Rep. Darrell Issa and the Republicans are making political hay from
last month’s killings in Libya of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and
three other Americans. But the real blame traces back to Official
Washington’s endless interventions in the Middle East, says ex-CIA
analyst Ray McGovern.
If you prefer charade to reality, inquisition to investigation, trees
over forest – the House Government Oversight Committee hearing last
Tuesday on “Security Failures of Benghazi” was the thing for you.
The hearing was the latest example of the myopic negligence and
misfeasance of elected representatives too personally self-absorbed –
and politically self-aggrandizing – to head off misbegotten wars and
then too quick to blame everyone but themselves for the inevitable
“So what’s the problem?” a friend asked, as I bemoaned the narrowly
focused, thoroughly politicized charges and countercharges at the
hearing. “It’s just a few weeks before the election; it’s high political
season; I found the whole farce entertaining.”
The problem? One is that the partisan one-upmanship of committee
chair Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, and others soft-pedaled the
virtual certainty that the murder of four American officials in Libya on
Sept. 11, 2012, was a harbinger of more such killings to come. Worse
still, few of the committee members seemed to care.
As I listened to the inane discussion, I wanted to shout: “It’s the
policy, stupid!” The tightest security measures reinforced by squads of
Marines cannot compensate for the fallout from a stupid policy of
bombing and violent “regime change” in Libya and elsewhere in the Muslim
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, one of Issa’s top lieutenants, stated
his “personal belief” that “with more assets, more resources, just
meeting the minimum standards,” the lives of the Americans could have
been saved. Unfortunately for Chaffetz and Issa, their star witness,
State Department Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom, shot a wide
hole, so to speak, into Chaffetz’s professed personal belief.
While joining with others in bemoaning State’s repeated refusal to
honor pleas from the field for additional security in Libya, Nordstrom
admitted that, even with additional security forces, the attack would
not have been prevented. Nordstrom, a 14-year veteran of State’s
Diplomatic Security Service, was quite specific:
“Having an extra foot of wall, or an extra half-dozen guards or
agents would not have enabled us to respond to that kind of assault,”
Nordstrom said. “The ferocity and intensity of the attack was nothing
that we had seen in Libya, or that I had seen in my time in the
Diplomatic Security Service.”
For any but the most partisan listener this key observation punctured
the festive, Issa/Chaffetz carnival balloon that had assigned most of
the blame for the Benghazi murders to bureaucratic indifference of State
Department functionaries in Washington.
Also falling rather flat were partisan attempts to exploit
understandable inconsistencies in earlier depictions of the Benghazi
attack and twist them into a soft pretzel showing that the Obama
administration is soft on terrorism or conducting a “cover-up.”
There is also the reality that diplomatic service in hostile parts of
the world is never safe, especially after U.S. policy has stirred up or
infuriated many of “the locals.” For decades, as populations have
chafed under what they regard as U.S. military and political
interference, U.S. embassies and other outposts have become targets for
attacks, some far more lethal than the one in Benghazi.
To recall just a few such incidents: Iranian resentment at longtime
U.S. support for the Shah led to the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in
Tehran under President Jimmy Carter; anger at U.S. involvement in
Lebanon led to bombings of the U.S. Embassy and a U.S. Marine barracks
killing more than 300 under President Ronald Reagan; U.S. embassies in
Africa were bombed under President Bill Clinton; and the violence was
brought to the U.S. mainland on 9/11 and also against numerous U.S.
facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq under George W. Bush.
John Brennan, the Avenger
However, in this political season, the Republicans want to gain some
political advantage by stirring up doubts about President Barack Obama’s
toughness on terrorism – and the Obama administration is looking for
ways to blunt those rhetorical attacks by launching retaliatory strikes
in Libya or elsewhere.
Thus, it was small comfort to learn that Teflon-coated John Brennan,
Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, had flown to Tripoli, hoping to
unearth some interim Libyan government officials to consult with on the
Benghazi attack. With the embassy’s help, he no doubt identified Libyan
officials with some claim to purview over “terrorism.”
But Brennan is not about investigation. Retribution is his bag. It is
likely that some Libyan interlocutor was brought forth who would give
him carte blanche to retaliate against any and all those “suspected” of having had some role in the Benghazi murders.
