The attempt to play politics with the murders of four Americans in Benghazi just won't go away. Anyone who buys into the notion that there is some enormous cover-up or political scandal around the public statements from the Obama administration since the attack doesn't understand intelligence collection, the chaos of reports after a tragedy of this magnitude, or the fact that the reality of events like this aren't fully known until months after the fact, if then.
In fact, I consider it unlikely that anyone knows precisely what happened in Benghazi yet, beyond the men who planned and carried out the Sept. 11 assault on the US consulate there that ended in the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens, diplomatic guards and former Seals Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, and embassy information management officer Sean Smith.
The outlines of what happened are now understood. An assault was planned and carried out by a Libyan militia, almost certainly one with Islamist political leanings. The publicly identified culprit has been a group called "Ansar al-Sharia," but public evidence has as yet been scant. And within the Benghazi context of multiple militias with fluid and changing memberships and identities, saying "Ansar al-Sharia did it" is not as informational as it might seen. A sub-set of Ansar al-Sharia members? A group of men, many of whom, but not all, worked with the militia in the past? Some other group eager to pin the blame on the militia? All are possibilities. Finally "Ansar al-Sharia" ("Helpers of Islamic Law") is a popular moniker in jihadi circles.
Did the Obama administration's early belief, based on reporting from the ground, that the attack was somehow tied in to anger over an anti-Islam YouTube video, damage efforts to find the killers? No. Sorry Rep. Rogers. An FBI team was dispatched quickly to Libya to begin coordinating the investigation, and there is zero evidence that resources were misallocated based on the early confusion. Are claims made on Facebook proof of, well, anything? Again, no.
It is a complicated world, and the large US intelligence operation in Benghazi (which was clearly a big part of what the consulate there was doing) was in understandable disarray after the main compound was torched and the US survivors managed to flee to safety after a safe-house prepared on the outskirts of town was also attacked. To demand that the Obama administration, or State Department managers, or the CIA should have had an accurate and complete picture of what went down there within days of the assault is to misunderstand the limits of our abilities and the need to sift through often-conflicting and confusing reports from the field.
Did Obama and his subordinates make mistakes in the aftermath? Undoubtedly. They should have said less, and what they did say should have made it clear that information was still coming in. They should have admitted uncertainty and caution, never mind that uncertainty doesn't play well in the middle of a reelection campaign. Those missteps may have harmed the president politically, and did lead to confusion among the US public at large. But is it relevant to the efforts to find the killers, and to address the security missteps that left the US operation in Benghazi so vulnerable? No.
Joshua Foust wrote a good piece on all this for PBS yesterday that places blame on the Obama people where it appropriately belongs and points out that the so-called political "narrative" in DC is missing the boat. He points out that real damage is being done by the notion that intelligence uncertainty was some kind of crime.
The (intelligence community) is now absorbing the blame for the public misconception about the attack. President Obama was briefed by the CIA each morning for the first week proceeding that the attack was a spontaneous protest. It has since come to light that a CIA cable suggested otherwise immediately after the assault and administration critics have publicly accused the President of concealing information about the attack. Even some administration officials have placed blame on the intelligence community itself for not being clear enough about what happened.
The problem with this after-the-fact treatment of information is that it ignores how difficult solid reporting is to get from complex, high-profile events. Raw intelligence – firsthand accounts, video surveillance, and other forms of data – rarely adds up to a coherent picture straight away. I worked as an analyst in the intelligence community for many years, and more often than not reports are contradictory, misleading, and paradoxical....
But now the partisan knife fight has happened. One side is accusing your boss of hiding what happened, and the other side is saying it’s your fault for not knowing it sooner. How does this change the intelligence process?
It is being said over and over again that the Obama Administration deliberately obfuscated what happened in the attack on the consulate in Benghazi. Day by day a trickle of old e-mails, partial early reports and developing assessments are hailed as "proof' that something shameful happened and is happening in the US Government, something hidden.
The truth is that early reports and judgments of traumatic, sudden events like this are usually incorrect and need to be developed and "straightened out" with the passage of time and completed investigations.
