplomacy.)
Time keeps trying, however, to find something Hillary has accomplished. To wit:
Clinton’s endurance is legendary. She maintained a punishing 18-plus-hour-a-day schedule on her weeklong swing from Libya to Central and South Asia. At the end of her day in New York City last September, with its endless one-on-one meetings, public appearances and forums, Clinton sat down in a closed session with the 27 E.U. Foreign Ministers and listened as each aired opinions on U.S. foreign policy. Even as glazed looks settled over her staff, Clinton retained an easy and relaxed demeanor, speaking off the cuff and calmly responding to bitter criticism of the U.S.’s veto threat against a vote on Palestinian statehood.
To wit, OK, she’s a hard worker, again, not a bad thing but so what? And of course buried in the goofy praise above is the note that the U.S. stands in a tiny minority blocking Palestinian statehood at the UN as if that was an accomplishment.
USA Today digs deep and finds only:
Clinton convinced Chinese leaders to free blind dissident Chen Guangcheng.
A) About a third of you are Googling to find out who Chen Guang Cheng is and B) The other two-thirds are wondering so what? Chen has been living in New York City for most of the year and nothing has changed anywhere in China, America or New York.
USA Today continues:
If there’s a signature moment, I suppose it might be this: Mrs. Clinton got her first taste of high-wire negotiating last October in Zurich when she headed off a last-minute dispute that nearly scuttled an agreement between Turkey and Armenia on normalizing diplomatic relations. Sitting in a black BMW limousine, she juggled two cellphones, slowly nudging two ancient enemies together, if only temporarily.
Sure, we all heard about that and it is being taught now in schools. Huh? What was resolved? What problem was fixed where?
The Horse’s Mouth
Let’s go to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and quote Hillary Herself, from a speech summing up her own version of accomplishments:
…hosting town halls with global youth, raising awareness for religious minorities, protecting Internet freedom and advancing rights for women and the LGBT community around the world.
OK, I guess, kinda hard to quantify, kinda hard to see as much more than self-promotion, but then again, here’s that travel thing again:
“Somebody said to me the other day, ‘I look at your travel schedule. Why Togo? Why the Cook Islands?’ No secretary of state had ever been to Togo before. Togo happens to be on the U.N. Security Council. Going there, making the personal investment, has a real strategic purpose.”
With a lovely sense of irony, Hillary’s own “I Love Me” pages at the State Department’s own website list no heading for “accomplishments” or the like.
PolicyMic lists the Top Five Clinton Accomplishments as People-to-People Diplomacy, The Importance of Economics, Restoring American Credibility, Diplomacy is National Security and, somewhat amazingly, “Texts From Hillary,” which the site tell us “Her star power and ability to capture the imagination of individuals around the world is one noteworthy aspect of her success.”
That same web site, which no doubt must also feature Twilight fan fiction somewhere, also reports this from an alternate universe:
Surely, the cornerstone of her legacy is the Arab Spring. Here, Clinton’s handling of the immense challenges associated with the revolutions across the Arab world was mixed. On one hand, she has done a good job at letting protesters do their work. Initially, the United States remained on the side lines, and allowed those on the street to take the reins in demanding their basic rights and dignity. Though, of course, the U.S. eventually stepped in later (most forcefully in Libya), it’s admirable that she was able to sympathize with the aspirations of protesters, rather than upholding the status quo and supporting the authoritarian regimes that the U.S. had previously defended .
Foreign Policy’s Stephen Walt starts somewhat ironically with a quote from the New York Times Magazine referring to Hillary as a “rock star diplomat,” and quotes Google chairman Eric Schmidt calling her “the most significant Secretary of State since Dean Acheson.” Walt then goes on to damn with faint praise Hillary’s legacy accomplishments as:
There’s no question that Clinton has been terrifically energetic, as well as a loyal team player… She’s also proved to be relatively gaffe-free. Insiders with whom I’ve spoken say she is an excellent boss who elicits considerable loyalty from those around her. And as the Times piece notes, she’s helped restore the somewhat battered morale of the foreign service, and used her celebrity to raise public awareness on a number of signature issues.
