Friday, January 25, 2013

Benghazi Myths

Juan Cole has a post on "Top Ten Republican Myths on Benghazi that Justify Hillary Clinton's Anger," .  I am linking to this not for partisan reasons, as I am not all that big of a fan of substantial parts of Obama's foreign policy (and Hillary is reportedly more hawkish than he is), but because some of these myths are believed much more widely and are regularly repeated in the MSM as established fact.  So, while I urge readers to read all ten of them, I shall just list the top 4, which strike me as being the most important ones for policy purposes and also the ones that are mostly widely misunderstood by the broader public, including many Democrats and much of the media.

1. Various senators waxed indignant over how Susan Rice, Hillary, Obama and other administration figures did not just easily find out what was going on "in real time" and publicly tell everybody.  The main reason they did not do so, and that indeed full details of what went on remain unclear, is that the Benghazi consulate was essentially a CIA operation.  There were at least 40 people at the nearby CIA site, who were viewed as the security for the consulate.  They had clearly been running a long run covert quasi-war with the radical Islamist elements in Benghazi, and two of them died in the firefight after the attack on the consulate, when the attackers moved on to attack the CIA site.  It is also the case that there was no real time camera or whatever for anybody at the State Department to watch, although this false claim has been widely and frequently repeated, particularly by Sean Hannity of Fox News, which has been an especially virulent purveyor of outright falsehoods and myths about Benghazi.  Clearly much of this prior to Nov. 2 was with the hope of embarrassing Obama in his election campaign, but apparently the continued efforts on this front are an effort to damage a future campaign by Hillary, including such nonsense as Rand Paul's claim that what happened there was the worst thing since 9/11.  Back to the more serious issue, it remains completely unreported and unclear what Ambassador Stevens was doing there, although it looks almost certain that he was coordinating in some way with the large and ongoing and at that time still officially secret CIA operation there, although certainly the people who attacked the consulate were fully aware of it.

2.  Despite their claims of worrying about leaks and security, various GOP congreespeople, most spectacularly Rep. Darryl Issa (CA-R), leaked names of people cooperating with the US in Benghazi, thus endangering their lives.  This goes along with the hypocrisy of their cutting of diplomatic security budgets while blaming the State Department for all sorts of supposed security failures.

3.  Perhaps the area where public perception and repeated assertions in the MSM are most off has to do with the matter of whether or not there was a demonstration at the time in Benghazi and the relation between the attack and the anti-Prophet Muhammed film that had inspired massive demonstrations in many Muslim nations, including Egypt, with many US embassies under attack.  The widely repeated argument is that there was no demonstration and that the attack had nothing to do with the film.  It was just a pure terrorist attack that somehow or other the State Department was supposed to have foreseen and defended against, although the CIA indeed did intervene within 20 minutes of the start of the attack, too late to save Ambassador Stevens and one other in the consulate, but soon enough to get two of its own people killed later at its own building.  In any case, there was an anti-film demonstration going on at the time of the attack, although local authorities had managed to keep it some distance from the consulate.  Also, there have been clear reports, supported by Gen. Petraeus from the CIA, that indeed what triggered the attack specifically was leaders of it watching the anti-film demonstration in Cairo on TV.  This was a terror attack inspired by the film, even if it was somewhat separate from the street demonstration going on at the same time in Benghazi.  The repeated assertions that it had nothing to do with the film are simply false.

4.  Also widespread is the belief that the attack was run by al Qaeda and that Benghazi in general is dominated by Salafist Islamists.  Both of these are false.  There were apparently as many as four AQIM people involved in the attack, but it was led by people from Ansar-el-Islam (although its leaders now deny this), a strictly local group not affiliated wtih al Qaeda.  This and several other groups had been engaging in scattered low level attacks on various facilities, but they had (and have) little real power in Benghazi.  There had been an election, and secularist liberal parties grateful to the US for its support against the Qaddafi regime had solidly won and are at least officially in power, if not fully in control of all parts of the city. It should be remembered that Benghazi was the original center of the anti-Qaddafi revolt and the operational capital of the rebel regime until Tripoli fell.  The Salafists, and more particularly the AQIM group that is al Qaeda-related, have little power (and AQIM is a bunch of Algerians anyway, as the more recent events in Mali have reminded us).

1 comment:

ProGrowthLiberal said...

Alas Juan's blog shows only the comments and not his original post. Lots of places - like your post - to get a few of his 10 points. Which is a shame as Juan Cole's blog is the go to source for accurate information on Mideast developments. These Republican Senators are truly an embarrasment. Yes - this Administration has a lot to answer for but not what the Mitt Romney wannabes are pushing.