Complicating the situation in Benghazi was the location there of a CIA base covered as other than that. These people were working on the very problems that eventually resulted in the attack and the deaths. Not surprisingly, the CIA has not been desirous of the revelation of the presence and status of its employees and so the declarations to the press have not been accurate in that regard.
Ari Fleischer, former White House spokesman from President George W. Bush at the time the US decided to go to war with Iraq, goes for a kind of twofer in a tweet today, suggesting that people must either accept that intelligence is a murky business, or that the previous administration should be exonerated for the false prewar claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction "For Bush critics who say he lied about WMDs, is Obama lying about Benghazi? Or is intelligence info sometimes wrong?" he asks.
Well, I don't believe Bush and his administration lied about what they thought about WMD and Iraq, so much as they systematically downplayed doubt in the intelligence reporting and urged America to war because "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," as National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice put it in September 2002. The US ended up going to a war that cost trillions of dollars, replaced a counterbalance to Iran's regional ambitions with a government that is much friendlier to the current US public enemy No. 1, and killed more than 4,400 US troops and 100,000 Iraqis.
The two situations are simply not analogous, and there remains hope that an accurate picture of what happened will ultimately be cobbled together and reasonable steps will be taken to bring the killers to justice.
Well, the South Dakota GOP has decided not to take any chances, and has rolled out a campaign ad attacking Mr. Varilek for his globe-trotting, carbon-trading, and corndog-eating ways (yes, corndogs). The video was uploaded to Youtube on October 17, and veered so close to parody in its depiction of Varilek's educational background and international travel that I called the South Dakota GOP to check if the video is legitimate (it is.)
Will the video have an impact on the race? I don't know. But there is a kernel of serious concern for me in the fact that international experience and a concern for the environment are being painted as suspicious and perhaps dangerous in a campaign for national office.
Varilek apparently worked at the Biosphere II, "known as an incubator of radical environmental ideas," the ad warns, (a Monitor article in 1987 called it "a sophisticated laboratory to study Earth ecology, perhaps yielding clues on such phenomena as the 'greenhouse effect' and the impact of creeping deserts in Africa"; in 2009, staff writer Pete Spotts wrote about how scientists there were studying how rising temperatures could kill trees.)
It then contrasts how Varilek earned a master's degree at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, in 1999, and went to work as a carbon broker for Natsource, an investment firm focused on profiting from renewable energy and emissions markets, against Ms. Noem's apparently more wholesome decision to work on the family farm. In 2001, Varilek heads to Cambridge University for a second master's degree in Environment and Development and speaks at a UN global warming summit in Morocco, while Noem is "living in Castlewood South Dakota, farming, raising a family, helping to balance the books and manage a family restaurant." (Ms. Noem did receive a degree herself in political science from South Dakota State University in 2011).
The ad continues in this vein; in 2003, Varilek, apparently suspiciously, attended a global warming summit in Milan, Italy, while Noem was receiving a Young Leader award from the South Dakota Soybean Association; in 2004, he went to work as "Washington DC political staffer" (he served as South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson's economic development director) and then it gets well, really weird. "In 2006 Matt Varilek hosts a raucous national corndog day party in his swanky DC neighborhood." (This may be the first time that "swanky" and "corndog" have ever appeared in the same sentence.)
Apparently, alcohol was also served at the party. In 2008, he finally returns home to South Dakota. Corndogs were consumed once more.
I don't usually cover national US politics, and I know next to nothing about South Dakota's politics or the specific concerns of its electorate. I have no idea which candidate will better serve their constituents in Washington.
But there is a certain sneering contempt for international experience and high levels of education in corners of America that this campaign ad seems to typify. Environmental issues? One can argue about whether economic interests should be sacrificed for environmental ones, but efforts to create a market in carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions is, well, a market-oriented approach.
When did education and international experience become black marks for legislators?