But We Love Her
I just can’t find anything that Hillary Clinton did in four years as Secretary of State that stands out as a legacy, an accomplishment, like say a Marshall Plan, or ending a war we didn’t start, or saving something or advancing peace in the Middle East or opening relations with China to forever change the balance of power in the Cold War.
Anything? This blog is open to a guest post citing Hillary’s accomplishments, or you may post links in the Comments. This shall be an ongoing, open invitation between now and election day 2016. Instead, Hillary chose to conduct herself as a figurehead, a minor celebrity, traveling around championing feel-good causes and goofy social media hijinks like a chunky Angelia Jolie. She should not look for legacy now.
But… but… we love Hillary. She has this year set a record in Gallup’s annual most-admired survey. Gallup has run its most-admired man and woman survey since World War II, and in the 2012 edition, Clinton kept her top positions among those asked a simple question: “What man that you have heard or read about, living today in any part of the world, do you admire most? And who is your second choice?” Clinton was named as most-admired woman for the 17th time since she became a national figure in 1992. Eleanor Roosevelt held the previous record when she was named 13 times as the most-admired woman. The only two women to finish ahead of Clinton in that 20-year period were Mother Teresa (twice) and Laura Bush (once). This year Clinton had 21 percent of the vote, followed by Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Condoleezza Rice. Clinton dominates polling for the democratic nomination for 2016.
America, it is us. We elevate to heights mediocre people pretending to be leaders who actually accomplish little or nothing. We allow them to use high office for self-promotion, and we swill like ignorant pigs the empty praise of dimwitted media. For example, Petraeus– history shows he failed in Iraq, yet absent a sex scandal he’d be in line for the presidency. Hillary isn’t a leader in any stretch of imagination. She possesses no substance. She is a reality show many Americans seem to enjoy, projecting their own ideas about women’s empowerment and modern social media onto her willing shell. We deserve all that we get– and are going to get– enroute to 2016.
Lamb to the Slaughter
One of the high level employees who was reassigned/resigned/was terminated because of Benghazi was Charlene Lamb.
Ms. Lamb’s initial appointment to her position in Diplomatic Security was opposed by a number of career Department of State employees, we are told. Her biography has been disappeared from the State Department web site but is still alive in the Cloud.
Sources inside State say objections to Lamb’s hiring were at the time overridden by Cheryl Mills, the Number 4 at State. Ms. Mills is a Clinton political appointee (see below).
As a result, Lamb was terminated in order to prevent the inquiry from reaching higher, into the Secretary of State’s offices, where one could point the finger at Clinton for insisting on Lamb. Lamb in kind took the fall for Clinton, in what one commentator called a “bureaucratic firewall.”
As we now know, the Benghazi facilities were CIA, and not State Department, offices. There were no permanent State Department employees assigned to either building in that city. State merely provided the cover story on the ground, over the air via Susan Rice’s lies about that stupid anti-Islam video, and now in person as Congress looks for someone to blame so this can all just go away.
Where was Hillary?
Lamb being disappeared also closes off a line of inquiry into exactly what Clinton was doing the night of the attack on Benghazi.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb testified that on September 11, after the “full-scale assault” in Libya — “unprecedented in its size and intensity” — began about 9:40 p.m. Libyan time (4:40 p.m. Washington time), she was “in our Diplomatic Security Command Center [in Washington] monitoring multiple open lines with our agents [in Libya] for much of the attack.”
A few days later a CNN reporter asked Hillary Clinton what she was doing as the attack occurred, and Clinton responded with a 400-word answer that avoided the question. Here is part:
QUESTION: … could you tell us a little bit about what you were doing when that attack actually happened? I know Charlene Lamb, who as the State Department official, was mentioning that she back here in Washington was monitoring electronically from that post what was happening in real time. Could you tell us what you were doing? Were you watching? Were you talking with the President? Any details about that, please.
