Commentary on the economic , geopolitical and simply fascinating things going on. Served occasionally with a side of snark.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
Benghazi Report shows troubling now accountability trend - no one directly fired due to scathing findings ( yet Eric Boswell , Charlene Lamb , Raymond Maxwell clearly pushed out the door . All to give Hillary cover ? ) Meanwhile note Americans still can be indefinitely detained under the NDAA ...... Finally while Hagel is smeared as anti-semitic , Michele Flournoy pushed as the anybody but Hagel candidate.....
Senate Foreign Relations chairman John Kerry leaves a closed-door briefing the Benghazi attack on Wednesday. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP
Four US State Department officials have resigned after a damning investigation into the killing of the American ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, in Benghazi in on 11 September found "systematic failures" of leadership and "grossly inadequate" security.
The report said that US personnel on the ground acted with "courage and readiness to risk their lives to protect their colleagues, in a near impossible situation" during two sustained attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi and a nearby annex that killed Stevens and three other American officials.
But it also described confusion, lack of transparency and inadequate leadership at senior levels, and strongly criticised the use of a Libyan armed militia as security for the Benghazi consulate.
Three of those who resigned were the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, Eric Boswell; the deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security, Charlene Lamb; and an official who was at first unidentified but later named by the Associated Press as Raymond Maxwell, the deputy assistant secretary of state overseeing the Maghreb nations of Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.
The independent review board – chaired by a former US ambassador, Thomas Pickering, with Admiral Michael Mullen, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, as his deputy – strongly condemned the handling of security by Lamb and Boswell, and their lack of co-operation.
"Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place," the report said.
Lamb appeared at a congressional hearing into the attack in October where she defended the security measures taken in Benghazi. "I made the best decisions I could with the information I had," she said.
The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said she would implement all of the report's recommendations for improving the protection of US missions, some of which were classified. That includes asking Congress to permit a shift in spending to ramp up diplomatic security.
Congress was briefed in secret on classified aspects of the report on Wednesday. It is expected to hold a public hearing on Thursday following months of mostly partisan attacks against the White House and the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, who were accused of attempting to cover up al-Qaida involvement in what was described as a terrorist attack.
The issue helped force Rice to withdraw her bid to become US secretary of state in the face of Republican hostility. But the report does not come to a conclusion as to who was responsible for the Benghazi killings, or what their links were.
The report did not add a great deal to what is already known about the attack but it did discount the contentious claim which caused problems for Rice, and which she later rowed back on, that that the assault was prompted by protests in Cairo over an anti-Muslim video placed on the web by a man in California.
It also provided insight into the ferocity of the assault on the US consulate in Benghazi saying it involved "arson, small arms and machine gun fire, and the use of RPGs, grenades, and mortars" against the main consulate compound, a security annex and on officials travelling between them.
According to the timeline in the report, the attack began at about 9.40pm with "dozens of individuals, many armed" entering the consulate compound through the main gate. A US guard hit the alarm. He told the inquiry that there had been no warning from the militia assigned to defend the consulate or the unarmed security guards, and that some of them swiftly fled.
The intruders grabbed cans of fuel used for the generator to set fire to one of the buildings in the compound and to burn cars. They then broke into a building which also housed the "safe area" where Stevens was being protected by US security officials.
"Men armed with AK rifles started to destroy the living room contents and then approached the safe area gate and started banging on it," the report said.
Then the attackers left, perhaps driven away by the smoke from the fire which engulfed the safe area and "made breathing difficult and reduced visibility to zero". Stevens and the two security men with him tried to escape the "thick, black smoke".
The ambassador became separated. He was later found by Libyans who broke into the consulate and taken to hospital, but he was already dead from smoke inhalation. Another American official also died from the smoke.
The US embassy in Tripoli scrambled to react, chartering a plane to carry seven security personnel to Benghazi. The US Africa Command also sent a surveillance drone over Benghazi.
The report said that shortly after the security team from Tripoli arrived at the annex it came "under mortar and RPG attack, with five mortar rounds impacting close together in under 90 seconds".
Two security personnel died in the fighting at the annex.
The report blames a number of contributing factors for the security failures from budget cuts to the fact that security personnel relied too heavily on intelligence to warn of impending attacks and didn't pay enough attention to what was going on around them, including a series of assaults over previous months in the International Red Cross and British diplomats.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Mullen criticised officials in Washington for rejecting requests from personnel in Benghazi for better security. "We did conclude that certain State Department bureau-level senior officials in critical positions of authority and responsibility in Washington demonstrated a lack of leadership and management ability," he said.
"State Department bureaus that were supporting Benghazi had not taken on security as a shared responsibility, so the support the post needed was often lacking and left to the working level to resolve."