So, look for “surgical” drone strike or Abbottabad-style special
forces attack – possibly before the Nov. 6 election – on whomever is
labeled a “suspect.” Sound wild? It is. However, considering Brennan’s
penchant for acting-first-thinking-later, plus the entrée and
extraordinary influence he enjoys with President Obama, drone and/or
special forces attacks are, in my opinion, more likely than not. (This
is the same Brennan, after all, who compiles for Obama lists of nominees
for assassination by drone.)
If in Tuesday’s debate with ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Obama
is pressed, as expected on his supposed weakness in handling Benghazi,
attacks on “terrorists,” real or “suspect,” become still more
likely. Brennan and other White House functionaries might succeed in
persuading the President that such attacks would be just what the doctor
ordered for his wheezing poll numbers.
But what about tit-for-tat terrorist retaliation for those kinds of
attacks? Not to worry. With some luck, the inevitable terrorist
response might not be possible until after the voting. Obama’s advisers
would hardly have to remind him of the big but brief bounce after
killing al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Mindless vengeance has been a popular political sell since 9/11. And
so have drones. Both dovetail neatly with Brennan’s simplistic approach
to terrorism; namely, just kill the “bad guys” – the comic-book moniker
so often used for “suspected” militants, terrorists, insurgents and
still other folks with an enduring hatred for America.
Where is Helen Thomas when we need her! She was the only journalist
not to genuflect before Brennan’s inanities, and had the temerity to ask
him directly to explain what motivates terrorists.
At an awkward press conference on Jan. 7, 2010, two weeks after Umar
Farouk Abdulmuttalab (the so-called “underwear bomber”) slipped through
Brennan’s counter-terrorism net and nearly brought down an airliner over
Detroit, Helen Thomas tried to move the discussion beyond preventive
gimmicks like improved body-imaging scanners and “behavior detection
officers” at airports. She asked Brennan about motivation; why did
Abdulmuttalab do what he did.
Thomas: “And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.”
Brennan: “Al Qaeda is an organization that is
dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents. … They attract
individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of
attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive.
Unfortunately, al-Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the
concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals.
But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”
Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”
Brennan: “I’m saying it’s because of an al-Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”
Brennan: “I think this is a – long issue, but al-Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”
Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”
Seldom does anyone have the guts to explain why. There is virtually
no adult discussion in our mass media about the underlying causes of
terrorism. We are generally asked to take it on faith that many Muslims
are hardwired at birth or through appeals to their Islamic faith to
“hate America.” And, as Brennan would have us believe, that’s why they
resort to violence.
Chickens Home to Roost
It was no surprise, then, that almost completely absent from the
discussion at last Tuesday’s hearing was any attempt to figure out why a
well-armed, well-organized group of terrorists wanted to inflict
maximum damage on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and kill the diplomats
Were it not for Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, impressionable
listeners would have been left with the idea that the attack had nothing
to do with Washington’s hare-brained, bomb-heavy policies, from which
al-Qaeda and similar terrorist groups are more beneficiary than victim,
as in Libya.
Not for the first time, Kucinich rose to the occasion at Tuesday’s hearing:
“You’d think that after ten years in Iraq and after eleven years in
Afghanistan that the U.S. would have learned the consequences and the
limits of interventionism. … Today we’re engaging in a discussion about
the security failures of Benghazi. The security situation did not happen
overnight because of a decision made by someone at the State
“We owe it to the diplomatic corps, who serves our nation, to start
at the beginning and that’s what I shall do. Security threats in Libya,
including the unchecked extremist groups who are armed to the teeth,
exist because our nation spurred on a civil war destroying the security
and stability of Libya. … We bombed Libya. We destroyed their army. We
obliterated their police stations … Al Qaeda expanded its presence.
“Weapons are everywhere. Thousands of shoulder-to-air missiles are on
the loose. Our military intervention led to greater instability in
Libya. … It’s not surprising that the State Department was not able to
adequately protect our diplomats from this predictable threat. It’s not
surprising and it’s also not acceptable. …
“We want to stop attacks on our embassies? Let’s stop trying to
overthrow governments. This should not be a partisan issue. Let’s avoid
the hype. Let’s look at the real situation here. Interventions do not
make us safer. They do not protect our nation. They are themselves a
threat to America.”
