The Benghazi Attack: A Bigger Question Missed by All the Finger-Pointing

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GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP / Getty Images

A Libyan man walks through the debris of the damaged U.S. amabassador's residence in the U.S. consulate compund in Benghazi, Sept. 13, 2012.

The facts of the case are this: a Sept. 11 attack carried out by armed extremists in Benghazi, Libya, took the lives of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. Nearly everything else is unclear. Given that it took the Federal Bureau of Investigation three weeks to gain access to the consulate, which was left unsecured during that time, a conclusive investigation is unlikely. No one knows exactly what happened that night and any one who claims differently is lying. And no matter how many resources the government devotes to “bringing those responsible to justice,” as President Obama has promised, it’s unlikely that a crystal picture of the attack will ever emerge.

But that hasn’t prevented the attack from becoming a political football in a campaign season, with each side bending scant evidence to make their case.

Republicans argue that the attack in Libya is the latest, and most compelling, evidence that the Obama Administration’s foreign policy has been a failure. “When something goes bad, they deny, they deceive, and they delay. And the truth is we’re not safer. Al Qaeda is alive. Bin Laden may be dead. Al Qaeda is alive and they’re counter-attacking throughout the entire region,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican said on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. “And the truth is that the foreign policy choices of President Obama is allowing the region to come unraveled.”

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Shoe-horning the Benghazi attack into a narrative about Obama’s weakness on foreign policy – a Karl Rovian play to attack Obama’s strength – misses the better policy argument. Senator John McCain, the 2008 GOP nominee, asked the right question when he wanted to know what America is doing in Benghazi? What’s Obama’s plan for that nation and for the Middle East as a whole? The more effective Republican attack might be to question Obama’s lack of vision for the region, although Romney doesn’t seem to have a comprehensive plan either.

From Iran’s currency collapse to Syria’s civil war, the Middle East is experiencing a period of instability that many analysts believe  will continue for the better part of the next decade. “One of the great problems we have is this reference to the ‘Arab Spring,’ because that implies a short term event.The reality is the unrest on the Middle East has built up for decades. The problems are as much political as they are economic and demographic and they’re not going to go away quickly.” says Anthony Cordesman, a foreign policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and an adviser to several Republican presidents. “What is it the U.S. can do to change the structure as some 600 million Muslims decide what their future is going to be? Well, we can have an impact but it isn’t going to be a President Romney or President Obama who dictates the future of the Muslim world.”

One of the few things Republicans and Democrats agree upon is Americans’ war weariness in the Middle East. No one wants to send in troops anywhere. But diplomacy is hard work. Coalition building and democratic reform–exactly what U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was working on when he was killed –don’t produce quick and clean results in the Middle East. As one of Romney’s top foreign policy adviser’s Dan Senor told Fox News in 2005 about Iraq: “We often said when we were there that democracy is messy. If you want clean and tidy, there’s dictatorship. But right now, these leaders are immersed in their first sort of democratic experiments, negotiating, horse-trading.”

The messiness of democratic transitions is Democrats’ strongest retort to Republican criticism. “Achieving genuine democracy and broad-based growth will be a long and difficult process. Look at our own history,” Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said in a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Friday. “More than two centuries after our revolution, we’re still working toward that more perfect union.”

But that message has often been lost amid Washington finger-pointing. The bigger picture isn’t about intelligence failures or embassy security funding. Given U.S. interests in the region, the government will continue to take risks operating in unstable countries. So in the next three weeks while Americans are still focused on this issue, Obama and Romney should both answer the question: What is their strategy to stabilize the Middle East?

62 comments
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JohnHarrison
JohnHarrison

How on earth can one vote for President Obama?....... when he allowed four Americans to die at the Libyan Embassy and then does a cover up so that he can win the election.

LiberalLies2012
LiberalLies2012

No mantisdragon91 comments on CIA or otherwise on this thread either

Khagaraj
Khagaraj

Great spin for the Obama administration.It completely ignores the  biggest issue of the coverup and lying after the Benghazi attack.

Michael Wensink
Michael Wensink

p { margin-bottom: 0.08in; }a:link { }

The Sinaloa Federation launched the

Bengazi attack to undermine Obama's leadership. The Sinaloa

Federation is composed of several factions including American,

Israeli and Lebanese. Under the leadership of Eric Holder the US

Justice Department has been attacking the Sinaloa Federation

successfully. They want a friendlier administration in the

Whitehouse.