A few days ago I wrote about the L'Aquila earthquake verdict in Italy, that saw seven Italians, some of them the country's most eminent seismologists, sentenced to prison for failing to "adequately warn" about an earthquake that claimed 300 lives in the central Italian city in April 2009.
I wrote on Monday "today, a court in the central Italian city of L'Aquila... sentenced six scientists and a government bureaucrat to six years in jail on manslaughter charges for their failure to predict a 2009 earthquake that left more than 300 people dead."
Longtime Monitor science reporter Pete Spotts pointed out that my story may have overstated the case, and directed me to a good article in Science, "Aftershocks in the courtroom," that was written ahead of the verdict but is one of the better pieces on English about the background to the court case that has drawn condemnation from around the globe and seen a number of top Italian government scientists resigns their posts in protest. (The Science article is paywalled).
The nuance I missed? The prosecution did not seek manslaughter convictions for the seven men strictly on the basis that they "failed to predict" the earthquake. Instead, the complaint was that they downplayed the probability of a major earthquake around the time that L'Aquila was hit, and were therefore liable for the deaths because they had unduly reassured the public. If the scientists had been more alarmist, the reasoning seems to go, residents of the L'Aquila area would have been more inclined to sleep in cars or outdoors, and therefore fewer would have died in building collapses.
This distinction feels a little like hair-splitting to me, since the demand is still that they should have known that an earthquake was more likely than their own predictions indicated. But since predicting an earthquake at a particular time and place is impossible, so is assigning precise probabilities. If you ever hear someone say that there's a 72 percent chance of an earthquake in your town next Tuesday, know that you are talking to a charlatan.
Nevertheless, some of the people involved in communicating to the public ahead of the L'Aquila quake, in which a "swarm" of tremors had heightened local concerns that a big one might be on the way, certainly got their science wrong.
In late March of 2009, Bernardo De Bernardinis, who was then the deputy head of Italy's Civil Protection Department, appeared on a L'Aquila area local television station to address fears that a major earthquake was on the way. According to Science, Mr. De Bernardinis said recent tremors did not increase the risk, and that “the scientific community continues to confirm to me that in fact it is a favorable situation.”
Science writes: "The ongoing tremors helped discharge energy from the fault, De Bernardinis explained. Trial witnesses later said this was particularly reassuring because it suggested the danger decreased with each tremor."
Well, no. Though there is some science that indicates that the energy released in earthquakes, particularly major ones, lessens the chance of another major earthquake until tension builds up along a fault again, that isn't always the case. And while a swarm of tremors sometimes passes without a major quake, they sometimes presage one. To say that a series of tremors has lessened the chance of a major earthquake is as incorrect as saying they mean one is definitely coming.
At around that time, L'Aquila Mayor Massimo Cialente told another local TV station that "there should be absolutely no risk" of major damage to local buildings. That was an unknowable at the time (and clearly wrong given later events) and Mr. Cialente's reassurance was inappropriate, to say the least.
But Cialente was not one of the men sentenced to prison this week. De Bernardinis was among the seven, the only of the convicted who isn't a geologist. All seven men appeared at a press conference in L'Aquila on May 30, 2009. Science summarizes the tone of their overall remarks "as reported in newspaper articles and television reports, was: Stay calm; it’s not possible to predict earthquakes, but we don’t expect a major quake is on the way."
Well, they were wrong. But in any given time window, it's more likely that a major earthquake will not occur than that one will. The L'Aquila quake struck on April 6, seven days later. Had the men been more alarmist would people have stayed outside of buildings for the next seven days, saving lives? Perhaps, though that seems unlikely.
Lead prosecutor Fabio Picuti complained in his indictment against the men that they were culpable because they had provided "inexact, incomplete and contradictory information."
Well, of course. Neither can an earthquake be predicted accurately, nor can precise probabilities be assigned. University of Rome Volcanologist Franco Barberi had said during a meeting ahead of the May 30 press conference that a "seismic sequence doesn’t forecast anything," a point that Mr. Picuti strongly took issue with, though in a strict sense, Mr. Barberi was right.
Science writes of Picuti's summation.
