Monday, May 13, 2013

Before – During – After; Benghazi and why Truth makes a difference.

‘’Who’s tweeting about Benghazi? Rich, middle-aged men and Chick-Fil-A lovers.’’

The Washington Post is better than those words.

Four Americans died in Benghazi. Albeit temporarily, we lost a diplomatic compound to a group of terrorists.

Facing this reality, you’d think we’d want to leave no stone unturned- that endeavor in the pursuit of facts would overwhelm narrow partisan agendas. But this is Washington. And Washington being Washington, the partisan shields are up and the spin turbines are running at full power.

Yet, this obfuscation must not dissuade us from scrutiny. For three key reasons, our examination of the Benghazi attack is a continuing necessity.

1)      The security failure that preceded the attack.
In the run up to the day of the attack, September 11th 2012, the threat environment in Benghazi was severe. The Consulate was operating in a precarious post-conflict environment. A terrorist presence was obvious and ongoing. Consider the following record. In June 2012, while traveling through Benghazi, the UK Ambassador’s convoy was ambushed and two of his bodyguards injured. In response, the UK removed British diplomats later that month. In August 2012, after suffering a number of violent incidents, the Red Cross also evacuated their staff. The US mission to Benghazi had also been a focus for regular attacks.

Clearly, the danger was considerable.
It’s true; the State Department serves America in a challenging world. Understandably, security decisions must balance threat assessments with available resources. Achieving total protection for every diplomatic outpost is impossible. But even accepting the great benefit of hindsight, far greater security should have been availed to the Benghazi mission. Instead, security requests from the Consulate to Washington were met with delay, rejection or absurdity.
We need to know who dropped the ball. We need to know whether or not Secretary Clinton was briefed on the threats and security requests. We need to fully understand why these failures took place.

2)  The failure to re-enforce the Consulate during the attack

The Department of Defense’s response to the Benghazi attack was woeful. We had forces ready to launch an immediate-action rescue operation. Yet, to the team’s great consternation, their deployment was denied. An extraordinary decision. We need to know why, after years of unrestrained, unqualified and ultimate commitment, America’s testament- ‘leave no man behind’, was thrown into the fire.
But our questions can’t end here.
We also need answers as to why after 10 years of proximate war, we still lack the meaningful capacity to respond to MENA crisis events? Why does US force posture remain so predicated upon defending a Western Europe which refuses to defend itself? We also need clarification for another relevant question; one of executive leadership. Why, in the immediate aftermath of the attack, did President Obama decide to go on a fundraising trip instead of managing the crisis from the White House? Regarding Benghazi, the President’s main contention has always been that the facts weren’t clear early on. If so, why didn’t he stay in Washington to find those facts?
3)  The post-Benghazi talking points

In the aftermath of a terrorist attack, the effective management of intelligence material is absolutely critical. It’s also a task of extreme complexity. Hearsay blends with eyewitness accounts, eyewitness accounts are blurred by personal inflections and every source must be framed objectively. Only then, can intelligence data be assessed and offered to policy makers as an informational product. However, when politicians intervene at the assessment stage, truth becomes subjective.
Before last November’s election, the Obama Administration claimed they hadn’t influenced the Intelligence’s Community’s Benghazi related talking points in a major way. Last week we received proof that this statement wasn’t true.

At present, the Administration’s answers simply don’t add up.
For a start, consider last week’s testimony by State’s former top security officer in Libya, Eric Nordstrom. Under oath, Nordstrom stated that the Libyan investigation of the attack was complicated by the US Government’s unwillingness to identify those responsible. Yet, this statement conflicts with the excuse given by Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes, to remove talking points on the suspects (an action Rhodes claimed was necessary for investigative reasons). That’s not all. Along with Nordstrom’s testimony, we also now have evidence that the FBI had few concerns over the original talking point drafts. Drafts, which as Stephen Hayes notes, were the result of confident intelligence estimates. Taking this information together, a concerning picture arises- was the Administration seeking excuses to manage the domestic political fallout of the attack? In essence, was the intelligence community being used as a pawn to spin the Sunday news circuit?
Consider some further context. We know that the #2 US diplomat in Libya during the attack, Gregory Hicks, was ‘stunned’ by Susan Rice’s Sunday comments. But what about Hicks’ submission that he was pressured not to talk with Congressional investigators and second, by Nordstrom’s statement that the State Department’s Benghazi investigation failed to interview certain key officials. Now Hicks (a highly regarded professional) believes he’s being punished for his honesty. Combined with the news that other whistleblowers are ready to come forwards, it’s obvious that we need to ask further questions. Again, the Obama Administration might claim we’re delusional conspiracy theorists, but let’s face it; their record in this area is far from stellar.

In the end, the importance of our questions is certain. It’s unquestionably evident that major failings occurred in Benghazi before, during and after the attack. It’s also unmistakably clear that our present understanding of what happened is insufficient.

We should always remember that indifference to truth isn’t just the greatest enemy of democracy, it’s also fundamentally un-American. It’s a civic responsibility to ask questions. It’s the responsibility of a democratic government to provide honest answers.
Especially when citizens have died in the service of democracy.

If interested, check out some of my other thoughts on MENA related security issues.

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