Instead, security was assigned to a Libyan armed militia group, the February 17 Martyrs' Brigade (February 17), to protect the Benghazi consulate. Lamb defended that decision during her congressional testimony in October. But the report said this was clearly inadequate and that when the attacks came the militia neither raised the alarm nor stayed around to fight.
"At the time of Ambassador Stevens' visit, February 17 militia members had stopped accompanying Special Mission vehicle movements in protest over salary and working hours," the report said.
It also said the Libyan government's response during the attack was "profoundly lacking".
The report prompted strong criticism of the State Department by some politicians. "My impression is the State Department clearly failed the Boy Scout motto of be prepared," said Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming. "They failed to anticipate what was coming because of how bad the security risk already was there. … They failed to connect the dots. They didn't have adequate security leading up to the attack and once the attack occurred, the security was woefully inadequate."
Another congressman, Adam Schiff, Democrat of California and a member of the House intelligence committee, said the report showed security was "plainly inadequate, intelligence collection needs to be improved, and our reliance on local militias was sorely misplaced".
A Congressional committee has eliminated a provision the Senate passed earlier this year in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act which aimed to prevent US citizens from being detained indefinitely without charge or trial.
“Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) announced the removal of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s indefinite detention amendment Tuesday afternoon,” reported Josh Gerstein at Politico.
Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act last year, which includes provisions codifying indefinite detention for individuals suspected of allying with or supporting al-Qaeda or its affiliates, although the language is quite vague.
There was and is serious disagreement about how much the Feinstein amendment accomplished, with many arguing it didn’t do enough to explicitly guarantee that the indefinite detention provisions in the bill did not apply to US citizens because it essentially deferred to the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which many including Senator Levin claim permits the government to indefinitely detain US citizens.
But now that the language has been dropped, there is little to get in the way of the NDAA’s indefinite detention provisions.
Senator Rand Paul, who supported the Feinstein amendment, released a statement condemning the committee decision to have it removed.
“[R]emoving those protections now takes us back to square one and does as much violence to the Constitution as last year’s NDAA,” Paul said in a statement. “When government can arrest suspects without a warrant, hold them without trial, deny them access to counsel or admission of bail, we have shorn the Bill of Rights of its sanctity.”
With opponents of a potential nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R – NE) as Secretary of Defense now centering on the idea that nominating a “white man” would reflect badly on the administration, former Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy has emerged as a seeming consensus candidate for advocates who see her asless likely to make any real policy changes.
A former appointee under President Clinton, Flournoy founded the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) to advocate a more “pragmatic” national security policy. In practice this has meant a policy that never questions the notion that military action abroad is a “force for good,” while arguingdistinctions without a difference, as when Flournoyendorsed “withdrawing’ from Iraq by leaving 60,000 troops there more or less indefinitely.
Appointed the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy by President Obama in 2008, Flournoy rarely made waves, backing the administration’s policy without exception. A lone noteworthy spot in this term was in 2010, when the Pentagon publicly repudiated her for saying it was unlikely that the US would attack Iran in “the near term.”
Flournoy’s general uninterestingness makes her a model choice for lobbyists hoping to keep policy unchanged and the gravy train flowing. The question though, is whether she actually would want the job, as she resigned in late 2011 to spend more time with her family.
Reports that President Obama may nominate former Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense haven't been well received at The Weekly Standard. In pre-emptively opposing the nomination, the neoconservative magazine is employing what you might call a two-tiered strategy: the low road and the lower road.The low road is taken by the Standard's editor, Bill Kristol. He writes that Hagel is "anti-Israel," and then follows this assertion with a series of facts that don't corroborate it. Of course, as Kristol surely knows, "anti-Israel" is taken by some people as code for "anti-Semitic." As for those Weekly Standard readers who don't interpret the term that way--well, that's what the lower road is for. A separate story written by a Standard staffer quotes a top Republican Senate aide saying flat out that Hagel is anti-Semitic.
If you're wondering who that aide is, I have bad news for you: The Standard doesn't tell us, so we have no way of being sure that this person even exists. To students of American history, this tactic--conveying vicious accusations while cloaking their source--may sound familiar, because it's the way Joseph McCarthy used to operate. What it's not is the way a magazine with integrity operates. But I guess it shouldn't surprise us, given some of the Weekly Standard's previous behavior.
Meanwhile, Kristol's ideological kin are getting into the spirit of things. The Washington Post's neocon blogger, Jennifer Rubin, quotes Abe Foxman saying Hagel's views "border on anti-Semitism."
In case you don't know who Abe Foxman is, he's the guy who believes that, though Jews can build synagogues wherever they want, and Christians can build churches wherever they want, Muslims shouldn't build mosques wherever they want. (This may sound like a bigoted position, but it's grounded in respect for relatives of 9/11 victims, whose anguish, says Foxman, "entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.")