Picuti pointed out during his summing up that L’Aquila’s 1461 and 1703 quakes were also preceded by foreshocks—and argued that the defendants knew this and should have taken it into consideration. “Why,” he asked, “didn’t another commission member say: ‘No, Professor Barberi, we can’t make such a definite statement; let’s instead talk in terms of probability—that very rarely a seismic swarm can evolve into a strong tremor’? If this had been written in the minutes, I certainly wouldn’t be spending my time here discussing this.”
So in essence, he pursued the prosecution because a scientific commission had failed to say that "very rarely a seismic swarm can evolve into a strong tremor." The assertion that this would have saved lives seems risible.
New Scientist has been kinder to the verdict than many other outlets, however, and their point about public communication and science is worth considering:
Employed by Italy's Major Hazards Committee to assess earthquake risks and communicate them to the government and the public, the seismologists got the science right, but left the job of public communication to a civil protection official with no specialist knowledge of seismology. His statement to the press was, to put it mildly, a grossly inaccurate reflection of the situation: "The scientific community tells us there is no danger, because there is an ongoing discharge of energy. The situation looks favourable." At this point, the seismologists should have stepped in. But they did not, and the message stuck.
... Many commentators argue that the L'Aquila verdict will have a chilling effect on the provision of scientific advice in Italy and beyond. That is clearly a concern worth taking seriously.
However, it should also encourage scientists who take on those roles to think long and hard about the responsibilities that come with them. It is tempting for scientists to defer communication with the public to others who are supposedly "experts" in doing so. But this approach often leads to confusion, as evidenced by a litany of failures in the past: BSE [mad cow disease], vaccines, genetically modified crops and many more.
Rarely since a Catholic inquisition in Rome condemned Galileo Galilei to spend the remainder of his days under house arrest for the heresy of teaching that the Earth revolves around the sun, has an Italian court been so wrong about science.
Today, a court in the central Italian city of L'Aquila, 380 years after that miscarriage of justice, sentenced six scientists and a government bureaucrat to six years in jail on manslaughter charges for their failure to predict a 2009 earthquake that left more than 300 people dead.
This headline isn't the sort of thing that's generally expected from Italy anymore. The church quietly abandoned its objections to heliocentrism in the early years of the 18th century, and by the early 19th, had fully accepted the scientific facts. ( Continue… )
I spent a decade covering Indonesia and a large chunk of that covering finance and investment there, most interestingly the "Asian tiger" bubble and the painfully deep hangover called the 1998 "Asian financial crisis" that triggered the end of the durable dictator and ally of the West, Soeharto.
Though it's been a long time since I've been there, I keep an eye on the place.
The country has made great strides since the chaos of the immediate post-Soeharto years. Economic growth has resumed, living standards have improved, and the small religious wars and separatist conflicts that tore at the country in the early years of the past decade have gone off the boil. East Timor is now an independent nation, the Free Aceh Movement in north Sumatra has laid down its guns, and the jihadi Jemaah Islamiyah, which carried out bombings across the country, has been beaten back by an effective policing and intelligence effort.
The international banks that lost billions in the Indonesian crash, after various Indonesian conglomerates had spent years skimming off the top of loans for themselves rather than putting them to productive uses, have resumed lending heavily to the country and its businesses.
But it's still not an investment climate for the faint of heart, particularly if the complaints of Nathaniel Rothschild are to be believed. The scion of the Rothschild banking dynasty, which has funded governments, speculators, and kings for centuries, has seen a $3 billion tie-up with the politically connected Aburizal Bakrie family hit the rocks.
Judging from an article in The New York Times, Mr. Rothschild was extremely ignorant of the modern history of corporate Indonesia. In 2010, he led an investment group that spent $3 billion in cash and stock-buying stakes in two coal mining companies owned by family of Aburizal Bakrie, a scion of a business dynasty in his own right.
