Tuesday, October 23, 2012

There is no Benghazi Gate, Libya is an Obama strength

Tonight's Presidential debate is on foreign policy. By all accounts the most important issue to be discussed, in terms of how it will effect the election is the so called "Benghazi Gate". Now, readers of Gubu World will know that I have been relatively neutral in this election although I have leaned toward Romney somewhat because of the debt issue. However all I can do is call things as I see them. That is why I want to do a post on the so called Benghazi controversy and why I believe it is one of the most contrived political controversies I have ever come across. Before I go further I want to stress that the reasons I am about to cite are based entirely on my own observations and instincts. I have not copied or expanded them from any other source. So let me begin.

1. Ambassador Stevens was not killed by gunfire or in an explosion. The cause of death was smoke inhalation. When I heard this the morning after his death I assumed that the building had been attacked in a violent demonstration, that it caught fire and that the ambassador was trapped. When one hears of any crime that has been committed one tends to piece together in their head what the motives and methods were. Sometimes it is clear, other times it takes a few days. In my view the mere fact that the ambassador died from smoke inhalation sufficiently explains why it took a couple of days for the administration to be clear that it was in fact an organised terrorist attack. The fact that it coincided with simultaneous protests in several other Muslim countries further muddied the waters. I do not believe there was anything sinister it the disjointed response from the administration. I do think Romney's attempt to associate the apology that came from the US Embassy in Cairo as being an Obama apology that came after the ambassadors death was in bad taste.

2. The impression I got from Ambassador Stevens was that he was not a conventional diplomat. He sneaked into Libya during the revolution and was tasked with liaising with rebels and assisting in the post Gadaffi transition to democracy. He seemed to be a fairly hands on type a guy who wanted to move freely through out Libya. I can't prove this but I would guess that he did not want to travel around Libya in a massive motorcade, nor did he want the US embassy to look like a fortress. I suspect it was part of an image he wanted to portray of America as an ally of Libya. This is my explanation for why the consulate in Benghazi looked more like a holiday villa. Of course if he requested more security he should have got it but that cannot be seriously blamed on the President.

3. The narrative from the Romney campaign is that Obama constantly blamed the attack on a youtube video because in his heart he rejects the idea of unprovoked terrorism. He is sceptical of American power and believes the US on some level brings terrorism on itself, just as the classic leftist believes. I believe that this is a fantasy. Obama did not blame the attack on the youtube video. What he did say from day one was that the attackers used the video as an excuse. This is absolutely accurate. The Republicans are claiming that the attack was entirely unconnected to the movie controversy. This is not the case. While I don't for a second deny that the fanatic terrorists who murdered the four Americans were motivated by Al Queada style anti western hatred, and that they would have committed terrorism against the US anyway, they nevertheless clearly did choose to attack at the time of the controversy in the hope that it would inspire others to sympathise with them.

4. The most important point regarding Libya is as follows. In my view Obamas wider Libya policy has been a great success. It may in fact turn out to be a spectacular success if the democratic experiment in Libya permanently succeeds. All week I have been hearing how Benghazi is a major weakness for Obama. I suspect tonight he will try to illustrate it as a strength. American military action ended the 42 year rule of Col Gadaffi. Some Republicans who still haven't realised that there is no such thing as a stable mad man, argued that they should have left Gadaffi in power because he had started to play ball on the war on terror. Taking Gadaffi down was a risk and Libya is far from stable but the electorate have chosen a moderate government and in the wake of the Benghazi attack we saw the most notable pro American demonstration to occur in an Arab country since Desert Storm. Obamas risk has paid off. The death of four Americans does not invalidate his wider action on Libya. America lost 5000 people trying to bring democracy to Iraq, in Libya they have lost four. How this is continueing to be such a negative for the President surprises me greatly. I suspect tonight that he will try to turn that disadvantage into an advantage.


GW said...

Ted, when four Americans die in a terror attack, and especially when one of those Aemricans is an Ambassador, I kind of have trouble looking at that as an administration "strength."

There were multiple requests for more security assets over a several month period, during which the security situation in Benghazi was deteriorating, with assassination attempts and "dry run" attacks on the consulate. The repeated denial of more assets in that scenario was made at the operational level, but it ONLY would have been made pursuant to a policy that virtually had to come from Clinton or the White House. And you will note at the second debate, Obama was asked specifically who denied more security and why, then spent the next few minutes filibustering that question, refusing to give a straight answer.

We know that someone up the chain of command decided to "normalize" our security posture in Benghazi. That is policy being made pursuant to wish and fantasy. Delusional policy I find rather scary - and you will excuse me if I don't find it a strength.

Here is the real kicker Ted. For months, Obama was portraying al Qaeda as on the run and thus, our problems with them solved. The truth, highlighted by this attack, is that, if not al Qaeda, than at least the ideology of that group, is ascendent today throughout Muslim majority countries. As I wrote on the eve of 9-11-12, twelve hours before the Cairo demonstration or the Benghazi attack, the Middle East is in a far more precarious position, and the U.S. far less safe, than on 9-11-01.