SECRETARY CLINTON: … I think that it is very important to recognize that we have an investigation going on… So that’s what an investigative process is designed to do: to try to sort through all of the information, some of it contradictory and conflicting… So I’m going to be, as I have been from the very beginning, cooperating fully with the investigations that are ongoing, because nobody wants to know more about what happened and why than I do. And I think I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Mrs. Secretary, if you could, the question was –
SECRETARY CLINTON: I know, but I’m going to leave it at that.
Later that same day, the State Department spokesperson was asked why Clinton hadn’t answered, and provided this response:
As you know, she’s not that interested in focusing on herself. But obviously, she was here very late that night. She was getting regular updates from both the DS Command Center and the senior NEA leadership in the building, she was making phone calls to senior people, and so she was obviously very much involved. But I think she was not interested in sort of giving a personal tick-tock. It’s not the way she operates.
Who is Cheryl Mills?
Cheryl Mills is an interesting person to have her name pop up in connection with covering Clinton’s role in Benghazi. As deputy counsel, Mills sat at the epicenter of the scandals in the Clinton White House for seven years, eventually delivering an impassioned defense of the president during his 1999 impeachment trial. Mills left the White House soon after, but her performance earned her a place in the hearts of the former president and his wife. When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pursued the presidency almost a decade later, she tapped Mills to be her senior adviser and counsel on the campaign. As her campaign imploded, Mills acted as a de-facto crisis manager.
The Washington Post describes Mills as “close with many of the women in “Hillaryland,” including Ambassador-at-Large for Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer; senior adviser to Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Health Reform Neera Tanden and Judith McHale, undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs.”
David Petraeus, head of the CIA when its offices were overrun in Benghazi, is gone, victim of an FBI email love-trap sting that still makes little sense except as a political assassination. We won’t be hearing from him. Susan Rice, who was voted to try and pass off some lies about an anti-Islam movie to cover this all up, was thrown under the bus and we won’t be hearing from her again. Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State at the epicenter, has been incommunicado for over a month with a series of excuses and will be resigning soon.
Why is it so hard to learn answers to some very basic questions about the decision-making behind Benghazi?
The State Department’s own version of reality in Benghazi, the Accountability Review Board (ARB) report, is ever so predictable. The report took close to three months to complete, conveniently bypassing the election to come out in the news doldrums of Christmas time. As could have been predicted, the report finds no one at State to blame really, at least not in an actionable way, and requests more money for the State Department.
UPDATED: Only the head of State’s Diplomatic Security Bureau “resigned” (i.e., retire earlier than planned with full benefits and no official blot on his record), showing he has a micron more sense of responsibility than the people who drafted the report and, of course, the concussive-but-missing-in-action Secretary of State.
The other three State Department officials who supposedly “resigned” over the Benghazi incident have merely been given different jobs within the State Department. The three are all relatively low-ranking employees; their names were withheld from the released version of the report and are only reported in the classified version, even though none of the three works undercover or anything like it. The classification is just to avoid embarrassing anyone.
As always, State misses no chance to repurpose failure and tragedy (as with Iraq) into a request for more funding. The ARB report says:
The solution requires a more serious and sustained commitment from Congress to support State Department needs, which, in total, constitute a small percentage both of the full national budget and that spent for national security. One overall conclusion in this report is that Congress must do its part to meet this challenge and provide necessary resources to the State Department to address security risks and meet mission imperatives.
Who’s in Charge?
The report has a few comments on leadership at State:
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 Board found that certain senior State Department officials within two bureaus demonstrated a lack of proactive leadership and management ability in their responses to security concerns posed by Special Mission Benghazi, given the deteriorating threat environment and the lack of reliable host government protection.
Pretty damning stuff, right? Heads will roll? After all, four Americans were killed. But wait for the conclusion:
However, the Board did not find reasonable cause to determine that any individual U.S. government employee breached his or her duty.