The complex transaction amounted to a reverse takeover of Vallar PLC in the UK, with Rothschild's Vallar taking stakes in two of Indonesia's largest coal producers (controlled by the Bakrie family), and Bakrie-controlled companies in Indonesia ending up with 43 percent of Vallar. Indra Bakrie, Aburizal's brother, took the chairmanship of Vallar, which was quickly renamed Bumi Resources ("Bumi" is Indonesian for "earth") and trades on the London Stock Exchange. The Bakrie family stake has since been reduced by a sale of some of its shares to another Indonesian tycoon.
Indonesia a top supplier of coal
A smart investment? Well, Indonesia is now the world's largest supplier of coal to power plants, a money-spinning business whatever the environmental costs. The Bakries' political leverage has made them major players in natural resources in Indonesia; licensing and business problems go much more smoothly in Indonesia when you're dealing with the politically connected.
But that's a double-edged sword. Rothschild has now fallen out with the Bakries, making the same complaints about them that a string of disappointed investors made in the 1990s and the early years of the last decade.
From my distance, it seems like the past made new. Many of the same local players and politicians remain as powerful, or more so, than ever; corrupt, cozy business practices remain the norm. And the "savvy" international investors who end up in Indonesia appear to be as far behind their local partners as the banks and other investors who lined up behind Indonesia's crony capitalists in the 1990s and lost billions of dollars in the process.
Aburizal Bakrie was one of the politically connected players then. How connected? In 1991, as Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc. renegotiated its contract to work the most profitable copper and gold mine on the planet, it provided gratis a piece of the mine worth about $200 million to Bakrie to smooth over negotiations with Indonesia's Soeharto government.
Bakrie a presidential contender
Bakrie is even more powerful today, nearly 15 years after Soeharto was deposed. He's the chairman of the Golkar political party that Soeharto founded, which holds the second largest percentage of seats in the Indonesian parliament. He's considered a front-runner for Indonesia's presidency in 2014.
In November of last year, Rothschild released a letter in which he'd asked Bumi's chief executive to return corporate money "deposited with connected parties." The Bakries sold part of their stake in Bumi last year to Samin Tan for $1 billion. Rothschild complains that the sale to Mr. Tan was a sweetheart deal that hurt minority shareholders' interests.
Is it true? In this case, unproven. But tangling with the Bakries has always been dicey. The Bakrie family's business practices in the 1990s, when I followed them closely, left a trail of disappointed minority shareholders and creditors. The family's publicly traded companies in Jakarta were in the habit of raising money from minority shareholders, then turning around and using the cash to buy assets from family members.
In 1997 and 2008, family companies were on the brink of bankruptcy, an eventuality that was staved off when creditors agreed to take pieces of family equity instead.
Investors often talk about doing "due diligence" ahead of time. Yet in 20 years of watching investment in Indonesia, time and again I've seen big capital apparently ignorant of recent history of corporations and individuals.
There is no evidence that the US is interested in extraditing Mr. Assange, of course, and it's unclear what he could be charged with if they ever did. But when Assange's WikiLeaks started dumping US diplomatic cables all over the Internet two years ago, frequently without redacting the names of people who could be put in harm’s way by the releases, a number of American politicians figuratively called for his head.
Among them was Darrell Issa (R) of California. In Jan. 2011, as he took the reins of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the congressman told Fox News that the US should immediately prosecute Assange, that “the world is laughing at this paper tiger we've become," and that the release of private diplomatic cables severely damages the ability of US diplomats to operate. ( Continue… )
From the Times of London comes a reminder that the answer to issues of women's rights in places like Afghanistan doesn't necessarily come from appointing more women to positions of power.
Maria Bashir is the country's only female prosecutor. Last year, she was one of the recipients of the State Department's "International Women of Courage" award at a ceremony presided over by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. She's been hailed a pioneer by numerous foreign press outlets and governments.
Time Magazine wrote last year that Ms. Bashir "is establishing precedents that will become the foundations of a just and equal society. As with the clandestine school for girls that she ran while the country was under the Taliban's rule, Bashir's influence may not be immediately apparent. But in a generation it will bear fruit." ( Continue… )
Good news – we'll soon know the full truth of what happened on Sept. 11 in Benghazi, how the attack was planned, and how many were involved. Right?