That is not merely a function of four years of Obama. The pull back from the "war of ideas" began under Bush. But Obama has accelerating it and as well, he bears responsibility for turning our back on Iraq as well as four more years of spinning centrifuges in Iran, added to which is that the Middle East is on the verge of nuclear proliferation.

Given what I know today, I am inclined to give Obama a pass on his citation to the youtube video, though not for the reasons you lay out. That said, I am not in any way, shape or form going to give him a pass on a criminally reckless security policy, nor am I going to accept his deeply dishonest portrayal of the Middle East as anything other than a boiling cauldron of extremism on the rise.

The Middle East has been filled with Hobson's choices over the past two years. Whether anything we could have done would have made a decisive difference is arguable. But I can assure you, doing anything other than looking at the situation through the cold, hard eyes of reality is a recipe for disaster. And Benghazi-gate is the tip of that ice berg.

JP said...

Can you please define the "war of ideas"?

GW said...

In brief, there are many different schools of Islam with varying interpretations of the Koran and the Sunna. By leaps and bounds, the most militant reading is that that has been emanating out of Saudi Arabia - Wahhabi / Salafi Islam. That is the belief system of al Qaeda. And it is being exported throughout the world on the back of Saudi petrodollars. It is pushing out other forms of Islam. Bernard Lewis described Wahhabi Islam as an ideology more racist, more xenophobic and more triumphalist than any other on this earth. He likened it to the KKK with many times the oil wealth of Texas.

Indeed, you can take the word of former terrorist Tawfiq Hamid, who wrote not long ago:

"The civilized world ought to recognize the immense danger that Salafi Islam poses; it must become informed, courageous and united if it is to protect both a generation of young Muslims and the rest of humanity from the disastrous consequences of this militant ideology."

There are many Muslim reformers who believe in a far more peaceful and civilized interpretation of Islam's document than that espoused by the Wahabbis and al Qaeda. But we have done nothing to assist them, nor to subject Wahhabi Islam to the most potent force we have, the full light of day and public opinion. Left in the dark, Wahhabi Islam is metasticizing throughout the world.

For a much more detailed argument, see:




Paul said...

Obama, showed his true colours when he passed up an opportunity to end the Iranian regime in 2009. That was not mistaken naiveté on his behalf, it is his intention to further the cause of political Islam not hinder it. This explains his policies.

Ted Leddy said...


Thanks very much for your articulate and detailed response and apologies for the significant delay in getting back to you.

Firstly, I don't consider the Benghazi incident to be a strength for Obama. It is his wider Libyan policy which I deem a success. Incidentally President Obama said as much the night of the third debate.

In March 2011 President Obama had to make a call re Libya. He could have put a stop to the unrest across the region by allowing Gadaffi to crush the uprising. Instead he took the riskier yet more rewarding option of imposing a no fly zone on the country, a decision which directly led to the downfall of Gadaffi. This was the right decision in my view and the emergence of a moderate pro western government in Libya is a huge win for America.

On your wider point that the Obama administration is trying to push the narrative that the war against Al Quaeda ended with the death of OBL, I have some sympathy with this and I agree that Obama is not comfortable talking about the war of ideas. However, it is worth pointing out that the drone programme under Obama has taken out many more terrorists in addition to OBL. Anwar al-Aulaqi at the time of his death was no doubt planning a 9/11 type attack.

I have been impressed by the counter terrorism strategy of the Obama administration. The US was attacked by terrorists on 9/11. The Obama administration has pursued them agressively using special forces and UAV drones. This has proved highly successful, much less costly, dramatically fewer casualties and the world has largely been spared of unpleasant images of US troops kicking down doors and fighting around Mosques. To put it bluntly, The Bush administration went after the terrorists with a sledgehammer, the Obama administration has gone after them with a knife. In my view the latter is a more wise approach.

The "war of ideas" and the Sunni/Salafi ideology has taken place on the streets of Tunis, Cairo, Benghazi, Trippoli and Aleppo during the past 3 years. It was an enormous opportunity for extremists to expand their ideology but they have largely failed to capitalise on this. They have lost in Tunisia and Libya. They are still in play in Egypt and Syria but there is every chance they will lose there aswell. I agree with you that the Middle East is in a more precarious position than it was ten years ago, but that is because it is a totally different football field due to the fact that four regimes have fallen and the long term future form of government in these countries is yet to be determined.

Obama was in power when these regimes fell, he had to deal with them. One of the reasons I am somewhat disillusioned with Republican foreign policy is that I still have no idea what the right wing want to see come of the Arab unrest. I don't even know if they think it's a good or a bad thing. I have never heard Gingrich, Krauthammer, Hannity or Ryan clearly articulate what they think American policy toward the "Arab Spring" should be. Even Romney after months of criticising Obamas foreign policy virtually endorsed it at the third debate. This confused me further.

I don't know what happened that night in Benghazi. It was obviously badly handled. But I stand by my general point that the Benghazi incident does not invalidate Obamas policy toward Libya.

Cranky Notions said...

The phrase 'Worse than Watergate' is overused, but covering up the details of your Ambassador's death probably counts.

There is a BenghaziGate, whether you agree with Obama's overall Libya policy or not.

However, it cannot be ignored that an Islamist, Al Qaeda linked group has taken over an area of Mali the size of France.