Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Benghazi Talking Points

Credibility matters. Like the old story of the boy who cried wolf, I'm not going to listen to someone who consistently lies to me about things. Especially a variety of things. And once you've gone down a road of consistent lies and misrepresentations, it is going to take a long time before I believe you on anything again. I'm not going to give you the benefit of the doubt just because you might someday tell the truth about something important.

This is especially true about where I get my news. Because these days there is news and there is "news," which is entertainment masquerading as news or political opinion. "Just asking questions" and "some people say" is not news. It is conjecture. It is misrepresentation. Opinions and questions do not have the same weight as facts, and when someone attempts to tell me opinions and questions as if they were newsworthy facts, then I feel lied to.

That being said, there is a difference between lying and making a mistake. One key difference is that you can own up to making mistakes and make corrections. Someone can account for a mistake, and figure out why the mistakes were made, and how to fix what can be fixed about it or learn lessons that need to be learned. Related to this is the idea of reporting additional facts as they become available - nobody knows everything and I don't assume that anyone can give me a full account of news the instant that it is happening. There's always more to a story that you only find out later after someone's done some digging to get all the facts - or at least more of the facts than were previously known.

Thing is, if someone makes a mistake and owns up to it, or gets something wrong in the heat of the moment and later updates the story with additional facts that clarify what went on, that builds credibility. It adds accountability for what is being reported.

On the other hand, lying or intentionally misrepresenting something comes with zero accountability. Catch a liar telling lies, and they'll just reply with some horse manure about how they were "just asking questions," or that they were just repeating what "some people say."

Context also matters. Nothing happens in a vacuum. There's always a back story to an event, and sometimes finding out that back story takes some work. Very few events are actually "unprecedented," because if we look back even just a few years or months, we can see some similar event (or dozens of similar events). Hell, most of the time it is useful to look at context in terms of decades. Looking at more than one perspective on things gives us the context necessary to see the full scope of the story, and separate facts from opinions or lies.

Hindsight is a type of context, but only when used to see a clearer picture of what went on. Finding additional facts allow for a focus on the minute to minute events, but without tying that focus back in to a larger picture of the situation takes that out of context. Without a larger, clearer context, it is easy to make facts on the ground appear to support a completely different version of events; without context, you can make the facts say what you want them to say. That's why when someone attempts to tell me facts without the corresponding context, I feel lied to.

And that's why Americans are hearing two completely different versions of what happened in Benghazi. This is actually why most Americans are hearing two completely different versions of what happened about everything in this day and age (to put this post in context), but today's focus is the tragedy at an American consulate in Libya.


What we know is that the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked and burned to the ground by people armed with automatic weapons, rocket launchers, and mortars. A later rescue operation was also attacked by people armed with automatic weapons, rocket launchers, and mortars. In the action 4 Americans, including the US Ambassador and 3 security personnel, were killed. This paragraph effectively ends the consensus on what happened in Benghazi, as far as the American public is concerned.

Let's look at some context first: Egypt is one of the focal points of US strategic interests in the Middle East. That's why the US spent billions of dollars supporting autocratic Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak over the years. There are also a number of politically active organizations in Egypt that the US has on the terrorism watch list. Many of these organizations were involved in the Egyptian people deposing President Mubarak, which is why right-wing pundits in the United States accused the Obama administration of appeasing terrorists when the US withdrew support for Mubarak during the Arab Spring. Mubarak was on the way out anyway, but the US was able to get more leverage on the transition of power by being seen on the side of the Egyptian people.

This matters because, going further back in context, once upon a time Iran was a focal point of US strategic interests in the Middle East. That's why the US spent billions supporting the autocratic Iranian aristocracy. A number of politically active anti-Western and anti-US organizations that would later be placed on the terrorism watch list were involved in the Iranian people deposing the Shah. But because the US continued to support the Shah against the Iranian people, those organizations were able to hijack the Iranian revolution, which is why the Islamic Republic of Iran is considered a focal point of US Middle Eastern policy in an adversarial role. One of the main turning points in US-Iranian relations occurred when Iranian protesters stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took the Americans hostage.

But wait, what do Egypt and Iran have to do with Benghazi? Don't worry, we'll come back to that.

One further point of context is to think about the American involvement in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993. This is the event (that inspired the Black Hawk Down book and movie) where US forces attempted to arrest and extract Somali warlords, were ambushed and pinned down by people with automatic weapons and rocket launchers. Subsequent rescue attempts were also met with resistance by people with automatic weapons and rocket launchers. This action ended with 18 American servicemen dead, many more wounded, and one taken hostage.

We'll come back to this, too.


Got that context? Good. Now, let's review the situation the US was facing on September 11, 2012:

The United States and NATO allies had intervened in the Libyan civil war to keep government forces from slaughtering the rebels and civilians while removing historical terrorism supporter Qadaffi from power (that first part being the most publicized, but that last thing being the most important). In the aftermath of the action, the country is a dangerous place. There are multiple well armed militias scattered about the country as the winning factions attempt to set up a civil government and disarm them. The United States, having supported the winning factions, has a diplomatic mission with ambassadors and security folks in the country in the interest of making sure whatever government Libya ends up with when the dust settles is democratic, respects human rights, and is friendly to the USA (the first of those being the most publicized but that last thing being the most important).

