Benghazi and Connecting the Dots

With any tragedy resulting in the death of four Americans, including a US Ambassador, that was Benghazi, the Obama administration has come under some serious criticism from many on the right. One can go to any number of conservative websites right now and be confronted with an on-line petition to impeach Obama over this tragedy. But, we need to backtrack a little bit here. Most of the criticism is directed at that infamous talking points memo made most famous by then UN-Ambassador Susan Rice on a round of television talk shows the Sunday after the attack. We know that there were at least 12 renditions of that memo before the final draft was made official. Why twelve drafts of a memo were necessary was never really explained although one could logically guess that it was due to some squabbling among agencies and the possibility of where blame for the death of four Americans truly lay. Hence, the Obama administration creates some phony (now, his words in response to scandals in general), goofy explanation based upon an online Youtube video that supposedly insults Mohammed. This, they originally claimed, led to anti-American protests in Egypt and later in Libya, including Benghazi. As far as cover-ups go, IF this was a cover-up, they get a big red “F” because no rational person really believed that. It was a bad “cover-up” in the sense that it was ridiculous and laughable at least and certainly unbelievable. Incidentally, in the wake of Benghazi, there has been only one arrest- an American who released a video.

I realize that many here at Redstate and at other conservative websites have taken Susan Rice to task. Her recent promotion within the Obama national security team has met with obvious outcries against the appointment which does not require Senatorial approval. Many have said that this is simply a reward for her part in the “cover up.” But, I believe this line of thinking is akin to the king who killed the messenger. Was Rice a dupe for repeating the initial official administration line? Probably. But, as the public relations point woman for the administration in the wake of the attack, one would think that a person of her stature, with her political experience within the State Department, with her work at the Brookings Institute and as an adviser on national security matters to the campaigns of both Kerry and Obama as well as her work in the Clinton administration, would have the brains to see the pitfalls of this impending public relations nightmare. Was her recent promotion a pay off for her post-Benghazi performance? It would sure seem so at this point. Basically, the administration delicately threw her under the bus just enough to get injured and deflect attention. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress as well as many conservatives have taken the Obama bait and focused their attention on this aspect of the whole affair.

There are a whole series of articles from such disparate sources such as “Business Insider,” Reuters, the New York Time, Fox News, CNN, the Guardian and others to indicate that the media has failed to correctly connect the dots regarding the Benghazi incident. Mostly, this is the fault of conservatives in honing in on the post-Benghazi talking points and public relations fiasco that unfolded. But, it was a fiasco the administration was willing to take; it served its purpose. As long as congressional hearings were focusing on point A, they lost sight of the bigger point B. And the bigger point B is what actually happened in Benghazi and why. And, incidentally, this “why” has nothing to do with a lack of embassy security, or Republican budget cuts at the insistence of Paul Ryan, or even Hillary Clinton’s staged frustration before one of these congressional hearings. If I was a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016 and Clinton was my opponent, I would be playing that performance over and over again against a backdrop of a burning consulate in Libya. The cover-up- talking points- and the incessant conservative and Republican concentration on Benghazi post-attack have played into the hands of the administration and drove the whole real scandal to the back pages, if they are in the pages at all.

On the night of September 11, 2012, the US consulate in Benghazi came under attack by Libyan militants. Hours later, the annex, which was occupied by CIA operatives, also came under attack. The question, therefore, is why there was a heavy CIA presence in Benghazi in the first place. From a variety of reports, we now now that of the 35 or so American government people in Benghazi that day, at least 21 were CIA agents. Less than two months after the attack, the Wall Street Journal ran an article without knowing the actual numbers indicating that the large CIA presence in that city indicated that the US consulate in Benghazi was a diplomatic cover for the CIA operations there. In May 2013, CNN followed up with a report which alleged that the “larger US mission in Benghazi was covert.”

If it was, in fact, a covert CIA operation, what was Ambassador Christopher Stevens doing there? In May of 2013, “Business Insider” ran an article indicating that Stevens was there to negotiate the transfer of weapons seized in the aftermath of the toppling of Khaddafi and trying to keep them out of the hands of terrorists. In congressional testimony, it was acknowledged that Stevens had two main goals in Libya in the aftermath of the revolution. The first was to prevent the influx of terrorist jihadis into an unstable country and secondly, to secure weapons seized to keep them away from terrorist organizations. This would publicly play into the administration’s foot dragging in arming the Syrian rebels in their uprising. In short, publicly the administration was playing the “holier than thou” card- securing weapons from Libyan jihadists to keep them out of the hands of Syrian jihadists. And surprisingly, this “foot dragging” is understandable in the wake of fairly recent history. Remember that it was the United States that armed the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviets- a strategy that solved the short term problem, but created long term problems culminating in September 11, 2001. Many of those people we armed in Afghanistan came back to harm the United States down the road.

However, there is a growing body of evidence to indicate that the American CIA role in Libya and, by extension, the policy of the administration was anything but noble. In October 2012, some news outlets had reported that Stevens himself played an important role in the shipment of SA-7 Surface to Air missiles (called MANPADS) and rocket-propelled grenades from Benghazi to Syria by way of Turkey. A 400-ton ship carried the weapons and was organized by Abdelhakim Belhadj who had been recently appointed to the Tripoli Military Council. Previously, he had been the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a group loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda. Guess who the American liaison to Belhadj was? None other than Christopher Stevens. According to Fox News, Stevens’ last meeting in Benghazi on that September 11th was with Ali Sait Akin, the Turkish Consul General and the subject was to negotiate a weapons transfer to get SA-7’s out of the hands of Libyan extremists. By coincidence (?), in early September 2012, Syrian rebels begin to shoot down Syrian government helicopters with SA-7’s.