I have filed a civil RICO lawsuit

against the Sinaloa Federation in the Northern Judicial District of

Ohio 1:12 CV 2501.

Joaquin Guzman Lorea, Ismael Zambada

Garcia, Darrell Edward Issa, Charles Ellis Schumer, Orrin Grant

Hatch, Robert Swan Mueller III, Cesare Frank Figliuzzi, Douglas H

Shulman, Jose A.Gonzalez, Robert T. Bennett, John Richard Kasich,

Edward Fitzgerald, Thomas P. Perciak and others known and unknown,

are members and associates of the Sinaloa Federation AKA the Sinaloa

Cartel, AKA the Federation a criminal organization whose members and

associates engaged in: (a) the illegal trafficking of cocaine and

marijuana; (b) the laundering of drug proceeds; and (c) acts of

violence, including, kidnapping, torture and murder of those who lose

or steal assets from, are disloyal to, or are perceived as enemies of

the Sinaloa Cartel, and which operated principally in the United

States of America, the Republic of Mexico, the Northern Judicial

District of Ohio and elsewhere in the United States.

 

greatsouthernland56
greatsouthernland56

You stupid Republican fools. Obama lets America down because of the Benghazi attack, what the the hell was 9/11? Your whole zillion dollar security system broke down. The CIA ,FBI, everything! Grow up.

 Nobody is going to sort out the Middle East, especially Afghanistan. 

Biden was right when he said during his debate, we are out of there is 2014  period. 

Romney has lots of accusations but no plan or clues. Half of America must be insane if they are contemplating putting back the republicans. 

It truly scares the living daylights out of the rest of the western world. 

Think very carefully about your vote Americans, you can make a huge mistake and all the rest of us will shake our heads in utter dismay at your stupidity and shallowness.

Tom Grace
Tom Grace

Your statement that, "No one knows exactly what happened that night" is correct, as far as it goes. But we do know what did not happen that night: there was no peaceful demonstration gone bad. We know because there was live video that until the moment of the terrorist attack on our consulate, there was nothing else going on. Why the Obama administration will not admit this proven fact is what makes this scandal so damaging to this administration.

TheDonaldo
TheDonaldo

Agreed.  Guess I have somewhat a neo con outlook, but what is the cost of not ...?  We can't and we need to...  So maybe nothing is the best option.   I would just like to see some real deep and wide discussion.  A discussion absent of social conformity and correctness.

carolerae
carolerae

Not going to be stable for a long time, so foreign policy experts say. If Romney wins by God, those Muslims better behave or I'll call and complain.  He's truly an idiot if he thinks he can make an entire region do what he says if he screams enough.  Wake up call overdue with that idiot.  The unrest doesn't bother me, but they need to leave embassies of all countries alone. 

sacredh
sacredh

Secretary of State Clinton takes responsibility:

.

http://politicalticker.blogs.c...

ahandout
ahandout

 Hillary, taking the rightful responsibility for the ambassadors security doesn't change the fact that Obama has been covering up the attack for over a month.  It doesn't answer any of the questions.

It just means that Hillary has to testify before Congress.

ahandout
ahandout

Jay Newton-Small, why don't you, as a journalist, ask the tough questions of the Obama administration?  It would seem that their are quite a few unanswered questions you could get answers too before you try and change the subject. 

For example:  Who told Susan Rice to go on the Sunday talk shows and politicize the Benghazi attack by telling a story that the Obama administration knew was false? 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 Seeing as Hilary just admitted the buck stops with her the answer to your question is apparent. Guess Mittens is just going to have to pray for more dead Americans before the election that he can use to his political benefit.

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

mantisdragon, Can you just hear the screaming if Rice or someone had not gone on the stupid Sunday shows and said something - even if we did not have all the facts at the time and the situation was still fluid?? OMG, they are covering up. The people have a right to know. What aren't they telling??

ahandout
ahandout

 So exactly what did happen, Ivy?  It's been over a month.  What is the story this week?

ahandout
ahandout

 That wasn't the question, MD.  The question is why did the Obama administration politicize the attack and continue to do so. 