Congressman Kucinich went on to ask the witnesses if they knew how
many shoulder-to-air missiles were on the loose in Libya. Nordstrom:
“Ten to twenty thousand.”
And were the witnesses aware of al-Qaeda’s growing presence in Libya,
Kucinich asked. One of the witnesses, Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, an Army
Green Beret who led a 16-member Special Forces security team to protect
Americans in Libya from February to August, replied that al-Qaeda’s
“presence grows every day. They are certainly more established than we
Bottom line: Americans are not safer; virtually no one is safer
because of what the United States did to Libya to remove the regime of
Muammar Gaddafi. Q.E.D.
I was able to listen to most of the hearing on my car radio, and
found it difficult to contain my reaction to the farce. So I was glad to
get a call from RT TV, asking me to come at once to the studio and
comment on the RT news program at 5:00 p.m. I cannot say I enjoyed
trying to draw out the dreary implications. But, in this case, they were
clear enough to enable “instant analysis.” And those ten minutes on camera were, for me, like lancing a boil.
We are told we should not speak ill of the dead. Dead consciences,
though, should be fair game. In my view, the U.S. Secretary of State did
herself no credit the morning after the killing of four of her
employees, when she said:
“I asked myself – how could this happen? How could this happen in a
country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from
destruction? This question reflects just how complicated and, at times,
how confounding the world can be. But we have to be clear-eyed, even in
But some things are confounding only to those suppressing their own
responsibility for untold death and misery abroad. Secretary Clinton
continues to preen about the U.S. role in the attack on Libya. And, of
Gaddafi’s gory death, she exclaimed on camera with a joyous cackle, “We
came; we saw; he died.”
Can it come as a surprise to Clinton that this kind of attitude and behavior can set a tone, spawning still more violence?
The Secretary of State may, arguably, be brighter than some of her
immediate predecessors, but her public remarks since the tragedy at
Benghazi show her to be at least as equally bereft of conscience as
Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and
Like Albright, Clinton appears to suffer from Compassion Deficit
Disorder (CDD), especially when it comes to people who do not look like
most Americans. (She does make occasional exceptions for annoying people like me who also merit her disdain).
Given that she is plagued with CDD, it would have been too much to
expect, I suppose, for Clinton to have taken some responsibility for the
murder of four of her employees – much less the killing, maiming and
destruction caused by the illegal attack on Libya. But if she really
wants to get “clear-eyed,” holding herself accountable would be a good
Was it dereliction of duty for Clinton to have failed to ensure that
people working for her would honor urgent requests for security
reinforcement in places like Benghazi? I believe it was. The buck, after
all, has to stop somewhere.
In my view, counterterrorism guru Brennan shares the blame for this
and other failures. But he has a strong allergy to acknowledging such
responsibility. And he enjoys more Teflon protection from his perch
closer to the President in the White House.
The back-and-forth bickering over the tragedy in Benghazi has focused
on so many trees that the forest never came into view. Not only did the
hearing fall far short in establishing genuine accountability, it was
bereft of vision. Without vision, the old proverb says, the people
perish – and that includes American diplomats.
The killings in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, validate that wisdom. If
the U.S. does not change the way it relates to the rest of the world,
and especially to the Muslim world, more and more people will perish.
If we persist on the aggressive path we are on, Americans will in no
way be safer. As for our diplomats, in my view it is just a matter of
time before our next embassy, consulate or residence is attacked.
Role of Congress
It is a lot easier, of course, to attack a defenseless Muslim
country, like Libya, when a supine House of Representatives forfeits the
prerogative reserved to Congress by the Constitution to authorize and
fund wars – or to refuse to authorize and fund them.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Kucinich noted that in Libya “we intervened,
absent constitutional authority.” Most of his colleagues reacted with
the equivalent of a deep yawn, as though Kucinich had said something
“quaint” and “obsolete.” Like most of their colleagues in the House,
most Oversight Committee members continue to duck this key issue, which
directly involves one of the most important powers/duties given the
Congress in Article I of the Constitution.
Such was their behavior last Tuesday, with most members preferring to
indulge in hypocritical posturing aimed at scoring cheap political
points. Palpable in that hearing room was one of the dangers our
country’s Founders feared the most – that, for reasons of power,
position and money, legislators might eventually be seduced into the
kind of cowardice and expediency that would lead them to forfeit their
power and their duty to prevent a president from making war at will.