Well, I remain skeptical. While I haven't been in Benghazi in a year and a half, I've been communicating with reporters and friends there off and on for the past few weeks and there are many divergent stories from eyewitnesses, rival militia leaders, and Libyan government officials eager to project an air of stability and authority. ( Continue… )
Mr. Brahimi wants the cease-fire for three days around Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday that celebrates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son at God's command. Iran and Turkey, which support the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the rebellion, respectively, are on board. Will there be a cease-fire? The smart money should bet against it. There have been promised cease-fires before that have been completely ignored. There's no particular reason to think this would be any different.
Monitor Quiz - Do you know the difference between Sunni and Shiite Islam?
And while country's like Iran and Turkey (and the US, and Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, each in their own fashion) are backing factions in the Syrian civil war, that doesn't give them much, if any, control over their behavior. It is often foolishly imagined that a paid rebel or government is a bought rebel or government. They maintain their own interests. ( Continue… )
The finger-pointing and misdirection around the murder of four Americans at the US Consulate in Benghazi last month is an embarrassing spectacle that just won't go away.
Why should it? Republicans are getting their lumps in on Democrats. The Democrats, on the defensive and mishandling the communications side of all this, are inviting the abuse. The ideological news outlets like Fox have a new cudgel. The rest of the press gets an easy he said/she said narrative that requires little in the way of thought or analysis.
Last night it was the presidential debate. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney tried to call President Obama a liar in regard to events in Benghazi, lying himself in the process. Obama took theatrical umbrage at the very thought that he would ever (ever!) "play politics" over a tragedy. The political press is still chortling over the exchange.
Everyone's a winner, right? Well, no.
Folks interested in the state of diplomatic security, the emerging politics of Libya and the rest of the region, and the role the US should play in seeking to shape events abroad are getting the short end of the stick from their elected representatives and much of the press.
What was particularly grating about the back and forth between Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama last night over whether the president had uttered the words "act of terror" in his Sept. 12 statement on Benghazi (he did) was its complete irrelevance to what went wrong and what the US should do next. President Obama's choice of uttering (or not) the word "terror" 24 hours after a tragedy that pretty much froze America's intelligence collecting abilities in Libya's second-largest city was of no real world relevance whatsoever.
Some of the administration's public statements have been concerning (United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice's repeated insistence that an obviously well-planned attack was "spontaneous" and decision to blame US intelligence agencies comes to mind) and I think, on balance, do speak to an administration seeking to put the rosiest spin on the tragedy in its aftermath. But the elevation of that into the crime of the century? That may create political gain, but distracts from the deep holes in diplomatic security globally (largely due to demands from Republicans in Congress to slash the diplomatic security budget) and a grown-up discussion about Libya.
Quite frankly, it takes months to figure out what really happened in these situations. The Bush administration suggested for years that Iraq's Saddam Hussein was somehow involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US (he wasn't). Even now, there is conflicting information from Benghazi about what went down. Gert van Langendonck, who is reporting for us there, says many locals insist there was a demonstration at the consulate around the time it was attacked. The State Department now says there was no demonstration (after earlier insisting that not only was there a demonstration, but it was the instigator for the attack). What really happened? I would be leery of anyone who's too definitive about anything in Libya at this point.
Of course that won't slow down the political partisans. Jennifer Rubin, a far-right Washington Post columnist has a fact-free article on Benghazi that's typical of the way much of the press is letting American readers down. She writes of a "lead from behind strategy that left (Libya) in chaos and at the mercy of jihadists" in seeking to blame Obama for the deaths:
Clinton is the least culpable on this one. She was one of the principal figures pushing the United States to do something about Libya. But the foot-dragging, the decision to off-load decision-making to the Arab League and delegate operations to NATO were all part of White House policy that wanted to diminish US involvement and leave the heavy lifting to others. As a result, Al Qaeda was much better “established” in the country than the United States, according to Lt. Col. Andrew Wood in his sworn testimony before a House committee.