Hillary, can resign.  She won't.  That still leaves lots of questions.  Hillary is still trying to say there was confusion after the attack.  Then why did she, Susan Rice, and Obama tell the world it was do to a youtube video? You can't have it both ways.

ahandout
ahandout

 MD, trotting out your UN ambassador, the secretary of state, your press secretary and the president himself to lay out a false story, that they knew was false, is political mis-information.  GOT IT?

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Are you senile? The Obama camp didn't politicize this event, Mitt did. In fact he broke his promise not to campaign on 9/11 to do so.

TheDonaldo
TheDonaldo

Jay, here is what America is asking?

1.  Was it an act of war by an organization that the administration claims has been very weakened by their policy or was it protest that got out of hand?  If the first conclusion, what does that mean?  What would have happened if the 2011, 9-11 attacks were dismissed as simply as protests or routine criminal behavior.

2.  Libya had to be the most sensitive and risky diplomatic post for security in the world, apparently the administration did not think so - why?  

3.  The President has presided over 3 wars, Libya was a military attack and strategy. Libya was clouded up as a diplomatic thingy.   That has not come up in the conversation.  Why not?

4.  Would not an attack on Syria, even if presided over by Turkey, not be a safer route than an attack directly on Iran's leadership?  Iran's leadership would be very hard pressed to launch anything in response to Syria and that would take care of some of the Lebanon issues too and stabilize some of the Iraq simultaneously.  That would offset some Israeli pressures too.  And if Iran did respond that would give EVERYONE cover to go after them on simply crimes against humanity issues.  That is generalization, with lots of specifics that no one can presently predict.  So I am saying that confronting Syria would an easier solution than going after Iran directly.  Let the Iranians dictators respond.

5.  Is the United States and its allies prepared to deal with Iran's asynchronous war strategies and tactics?   If we hand Syria back to a more Sunni Islamic posture, would they offset some of the Iraqi Shiite sect influence and power?

So Jay you can play small ball and small talk while the water keeps boiling incrementally hotter and hotter the frogs.  I would like the journalists to look at some of the more wild and encompassing scenarios than the spin of the day from Jay Carney et.al.  I wish you guys would jump over all this spin and look deeply and widely beyond yesterdays small talk.  We need you to be more than partisan advocates for the status quo at 1600 Pennsylvania avenue.  So ideologues or principled thinkers - which are you guys?   Really!

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 1) I think it was an opportunistic attack by an organization that is badly weakened and on the run.

2) I would argue that both Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are way more dangerous than Libya is.

3) No clue what you are trying to say.

4) Why would we attack Syria at all when the government that ends up in power much like it has in Iraq may not favor our interests?

5) If we had wanted a counter balance to Iraq we should have left Saddam Hussein in place since he was the perfect counterfoil to the mullahs.

Last but not least what do you see in Romney's circle of advisers that would make you think they would be able to do any better in the Middle East or elsewhere?

TheDonaldo
TheDonaldo

3.  Most people say Iraq, Af-Pak are the middle east conflicts, but that we took actions in Libya was also a third conflict not discussed much.  I was OK with that.  But, I think we have to acknowledge that too.  

On your last comment, that is a legitimate question.

I still think that neutering Syria would be potentially a better strategy.  

I appreciate your comments.  All valid comments.  Wish we could have civil discussions and not just laughing each other off with condescending remarks.  That is nearly impossible in this format.  Something like a visual whiteboard with geometric objects and lines.

ahandout
ahandout

Where did Syria get those chemical weapons?

The flights - 56 in total, Mr. Sada said - attracted little notice

because they were thought to be civilian flights providing relief from

Iraq to Syria, which had suffered a flood after a dam collapse in June

of 2002.

"Saddam realized, this time, the Americans are coming," Mr. Sada

said. "They handed over the weapons of mass destruction to the Syrians."

Mr. Sada said that the Iraqi official responsible for transferring

the weapons was a cousin of Saddam Hussein named Ali Hussein al-Majid,

known as "Chemical Ali." The Syrian official responsible for receiving

them was a cousin of Bashar Assad who is known variously as General Abu

Ali, Abu Himma, or Zulhimawe.

 

http://www.nysun.com/foreign/i...

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 As a forum we tend to devolve to the level of the biggest idiots of which unfortunately there are many.