Though the ARB report does sort of, maybe a little, touch on the real issue here:
The Board recognizes that poor performance does not ordinarily constitute a breach of duty that would serve as a basis for disciplinary action but is instead addressed through the performance management system. However, the Board is of the view that findings of unsatisfactory leadership performance by senior officials in relation to the security incident under review should be a potential basis for discipline recommendations by future ARBs, and would recommend a revision of Department regulations or amendment to the relevant statute to this end.
The Money Shot
Your State Department in a nutshell: A report that concludes “poor performance” alone is grounds for, well, not much, even when that level of poor performance falls to lethal levels. Best thing to do is revise some internal rules. Meanwhile, four people are dead, leadership in disarray but really, no one will officially take any fall for any of this. Senior leadership problems point to a failure to lead even higher up (the buck stops where?) but the only person who said she would take responsibility for what happened in Benghazi, the Secretary of State herself, is not mentioned in the report and won’t even appear before Congress to talk about it because she is in bed after “falling down” at home. Add in a couple of symbolic resignations without penalty and stick a fork in it, ’cause this one’s done babies. Now, about Hillary’s Nobel prize… too early?
Seriously, about Hillary. Let’s assume it is true she fell down and hit her head a few days ago. Why can’t she make a public statement? Is she tied to a bed? On life support? Will it all magically be OK in a couple of days (after the hearings and news cycle?) She’s working from home we’re told, not in a hospital, so it is not that serious. NFL players get concussions and are back in the game. Really really really Hillary just can’t say ANYTHING? I am not a conspiracy monger but c’mon, this s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s disbelief just a bit much.
Representative Allen West from Florida christened Hillary’s headache as the “Benghazi Flu,” and said “I don’t think that this should become the new normal and next thing you know four years from now we have Hillary Clinton running for president when we had this death of the ambassador” and others.
Now, let’s watch Ambassador Chris Stevens’ body get dragged out of the Benghazi office and remember how no one will suffer, except him, for all this:
You can read the entire steaming pile of self-cover up here if you’re having trouble sleeping for some reason, such as, perhaps Mrs. Clinton, guilt?
Hillary, now suffering from a self-inflicted concussion, dodges for the fifth time publicly testifying about the disaster in Benghazi. 2016 baby!
Here is the piece-de-resistance de Clinton:
Hillary Ducks Once
Right after the attacks in Benghazi, when the US Government was still trying to sell the lie that it was all because of that dumb anti-Islam movie, Clinton did not go on the Sunday talk shows, Unter Fuhrer Susan Rice did it. And hey, Susan, how’d that work out for ya?
Hillary Ducks Twice
Then, just prior to the re-election of Barack Obama, lickspittle Hillary proudly proclaimed that she would assume full responsibility for what happened in Benghazi without actually saying or doing anything.
Hillary Ducks a Third Time
But, then she didn’t show up for the first round of Congressional hearings in November. Because she was “traveling.”
MS. NULAND: Matt, they’ve asked for closed hearings, closed briefings; that’s what we’re complying with.
QUESTION: The Secretary won’t appear before any of these committees?
MS. NULAND: The Secretary has not been asked to appear. They’ve asked for the individuals that are coming.
QUESTION: Would she be willing to fly back from Australia to appear?
MS. NULAND: Again, she has not been asked to appear. She was asked to appear at House Foreign Affairs next week, and we have written back to the Chairman to say that she’ll be on travel next week.
Hillary Ducks a Fourth Time
So with the election now history, Congress scheduled some more hearings on Benghazi for December 20. Clinton was scheduled to appear and testify. But then we learned that State’s own internal report on the death of one of its ambassador’s abroad would be delayed and well, maybe Hillary would not be available. She is also listed as sole witness on the 9:00 am, December 20, hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Benghazi: The Attack and the Lessons Learned.
But then, maybe Hillary would not be available to testify. Here’s the exchange:
MS. NULAND: Again, the Hill has talked about a planning date on the calendar. That presumes that the ARB is finished. I don’t have any dates – any schedule of the Secretary’s to announce here. It’s dependent upon events between now and then.
QUESTION: She hasn’t committed to testify?
MS. NULAND: Again, it’s dependent on the work being finished. Okay?