Her piece is a classic of the genre, in that when her assertions aren't demonstrably false; they're merely highly unlikely. The United States did do something about Libya. It led a NATO coalition that, without an invasion, helped Libya's rebels triumph over autocrat Muammar Qaddafi in an eight-month war that ended his 42-year reign. The US flew thousands of sorties over the country in that time, second only to France (oh, the shame) in the NATO coalition. Was the Obama administration wrong to help the rebellion because post-Qaddafi Libya is a friendlier place for jihadis? A worthy topic for consideration. But that is not what Ms. Rubin is getting at.
As for Wood blaming a "White House policy that wanted to ... leave the heavy lifting to others" that "left Al Qaeda better 'established'" in the country: He said no such thing. Not in his prepared remarks. Or in answering questions from members of Congress.
He did say Al Qaeda was a bigger presence in Libya since the US helped drive out Mr. Qaddafi, but he didn't lay the blame for that anywhere in his remarks, certainly not on some "lead from behind" strategy. The US was very much lead from the front in the case of the Iraq war, and Al Qaeda was much better established there after the US invasion and eight-year war than it was under Mr. Hussein. There is no reason, no reason at all, to have expected a different outcome in the case of an invasion of Libya.
The US had been leading from the front in Benghazi with a huge presence of diplomatic and intelligence people.
Woods was upset about security there. He argued that they should have had a lot more American security or they should have pulled out completely. He pointed out that the British Consulate in Benghazi had shut and "actually had an MOU with us to leave their weapons and vehicles on our compound there in Benghazi." The Red Cross, too, had pulled out of Benghazi and that worried Wood:
When that occurred, it was apparent to me that we were the last flag flying in Benghazi; we were the last thing on their target list to remove from Benghazi. I voiced my concern to the country team meeting. Although it was a difficult thing, the country team was left with no options at that point to – to try and change the security profile there in Benghazi. The resources had been withdrawn. The decision to not renew the (Site Security Team) was pretty much a foregone conclusion by that point in time, but I urged them to do something and anything, to include withdrawal from Benghazi, although I knew that was impossible at the time.
The italics above are mine. A complaint about "leading from behind?" Far from it. But Wood's measured, professional criticisms don't serve Rubin's political narrative (or anyone else's, really). The fact that a senior State Department bureaucrat made the wrong call on managing scarce resources (in hindsight she should have laid on more security) was not something Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton or Obama would have, or should have, been aware of.
The stakes in Benghazi for the US are pretty high. Eastern Libya was the center of the uprising against Qaddafi, the part of the country most uniformly supportive of the US and NATO assistance for the rebellion in 2011. But it's also the heartland for Libya's Islamists, from its own version of the Muslim Brotherhood to the offshoots of the terrorist Libyan Islamist Fighting Group who are now major militia powers in their own right (one Islamist militia, Ansar al-Sharia, has been publicly blamed for the attack on the US). Oh, and it's also where most of Libya's oil is found.
Ambassador Stevens and the large consulate in Benghazi were there working to protect US interests, and to collect intelligence on the local militias, more than a few of whom clearly have anti-American agendas. He and three others paid the price for their efforts.
Here's how Jeff Stein summed it up at his blog:
Republicans fell all over themselves in their rush to exploit the tragedy for partisan advantage – a sorry spectacle in a season full of them.
Their star witness was Army Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, the former head of the US military mission in Libya, who testified that the State Department had rejected his request for more security. I have no doubt he told the truth.
Heart rending – yes. Shocking? Not really, especially when some of the loudest critics of the tragic events in Benghazi where among those who had voted to cut the State Department’s budget again and again.
... So our diplomats and spies make do. And, not to make excuses, but the security officers, intelligence agents and analysts working out of US diplomatic outposts in places like Libya have their hands full trying to find out what the enemy is doing.
In the chaos of post-Qaddafi Libya, moreover, do critics really think that the State Department and the CIA should have been sitting on their hands until they got spanking brand-new facilities built for them?