The other thing you should know about Foxman is that he's head of the Anti-Defamation League. So far as I can tell, that means he's opposed to defamation unless the target is (1) a Muslim who aspires to build a mosque in the wrong place; or (2) someone whose views on Israel don't meet with his approval--in which case he'll personally do the defaming.
What is the evidence that Chuck Hagel is anti-Semitic, or at least borderline anti-Semitic? Apparently he once said, "The political reality is that ... the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here [on Capitol Hill]." The Weekly Standard's anonymous "top Republican Senate aide" is quoted as calling this "the worst kind of anti-Semitism" because it means Hagel "believes in the existence of a nefarious Jewish lobby that secretly controls U.S. foreign policy."
Actually, it doesn't mean that. It means what it says: Hagel believes that AIPAC, like the NRA, is powerful enough to sometimes intimidate legislators. Now, it does follow that AIPAC and the NRA influence policy in their domains, but not that they "control" it. If this "top Republican Senate aide" doubts that AIPAC or the NRA influence policy via intimidation, that's just more reason to wonder whether such a person actually exists. I don't see how you could work in the Senate and be sentient and be oblivious to such facts.
The other complaint about Hagel's quote, expressed by neoconservative Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal, is that Hagel used the term "Jewish lobby" instead of "Israel lobby". This is actually a valid criticism, because the Israel lobby does in fact include lots of Christian Zionists, and for that matter doesn't include lots of Jews. On the other hand, "Jewish lobby" was once the standard term for what is now called the Israel lobby (especially back when the term was closer to being accurate, before Christian Zionism became a big political force). And it doesn't seem to me that it's an indictable offense for a guy Hagel's age to have on one occasion used this once-accepted term--especially in light of the fact that he subsequentlyacknowledged it was the wrong term to use.
At any rate, this isolated Hagel quote certainly doesn't justify Stephens's clear insinuation that Hagel is anti-Semitic. ("Prejudice... has an olfactory element," writes Stephens, and in Hagel's case "the odor is especially ripe.") Neither does any other "evidence" Stephens adduces--such as the fact that not many Jews live in Nebraska, the state Hagel represented as a senator.
I'll leave further debunking of the anti-Semitism charge against Hagel to (Jewish Zionist) Peter Beinart at Open Zion. Meanwhile I'll underscore his fellow Open Zion blogger Ali Gharib's point that it's ironic for Hagel to be pilloried for saying that politicians are intimidated by a pro-Israel lobby--when those doing the pillorying bear a striking resemblance to a pro-Israel lobby trying to intimidate a politician. (Note the headline on that Weekly Standard piece: "Senate Aide: 'Send Us Hagel and We Will Make Sure Every American Knows He Is an Anti-Semite'" I don't suppose that's an attempt to intimidate anyone?)
I should have put "pro-Israel" in quotes, because, as I've said again and again, people who are "pro-Israel" in a right-wing sense of the term favor policies that are, in my view, bad for Israel. And that's especially true of the group I'm talking about now: not neocons (many of whom are honorable people who fight clean and don't make ad hominem attacks), but the subset of neocons (Kristol, Rubin, Stephens, et. al.) who try not just to counter arguments they disagree with but to stigmatize the people who make them. This subset of neocons--the neocon smear machine--has long prevented an open and honest American discussion of Israel, and as a result America, the country with the most influence over Israel, has indulged Israel's worst, most self-destructive tendencies.
The most obviously self-destructive tendency--the endless building of illegal settlements in the West Bank--reached a kind of culmination this year, as the greenlighting of the infamous E1 settlement project made it clear to all but the most deluded observers that a two-state solution will never happen. Which means sooner or later we'll almost certainly wind up with a one-state solution--either a one-state solution that preserves Zionism but makes Israel literally an apartheid state or a one-state solution that marks the end of Zionism.
The latter scenario wouldn't necessarily be a disaster. It's possible for Arabs and Jews to live side by side in peace as citizens of a single state that encompasses the occupied territories. But it will take some work, and in any event it won't be welcomed by the people whose defaming of Israel's critics has done so much to make this the only likely alternative to apartheid.
Over the past year, as I've written about Israel critically and gotten a milder version of the kind of blowback Hagel is getting, my view of the people generating it has changed. I used to think that all the "anti-Israel" and "anti-Semitism" charges were just cynical smears, and I still think some of them are. But I also think some of them come from people who genuinely believe that any severe critic of Israel speaks out of malice. These people are blinded by their passions, and the fact that their smears are wild and unfounded doesn't mean they're insincere.
Still, these smears have been hugely counterproductive from a truly pro-Zionist standpoint. What you're seeing now is one of the final desperate spasms of a group that has already helped destroy the thing it loves, and will probably destroy a few other things before finally, like Joseph McCarthy, destroying itself and receding mercifully into the pages of history.