QUESTION: Are you aware that Senator Kerry announced that she will testify next Thursday?
MS. NULAND: She has made clear that when the work is ready, she will go consult with Congress on it. And that’s a commitment she’s made, and she intends to keep it.
Hillary Ducks a Fifth Time
Well, because that lame prevarication was not enough, just the other day Hillary announced that she had the flu, and would need to cancel some travel and work from home for a full week (government employees get great sick leave benefits). And since that excuse did not seem, um, sympathetic enough when most Americans are forced to go to work no matter how sick they are, we learned that Hils got dehydrated, passed out, hit her head and got a concussion!
One More Time?
Update: “She looks forward to continuing to engage with them in January and she will be open to whatever they consider appropriate in that regard,” Spokesdrone Nuland said following the concussion.
And We’re Spent
She will thus not be able to testify before the Senate on December 20. Of course we then plunge into Christmas, New Years and poof! before you know it Hillary’s time is up, John Kerry is sworn in as Secretary of State and we are all told we are looking forward, not backward.
The upshot of all this is that Hillary ends her term as SecState without any naughty video of her fibbing about Benghazi to follow her into the history books.
Or into 2016.
Note: Of course I am not implying that Hillary is faking her concussion for personal political gain. All of us here at We Meant Well wish her a quick recovery, and a joyous holiday. We join in thanking her for her tireless service to America and hope she and her staff are feeling well soon.
Better check the weather report to see if it is below freezing in hell, because a) Hillary just said some things that are intelligent and to the benefit of the U.S. and b) no matter how many beers I have cannon-balled this afternoon, I still agree with her and c) OMG.
Madame Clinton, no doubt under the influence of some freakishly diabolical inhaled hallucination agent, said in actual human words:
The U.S. must adopt a sophisticated approach in choosing who to support within Syria for fear of repeating mistakes the U.S. made after invading Iraq in 2003. Supporting the opposition must be paired with endorsing local councils committed to “continuity” and “Syrian governmental institutions,” to ensure these institutional forces don’t collapse. We know from our Iraq experience that can be extremely dangerous.
Clinton went on to add that U.S. hesitancy to get more involved militarily and politically is at least partially because “there are so many interests by all the players, many of which are contradictory.”
OMG. This almost suggests that Clinton has “learned a lesson from history,” that looking at the horrific nightmare created in Iraq has somehow informed her as to how to proceed in a future endeavor. “Learning from one’s mistakes” is commonly held to be a sign of sentient intelligence, an indication of higher brain functionality.
Now, we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. We know that shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles have magically appeared in Syria this month, a possible game-changer in the same way that U.S.-supplied shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles significantly influenced the outcomes in Libya and 1980′s Afghanistan, not that the U.S. had anything to do with supplying said shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles to Syrian fighters. No, no, that would be wrong. Old Blood ‘n Guts Hils also joined in the chorus of threats if Assad uses chemical weapons, telling us all that “Suffice it to say, we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur.”
We’ll stick to the bright side of life for today, hoping that Clinton’s thoughts are somewhat sincere and representative of the White House’s broader position on Syria (she did drop another sad hint that she is running for president in 2016). Tearing apart the fiber of the Middle East certainly seemed like a good idea when we invaded Iraq in 2003, and when Hillary lustily celebrated the sodomizing of Qaddafi in 2009, and so on, so it is such a nice thing that she wishes to avoid the same scenario today. Yea for progress!
While the hearings on what happened in Benghazi, Libya on September 11 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and elsewhere on the Hill this week are being held behind closed doors, and while SecState-in-Wanting John Kerry as chair is on board to make sure nothing too bad happens, what we do know continues to suggest the cesspool in Washington has no bottom.