The diplomatic mission, understanding that Libya just went through a protracted civil war, realizes that there may be a high element of danger in the country. Additional security is requested. Through State Department bureaucracy, additional security is denied. There are general, bureaucratic reasons for the denial that look pretty bad in hindsight, but in context, host countries are usually responsible for the external security of diplomatic missions. But that responsibility is usually contingent on the host country having a viable government and a working system of state security.

In September 2012, American religious fundamentalists begin publicizing an anti-Islamic video meant to provoke a violent reaction from troubled parts of the Middle East still simmering with the results of the Arab Spring. The video succeeds in provoking protests and violence throughout a large part of the world, and diplomatic missions of many western nations - especially the USA - are the targets of these protests and violence. The State Department goes from monitoring political situations emerging in many countries where people are protesting their autocratic leaders or setting up new governments to monitoring potentially violent situations emerging in many countries where people are protesting at US and Western embassies. This went on for several weeks. One violent situation emerges at the US Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, where protesters storm the facility.

(Here enters the context I was talking about: The State Department is watching Egyptian protesters, with some individuals affiliated with organizations the US has on the terrorism watch list - storming the US Embassy in Cairo; the US lost the Embassy in Tehran in a very similar way in 1979.)


We already know what ended up happening, but here is as close as I can get to the official Obama administration / Clinton State Department story of what happened:

Armed individuals also begin massing outside several buildings being rented and used as the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. This is not the US Embassy to Libya (that's in Tripoli - and why it is important for people to know where Benghazi is), but the US has a consulate in Benghazi because that city was one of the strongholds of the rebellion against Qadaffi. The US Ambassador to Libya was there at the time.

The Consulate was attacked, and two Americans are killed, including the US Ambassador to Libya. A rescue mission from additional US forces in the area was dispatched, also attacked, with 2 other Americans killed. (Remember Somalia.) There was a US Special Forces security team in Tripoli (where the US Embassy is), but they were only dispatched to assist with the Benghazi evacuation several hours later as significant reinforcements were stood up. Their ability to provide an effective rescue in the interim is disputed. American air power could have been dispatched, but was not, again with a citation of dubious effectiveness of air power to provide critical support to a confused situation in the middle of a densely civilian populated Libyan city.

In the aftermath, elements from several different offices at the State Department, the Defense Department, the CIA, and what constituted the Libyan government tried to piece together what happened in Benghazi. This was made more difficult based on the communication structures between those multiple offices, access and security to investigate the scene of the attack, and continuing situations of instability and ongoing protests at other US diplomatic missions around the world.

But the State Department and the administration contend that they reacted to the Benghazi events as effectively as the chain of command would allow, and released information about the attack as the investigation began to indicate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Benghazi attack was something much more than the kind of violent protest happening in Cairo and around the world.


Let us compare that story to the Newt Gingrich / Darrell Issa / Rush Limbaugh version of events (and keep in mind what I said at the beginning about credibility and context):

Obama should demonstrate some leadership and use military options to depose Qaddafi. If Obama uses military options to depose Qaddafi, it is unconstitutional.

Obama made embassy officials in Cairo apologize to Muslims over the First Amendment because Obama knew in advance there was going to be a terrorist attack on Benghazi.

Obama and Hillary Clinton watched surveillance drone video of the Benghazi terrorist attack in the situation room of the White House. Obama sent the order for Special Forces to stand down and not rescue Americans.

Obama didn't call the Benghazi attack terrorism, he called it an act of terror. There's a big difference and it proves the coverup exists.

Susan Rice was engaged in a coverup when she talked about the Benghazi attack being the result of a violent protest against an anti-Islamic video. Obama engaged in a coverup when he talked about violent protests against an anti-Islamic video. The Obama administration secretly produced the anti-Islamic video to give angry Muslims a reason to engage in terrorist attacks against the US in Benghazi, or planned the whole thing so the US Ambassador could be kidnapped and traded for the Blind Sheik. Or the Benghazi coverup is really covering up an illicit US arms trade Libyan arms to Syrian rebels through Turkey.

Obama apologized for the terrorist attack in Cairo Benghazi. The United States should invade all Muslim countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity.

Republicans in the US House of Representatives have found a copy of an email where someone in the Obama administration is trying to cover up what happened. Republicans in the US House of Representatives are not getting any of the emails that they are asking for from the Obama administration. The White House released all the Benghazi emails again only because Republicans didn't read them the first time made them do it.

This is all Hillary Clinton's fault. She should not be President in 2016. No, these hearings are not politically motivated to keep Hillary Clinton from becoming President in 2016.

What happened in Benghazi never happens to American diplomatic missions overseas. Or when it does, it is because Democratic Presidents project weakness that embolden America's enemies.


So, folks. Based on my concepts of credibility and context, which one of these stories do you think is closer to what actually happened? Because until there is evidence the US Consulate in Benghazi was really a secret CIA installation that neither Democrats nor Republicans want you to know about, these are the only two stories we've got.

Hey, the news is just asking questions about what some people say.