Many of those now doing their best to make political hay out of the
Benghazi “scandal” are the same legislators who appealed strongly for
the U.S. to bomb Libya and remove Gaddafi. This, despite it having been
clear from the start that eastern Libya had become a new beachhead for
al-Qaeda and other terrorists. From the start, it was highly uncertain
who would fill the power vacuums in the east and in Tripoli.
In short, Oversight Committee members were among those in Congress
who thought war on Libya was a great idea, with many criticizing Obama
for not doing more, sooner, for “leading from behind” rather than
“leading from the front.” Now, they’re making cheap political points
from the consequences of a war for which they strongly pushed.
War? What War?
As Congress failed to exercise its constitutional duties – to debate
and vote on wars – Obama, along with his Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
and Hillary Clinton, took a page out of the Bush/Cheney book and jumped
into a new war. Just don’t call it war, said the White House. It’s
merely a “kinetic humanitarian action.”
You see, our friends in Europe covet that pure Libyan oil and Gaddafi
had been a problem to the West for a long time. So, it was assumed that
there would be enough anti-Gaddafi Libyans that a new “democratic”
government could be created and talented diplomats, like Ambassador
Christopher Stevens, could explain to “the locals” how missiles and
bombs were in the long-term interest of Libyans.
On Libya, the Obama administration dissed Congress even more
blatantly than Cheney and Bush did on Iraq, where there was at least the
charade of a public debate, albeit perverted by false claims about
Iraq’s WMD and Saddam Hussein’s ties to al-Qaeda.
And so Defense Secretary Panetta and Secretary of State Clinton
stepped off cheerily to strike Libya with the same kind of post-war plan
that Cheney, Bush, and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had for
Iraq – none.
Small wonder chaos reigns in Benghazi and other parts of the
country. Can it be that privileged politicians like Clinton and Panetta
and the many “one-percenters” in Congress and elsewhere really do not
understand that, when the U.S. does what it did to Libya, there will be
folks who don’t like it; that they will be armed; that there will be
blowback; that U.S. diplomats, given an impossible task, will die?
Libya: Precedent for Syria
Constitutionally, the craven Congress is a huge part of the
problem. Only a few members of the House and Senate seem to care very
much when presidents act like kings and send off troops drawn largely by
a poverty draft to wars not authorized (or simply rubber-stamped) by
Last Tuesday, Kucinich’s voice was alone crying in the wilderness, so
to speak. (And, because of redistricting and his loss in a primary that
pitted two incumbent Democrats against each other, he will not be a
member of the new Congress in January.)
This matters – and matters very much. At a hearing of the Senate
Armed Services Committee on March 7, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama,
pursued this key issue with Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen.
Chafing ex post facto at the unauthorized nature of the war
in Libya, Sessions asked repeatedly what “legal basis” would the Obama
administration rely on to do in Syria what it did in Libya.
Watching that part of the testimony it seemed to me that Sessions, a
conservative Southern lawyer, was not at all faking when he pronounced
himself “almost breathless,” as Panetta stonewalled time after
time. Panetta made it explicitly clear that the administration does not
believe it needs to seek congressional approval for wars like Libya. At
times he seemed to be quoting verses from the Book of Cheney.
Sessions: “I am really baffled … The only legal
authority that’s required to deploy the U.S. military [in combat] is the
Congress and the President and the law and the Constitution.”
Panetta: “Let me just for the record be clear again,
Senator, so there is no misunderstanding. When it comes to national
defense, the President has the authority under the Constitution to act
to defend this country, and we will, Sir.”
(If you care about the Constitution and the rule of law, I strongly recommend that you view the entire 7-minute video clip.)
Lawyers all: Sessions, Panetta, Hillary Clinton, Obama. In my view,
the latter three need to be called out on this. If they see ambiguity in
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, they should explain the
reasoning behind their flexible interpretation.
Cannot the legal profession give us some clarity on this key point
before legally trained leaders with a penchant for abiding by the
Constitution only when it suits them take our country to war in Syria
without the authorization of our elected representatives?
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of
the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served
as an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for a
total of 30 years, and now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran
Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).