David Petraeus’ political assassination last week has taken him off the stage as effectively as any sniper’s round. Conveniently timed to drop just a few days after Obama’s re-election (and on a Friday before a three day weekend to boot, sorry Mitt), in one fell swoop a fall guy is crowned for whatever went wrong in Benghazi, Hillary’s virgin status is preserved for 2016 and at no extra charge a potential Republican candidate is shredded. Not a bad day’s work for our FBI. And of course, most immediately, Petraeus won’t be allowed to testify before the Senate to cover his own philandering butt on Libya. People have learned a lot about how to do these kinds of things since the messy demise of Vince Foster.
New CIA Renditions?
As part of the gift that seems to keep giving, we now can go back and examine Petraeus’ snooki, Paula Broadwell, and see what she has been saying in new light. Overnight she has gone from pretend journalist to oracle into the deepest secrets at the CIA. And what might those be?
How about this: On October 26 Broadwell told an audience at the University of Denver that the CIA annex at the Benghazi consulate came under assault on September 11 because it had earlier “taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back.”
Woooo, holy mother of Christ on toast! Knowing now that Broadwell had access to Petraeus’ top secret pillow talk, her “speculative” statement becomes serious stuff. It tells us without a doubt that the September attack was aimed at the CIA (which this blog called way back then without having to had slept with anyone) not Ambassador Stevens, that the White House and Susan Rice damn well knew the attack was unrelated to the anti-Muslim video and worst of all, that the CIA is back in/still in the kidnapping and rendition business.
The latter is major stuff people. The CIA was kidnapping dudes in Libya? To do what with them? Torture/interrogate them locally and then release them? Render them to some outside secret site? What other sites? What the hell are those bad boys (still) doing in our name?
Where in the World is Hillary?
Just prior to the re-election of Barack Obama, lickspittle Hillary proudly proclaimed that she would assume full responsibility for what happened in Benghazi.
So with that statement of full responsibility, one would assume that Hillary will be up on the Hill this week, adding her insight and responsibility into the Senate’s Libya hearings, right?
Hillary is off to Australia to pimp for money to prop up America’s overweight defense structure in Asia. And don’t ask her for next week either, because she’ll be “on travel.” And also don’t expect to hear any testimony from any Libyans, either.
From Friday’s State Department press briefing:
MS. NULAND: Matt, they’ve asked for closed hearings, closed briefings; that’s what we’re complying with.
QUESTION: The Secretary won’t appear before any of these committees?
MS. NULAND: The Secretary has not been asked to appear. They’ve asked for the individuals that are coming.
QUESTION: Would she be willing to fly back from Australia to appear?
MS. NULAND: Again, she has not been asked to appear. She was asked to appear at House Foreign Affairs next week, and we have written back to the Chairman to say that she’ll be on travel next week.
QUESTION: Are you aware that any Libyans will be called to the hearings to be talked to?
MS. NULAND: That sounds like a question for the Hill. I’m not aware of any panels other than the government panels.
QUESTION: But you have not been asked to facilitate any visas or anything like this for –
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no.
QUESTION: — maybe some Libyan officials?
MS. NULAND: No.
As a public service, looking ahead to the Hillary Clinton presidential run in 2016, opposition researchers are invited to bookmark this page.
Clinton was in Algeria seeking support for “intervention” into yet another country threatened by “al Qaeda.” She is doing this because the other interventions have worked out so well in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Never Neverland. The idea is to gather up some willing African troops as ground fodder, supported by US (and French) logistics, drones, special forces and the like, wrap it in a UN bow and start killing us some more Muslims (in Mali).
Despite the attractiveness of having foreign troops marauding around its territory (and the French have a particularly horrific history in Algeria, of course), Algeria seems cool to the idea. Among other concerns, the Algerians are worried that the troops could push extremists out of Mali and back across its own borders. Algeria has maintained a modus vivendi with the bad boys on its border and sees no reason to stir things up just because the US has found another location to export the War of Terror to.
The US of course remains blind to the continuing failure of its war orgasms, and in particular their horrendous secondary effects. In fact, the new “crisis” in Mali is sort of our fault. The fall of Qaddafi in Libya prompted ethnic Tuareg rebels from Mali, who had been fighting alongside Qaddafi’s forces, to return to northern Mali with weapons from Libyan arsenals. They joined with Qaeda-affiliated Islamist militants who had moved to the lightly policed region from Algeria, and the two groups easily drove out the weakened Malian army in late March and early April. Then the Islamists turned on the Tuaregs, chasing them off and consolidating control in the region in May and June. But hey, we got another regime change notch in our belt, so it’s cool.