If one looks closely enough, you will find that Abdelhakim Belhadj is sometimes portrayed as a moderate in the Libyan ruling class. But he also fought in Afghanistan along none other than Osama bin-Laden. He is a hard-core jihadi with discernible links to al-Qaeda whom Ambassador Stevens was working with to get the weapons from Libyan extremists. Unfortunately, they may have landed in the hands of Syrian extremists because Belhadj is no moderate in any sense of the word. In effect, you have a serious CIA screw-up that is the real cover-up. That may help explain the most recent reports on CNN that the CIA is threatening people with “early retirement” and subjecting many to monthly polygraphs. Likewise, regarding the actual attacks on September 11, 2012, it is likely that the more unsavory characters in the Benghazi area were aware of these weapons transfers given the heavier-than-normal American presence at the annex, not the consulate itself. Whether motivated by jealousy for being cut out of a deal, or some higher “moral” reasoning, they deliberately and methodically attacked the US Consulate and the CIA annex. In other words, it was not a spontaneous demonstration gone awry, but a deliberate and premeditated act of terrorism directed at Americans.

There is also the May, 2013 McClatchy report that although Stevens cabled the State Department for more security in Libya, he twice turned down additional security at the Consulate in Benghazi. Why? The answer is somewhat obvious: an increased security presence would only tip off anyone in the area that something was going on there beyond the mere presence of a diplomatic mission. Instead, the Benghazi consulate was secured by private Libyan interests and a token American contingent. To illustrate, of the 30 Americans evacuated from Benghazi that night, only seven were State Department personnel and the rest CIA operatives or CIA-contracted people. Soon after the attack, Matthew Van Dyke, an American who fought alongside Libyans in their uprising, suspected that extremist groups operating in the Benghazi area felt marginalized by the new emerging government and that they used the operation in Benghazi as an opportunity to attack. Even Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has publicly speculated on the arms transfers in Libya ending up in the hands of Syrian fighters.

Obviously, in the aftermath of the attack, there was confusion in the Obama administration. It may very well be that the State Department and the Pentagon knew little or nothing about these alleged arms transfers. After all, at the time the administration’s official policy was not to arm the Syrian rebels- all that talk of “crossing a line” and such. If it became known that the United States was, in fact, covertly arming the Syrian rebels in 2012, it would surely go against all the public posturing and hand-wringing by Obama about arming these people. Regarding the State Department, either one of two things happened. Either they knew about the operations in Benghazi and approved or turned a blind eye, or they did not know which would make Christopher Stevens a rogue diplomat and Hillary Clinton a terrible Secretary of State. My educated guess is the former option. Although it probably played a part, the “confusion” was not all politically motivated during a reelection campaign. That explanation is too simplistic.

If all this is true, then this is not some noble effort by American CIA operatives in Benghazi, Libya. Arms were not being traded through intermediaries to secure the release of American hostages, or to fund another covert operation. These arms were not being transported back to the United States, nor were they being dismantled, unarmed or blown up in the deserts of Libya. In fact, the growing body of evidence is that these arms were being covertly shipped to Syrian rebels. From the port where they arrived in Turkey to Aleppo, Syria is a three-hour drive. The bottom line is that the Obama administration has been lying for over a year now and that these missiles may very well have ended up in the hands of extremist jihadi operatives in Syria, the one thing the Obama administration publicly fretted over in the first place. In short, the Obama administration royally screwed up.

Two final points. First, it does not help when you have Senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham grandstanding on television every other night about the American lack of action in Syria. True, they are lambasting the Obama administration for the “slaughter of innocent people” at the hands of Assad and the lack of an American response be it arming the rebels or creating no-fly zones (which probably would have been the better option unless they “mistakenly” shot down an American pilot with one of these SA-7s). But cloaking it in humanitarian terms makes the policy no less dangerous. Unfortunately, people like McCain and Graham (and others on both sides) seem to not realize one important fact- these people will use the United States one day and think nothing of attacking us the next. It has happened in Lebanon, it has happened in Egypt, in Libya, in Iraq and in Afghanistan (twice) and likely elsewhere in the Muslim world. Seeking out and supporting moderates is like banging your head against the wall. Moderate on Monday, plotting on Wednesday and you have the knife in your back on Saturday.

Second, when you weave a web of lies, ultimately that web gets unstrung. You tell so many lies that you forget which lies are the “working truth” du jour. And it eventually comes crashing down. This is the modus operandi for every scandal in recent times from Watergate to Iran-Contra to Monica Lewinsky to Benghazi and other Obama “phony” scandals. This administration knows that the house of cards cannot stand for long so they opted to label things as “phony,” “contrived,” or “partisan witch hunts.” As chilling as the IRS scandal is, this administration is playing a dangerous game. No one died in Watergate or Iran-Contra. Ms. Lewinsky and Paula Jones are alive and well. But because of these “phony” scandals, two border patrol agents are dead in the Fast and Furious debacle and four Americans, including an Ambassador, are dead in the Benghazi debacle. In short, this administration has the blood of six Americans directly on their hands as a result of operations this government approved and that eventually went awry. That- not Susan Rice, not Sunday talk shows, not “lying” about events to the public, not some “talking points memo-” is the real scandal here.

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