 The problem with military intervention in Syria is who do you support? You got a very densely populated country with a number of religions and sects diametrically opposed to each other. Even more alarmingly they have  a robust air defence network and large stores of chemical weapons which they would not hesitate to use if threatened by outside parties.

sacredh
sacredh

The Middle East isn't a monolithic union. Not only does each country have it's own agenda, there are many factions within each country vying for influence and supremacy. I don't believe there can be a unified policy towards the Middle east because there is no unity within the Middle East itself. You take different religious factions, different styles of government, age old animosities and mix them altogether and you have near chaos. That's what we have and I can't imagine anyone being able to deal with it. The best we can hope for is to keep the entire region from exploding. Obama isn't going to bring peace to the Middle East and neither is anyone else.

gysgt213
gysgt213

The reality is what we bring to the Middle East are enhanced techniques and equipment which allows these governments to oppress their own people.  In Egypt billions still go to an army that will not let civilians assume control of their government.  in Pakistan same thing.  

Sue_N.
Sue_N.

Good God, could someone please get Princess Lindsey a new set of pearls? His are bound to be worn out from all his clutching.

jake8955
jake8955

The bigger question is: How is it that four Americans are dead a few months after extra security was withdrawn from a unstable country amid requests for more security? 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 You do realize that the extra security was withdrawn from Tripoli which is over 400 miles from where the attack occurred?

jake8955
jake8955

"The State Department's former point man on security in Libya told a congressional hearing Wednesday that his superiors worked against him as he tried to get more help for the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi in the months before it was overrun in a deadly terror attack.

..

Various communications dating back nearly a year asked for anywhere from three to five diplomatic security special agents.

As the four-hour hearing drew to a close, Nordstrom divulged he had verbally asked for significantly more help -- 12 agents"

http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/10/...

jake8955
jake8955

Putting faith in anybody in the federal government to get to the bottom of such a quagmire was your first mistake.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 Let's just say I have more faith in Hillary Clinton and the professionals at the State Department than I do in grandstanding clowns like Issa and Chafetz and leave it at that.

jake8955
jake8955

You are putting a lot of faith in an administration that would rather this situation just go away. And as for a republican circus, they are not the ones pointing fingers at each other (Obama admin, state department, 'intelligence community') and blaming a youtube video for a terrorist attack. And to your second point, the CIA safe house in Benghazi has already been ransacked and all the intelligence has been lost.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 And I have no doubt that we will get to the bottom of this and deal with the people responsible both internally and externally. All the Republican circus has done is to put more Americans at risk by exposing a secret CIA base in the area.

jake8955
jake8955

I'm less concerned with who is to blame and more concerned with how this could happen. Even if the ambassador preferred to travel with less security he did not die when he was traveling. He died inside a United States Embassy, along with three other Americans. Americans deserve to know how it is that a top security official on the ground gets denied extra personnel to ensure security in a highly unstable country in an area where attacks had been going on over the summer. We need to know where the break down in the bureaucracy took place and we need to fix it, and finally we need to hold the terrorists responsible for the attack accountable for their actions.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

And you don't think he could have brought more security from Tripoli if he wanted to? What gets overlooked in this rush to cast blame was the fact that Ambassador Stevens was a very brave man with a deep love and respect for that part of the world. He prided himself on being able to travel among the people of Benghazi freely and didn't want to travel with a large armed entourage.

jake8955
jake8955

Well, Ambassador Stevens was based in Tripoli and had security travel with him from Tripoli to Benghazi so I think it's relevant and speaks to the over-all security failure in the country.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

And where does it say that security was withdrawn? All I see is that requests for additional security was not granted.

allthingsinaname
allthingsinaname

We can have plans, but I am not sure that anyone in the Middle East cares about them.

Can we have plans in the ME without reconciling the Palestinian problem? What of Egypt, and Syria? Could we or should we have a larger foot print there? If so where and how big and what does it consist of?

I know send money or troops, or take our money or we will send troops, or spend our money the way we want or we will send troops, or, or, or and demand, demand, demand.

It sure as hell is easy to say.

I haven't a clue as to what to do, neither do the Pundits I read, but I have to agree playing politics with it isn't going to improve a darn thing.