Mali is a wasteland, so the war is unlikely to make things too much worse, right? About half the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day.
The 100% percent-substance free official State Department read-out of the Algerian trip was contained in the longest run-on sentence in bureaucratic history: Virtually the entire meeting portion focused on our counterterrorism cooperation and Mali, and they agreed that we need to now work together to build on our existing strong U.S.-Algerian counterterrorism cooperation to work together against the problems that are being exported from Mali and to help Bamako and ECOWAS with the AU and the UN support as well deal with the security threats inside of Mali.
BONUS: Savage War of Peace by Alistair Horne is one of the best books about the Algerian war for independence against the French. The book is also important reading in that it discusses the French decision to employ torture against the Algeria rebels, and details the extreme costs to the French in terms of loss of moral superiority that flowed from that choice. The book is also a textbook in counter-insurgency warfare, albeit once again mostly negative lessons.
Well, luckily we are free of such restraints in modern Washington. Indeed, over a month after the predictable and possibly preventable deaths of four Americans at the US Consulate in Benghazi, Hillary Clinton said “I take responsibility.”
What does that mean?
Hillary did not take responsibility on September 11 when the attacks took place. She instead made self-serving statements about bravery (of others) and sacrifice (of others).
Between October 3 and October 12 Hillary made no public statements at all about the Libya disaster, allowing others to bleat in her place.
Hillary did not take responsibility at recent Congressional hearings. She did not even show up. She sent others to testify. Not a one of them said Hillary was responsible, or even involved, in the deadly mistakes State made. None of them mentioned her by name.
Hillary did not take responsibility during the Vice Presidential Debates.
BlameResponsibility was assigned to the anonymous “intelligence agencies” by the Vice President and Hillary sat quiet.
If Hillary is now indeed responsible, let’s see her resignation. Better yet, she can start to act responsibly. Let’s hear her publicly and unambiguously tell us what her role in the decision-making was. Let’s see her demand the State Department’s own Accountability Review Board, now five weeks after the attack, issue a report sometime this decade (or at least before the election.) Let’s hear her exonerate the loyal troops sent to have their heads taken off by Congress last week. Let’s have Hillary state publicly that the witch hunting and scapegoating inside Foggy Bottom will cease because she alone will take the hits, ’cause inside the building the buck isn’t stopping.
Anything less just rubs our noses further into this craven, desperate electioneering crap.
BONUS: State’s other Spartacus-wanna be, Pat Kennedy, told the House last week in defense of Susan Rice that “If any administration official, including any career official, were on television on Sunday, September 16th, they would have said what Ambassador Rice said,” i.e., that the attack in Benghazi was not a pre-planned terror attack but instead merely a reaction to that anti-Islamic video.
Only Pat lied.
On September 12 in an unclassified, half-hour conference call with staff aides to House and Senate lawmakers from relevant committees, and leadership offices, Pat said that he was convinced the assault was planned due to its extensive nature and the proliferation of weapons.
What is Important
Isn’t there a single reporter who will ask Hillary why only now has she determined that she is the responsible one, and challenge her that her “claim” is nothing but party politics?
Will no one ask Obama (or Hillary) to comment on Obama’s July 2012 statement “As president of the United States, it’s pretty clear to me that I’m responsible for folks who are working in the federal government and you know, Harry Truman said the buck stops with you… one of the things you learn is, you are ultimately responsible for the conduct of your operations.”
As for Pat Kennedy, don’t you have any shame at all? Trick question.
Also, anybody else expecting Obama to drone kill some poor random Libyan and claim justice has been done, right before the election, in a weak attempt at an October Surprise?
Anyway, I take responsibility for it all, what the hell, why not.
Switch to our mobile site