3xfire3
3xfire3

Jay,

It is a.cover-up and everyone knows it except for ideologues like you who are working hard for Obama's re-election.

You are very dishonest.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 The only dishonesty I see are the Republicans trying to politicize a national tragedy and Mitt trying to use a dead seal's name against the wishes of his mom.

ahandout
ahandout

 Obama politicized it when he trotted Rice out to lie about it on all the Sunday talk shows.  Barry himself politicized by blaming a video produced in the US for the actions of extremists. 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Just because you are used to Republican Presidents lying to us about everything don't assume that is what Obama did. They provided info as it was recieved. And Hillary even stepped up and accepted blame for the situation. I have yet to see Condi take any blame for the disasters of 9/11 and Iraq.

HudsonValleyTim
HudsonValleyTim

I think that it would be easy-enough to find the people responsible...this has Karl Rove's fingerprints all-over it.  Just look at his checking account for large charitable contributions to the "Libyan Orpahn's Fund"

Jay Newton-Small
Jay Newton-Small

In response to destor23:

I think the attack itself shows that we haven't done enough to help Libya since helping liberate it. The question is: what are we doing there now? Are we helping strengthen their security? Their democratic institutions? Are we doing enough? Too much? What's our strategy there? Our involvement in Libya didn't end in 2010.

La_Randy
La_Randy

Thanks for engaging the swampers JNS.

With that said, do you actually believe that in the short time since Libya was "liberated" that Americans could have, through diplomacy or aid, discouraged extremist in the country from attacking the compound?

Has this line of thinking worked in any other middle east country?

sacredh
sacredh

Thanks for the article and interacting JNS.

AfGuyReturns
AfGuyReturns

Define "strengthening their democratic institutions"...

Are they considered "strong" when their electoral outcomes are in line with what we think is right and proper?

Too often a "proper" outcome is one which elects a government that is receptive to OUR goals and desires.

chupkar
chupkar

I think those are valuable questions but that is not at all the same thing as suggesting we can stabalize the entire Middle East.

gysgt213
gysgt213

I'm missing the 2010 reference?

Jay Newton-Small
Jay Newton-Small

 I think the attack itself shows that we haven't done enough to help Libya since helping liberate it. The question is: what are we doing there now? Are we helping strengthen their security? Their democratic institutions? Are we doing enough? Too much? What's our strategy there? Our involvement in Libya didn't end in 2010.

ahandout
ahandout

Good question, what are we doing?  You don't help strengthen the Libyan government by blaming a US youtube video.  You don't do it by leaving your ambassador unguarded in a dangerous area.  You don't ignore intelligence reports before and after the attack.  You would probably want to take out the bad guys ASAP.  Not happening. 

So, what is the strategy of mis-information by the Obama administration?  Why all the lying and coverup?  What is going on here?

I think that's what we have been asking.  Glad you are onboard.

TheDonaldo
TheDonaldo

How do you strengthen democratic institutions when the fundamental social viewpoints are about power and dominion, not equality-social justice?  That is what I believe to be the most important problem of all progressive centered politicians.  They assume that individuals in the middle east (from south west Asia to the Atlantic Ocean)  think like we do.  They don't.  It is what we call an assumption.  It is missing in our foreign policy.  So in this case it is what is categorized as ethnocentric bias.   It is a cognitive bias.  It is also an emotional bias too.  

Just_Another_Psycho
Just_Another_Psycho

Media coverage and public opinion of Benghazi attack proves one thing and one thing only. Americans need to travel more...know a bit the world, talk to regular people...

Honestly what were you expecting? People partying and celebrating on the streets? A welcome ceremony to thank you all for liberating their country....? Do you really believe that is possible to win wars and hearts at the same time...?

People don't want wars, people don't want bombs falling as rain over their heads...

Whether we like it or not, Gadaffi was a stabilizing force in the region. Now chaos reigns, it's survival of the fittest - the country is up for grabs. The strongest will take control..everybody knows it....as well as everyone knows that all the rest will organize themselves into resistance and fight guerilla warfare for the years to come....carrying out attacks as in Benghazi - I wonder why everyone seems to be so surprised...

There is no way out - unless - an national dialog is called (including all relevant political players), a national referendum is held and the political-economical incentives are created for all armed groupsto demobilize...