Hell-storm in a Hookah
Taking a look at the bigger picture surrounding Benghazi; the attacks, the response and the political meaning of it
By Susan Jack
While the talking heads at FOX News keep attempting to make political hay out of the two attacks on the CIA outpost and U.S. Consultate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11th, 2012, there are currently four committees or investigations meeting to figure out just who dropped the ball. There’s the Senate Chief Oversight Committee, the Homeland Security Committee, the State Department enquiry promised by Hilary Clinton before the election, and the now public FBI Investigation into General David Petraeus, who was in a position of authority as then current Head of the CIA to have potentially thwarted the attacks.
But that’s not enough for Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ) who object to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice as a possible replacement for Secretary of State Hilary Clinton due to Ambassador Rice’s “defense” of the Obama administration’s public discussion of the Benghazi incident, even though she was indeed only delivering the White House’s talking points as they knew them at the time. Not content with the four current bodies discussing this, McCain is calling for a “Watergate-style” inquiry on what exactly lead to the deaths of four American servicemen and CIA officers.
In fact, Senator McCain was so concerned about Benghazi, so keen to get the political blame game going at a press conference on November 14th to find out what went wrong (and more importantly, attempt to paint the newly re-elected Obama administration in an incompetent light), that he skipped the classified briefing about the Benghazi incident into order to rattle his sabre against Ambassador Rice, and by extension President Obama.
“There is no evidence that Susan Rice mislead the public, yet McCain is leading the charge to oppose her. Rice was “speaking from a set of talking points provided by the U.S. intelligence community, which was also provided to Congress. The [disrespectful to Islam] video has also been cited by those on the ground as being an impetus for the attack in recent weeks, challenging the Republican narrative.”” – Igor Volsky, ThinkProgress.com
“Little Lindsey Graham” as MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell dubbed him (referring to his height of character rather than the Senator’s diminutive physical height) said that he objected to Senator Rice even being considered as a potential Secretary of State, because “Rice is an essential player in the Benghazi incident.” These statements lead O’Donnell to nominate Graham as the “new Joe McCarthy,” and the New York Times’ Andrew Rosenthal to remark that “McCain is looking buffoonish… or should I say looking buffoonish again.” McCain, a day later on FOX News said “I don’t know how you logically assume that she had nothing to do with Benghazi since it was the White House who had her out on all the Sunday shows.” Talk about shooting the messenger.
Interesting, considering that in 2005, both Senators McCain and Graham had no problem promoting a different Ms Rice, then President George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor Condileezza Rice, to the position of Secretary of State, even though Democrats claimed she too had little experience and lacked “integrity”, an accusation that McCain has leveled against Susan Rice. McCain went so far as to go out on a limb with his support for Condileezza Rice, even when it had come to light that Condi Rice had spread out and out lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to Congress, prompting and justifying the second Iraqi War.
At least Condi Rice had the integrity to explain on the FOX News’ Greta Van Sustren Show on October 25th what situations like the Benghazi incident are like:
“When things are unfolding very, very quickly, it’s not always easy to know what is really going on on the ground. And to my mind, the really important questions here are about how information was collected. Did the various agencies really coordinate and share intelligence in the way that we had hoped, with the reforms that were made after 9/11?”
“So there’s a big picture to be examined here. But we don’t have all of the pieces, and I think it’s easy to try and jump to conclusions about what might have happened here. It’s probably better to let the relevant bodies do their work.”
President Obama was quick to reply to Graham and McCain’s claims on November 14th. “If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody they should go after me,” Obama announced at his first official White House press conference in eight weeks. “For them to go after the UN ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi…to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.”
Graham, in an attempt to sound equally forceful, retorted by email moments after Obama’s speech stating “Mr. President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi… I think you failed as Commander in Chief before, during, and after the attack.”
A source in the Intelligence Community commented (on condition of anonymity) that “A situation like this would probably not be attended to personally by the President, no matter which party he was in. That’s what the State Department and US Military are for- to take care of situations such as these.”
What did happen in Benghazi? So far, most of the media has reported on the political back and forth, but missed an interview with former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff and retired General Jack Keane on NPR on November 2nd, 2012.
Keane tells a convincing and common sense explanation from the response point of view for September 11th, 2012. Any necessary military responses in Libya were under AFRICOM, the purview of General Carter Ham, who happened to be in the Pentagon the day of the Benghazi attacks. General Ham’s presence in the Pentagon allowed him unusual in-the-same-war-room coordination with General Martin Dempsey, Chair of the Joint Chief of Staff, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, and then CIA Director General David Petraeus.
In an interview with Neil Cavuto on FOX News on November 15th, Senator McCain asked of the Benghazi outpost “Why wasn’t there a military capability there? God knows we have enough there. Why did it take seven hours?” According to General Keane, here’s why…
When reports came in that the Benghazi CIA annex and later Consulate were under attack, General Ham requested the National Mission Response Force, a classified unit based on the East Coast of the US, which has gear and guns ready for fast deployment as well as a dedicated C-17 transport plane, was put into action; they immediately started to make their way to a US base in Sigonella, Italy, where US Forces have an active base. These were the closest available troops to aid the mission in Benghazi; not troops scaling down in Iraq who already had orders, not troops in Afghanistan who are embedded in some of the most difficult to travel and hostile environments in the world; but the closest available troops to aid the Consulate and annex.
The second closest available troops in a similar quick response unit who were training in Central Europe on September 11th; they were taken off their training assignment, kitted up, and also dispatched to Sigonella. By the time that both the AFRICOM and Europe-based quick response teams were in Italy, ready to be dispatched to Libya, the fight was over, and they were ordered to stand down. There was nothing for these troops to do, as the Consulate had already been evacuated.
General Keane admits in his interview that
“The consulate was essentially defenseless… in view of the six attacks in Benghazi from April to the horrific one that the consulate had to deal with and two on the embassy before that, a decision should have been made, certainly, after the second consulate attack in Benghazi where they blew a hole in the wall. Decisions should have been made to either defend this consulate property as we do diplomatic posts in Kabul, Afghanistan and Baghdad, Iraq, or close it down…. We should never have left it in a defenseless status that it was in. That was certainly tragic and, frankly, irresponsible.”
General Keane went on to agree with NPR host Robert Siegel that “there was a lack of preparedness, insufficient security, but nobody’s hands were tied in responding to the crisis that erupted there.” Keane replied “I know that for a fact in dealing with General Ham and Director Petraeus myself.”
There you go, Senator McCain. That’s why it took so long for our military to respond to an attack on a poorly defended Consulate and its annex to potentially receive the full military protection it deserved- logistics. It was physically impossible to deploy the only available troops over 5000 miles in less than seven hours.
In the same November 15th FOX interview on the rotunda of the Senate, McCain stated plainly “The main thing is that the President of the United States is responsible and his team. We need to find out exactly what happened. We owe it to [the victim’s] families and we need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” Maybe the good Senator should look at his own conduct and voting record to find at least part of the answer to that question.
According to the right-leaning Washington Times,
“Since 2010, Congress cut $296 million from the State Department’s spending request for embassy security and construction, with additional cuts in other State Department security accounts, according to an analysis by a former appropriations committee staffer…. The cuts to the embassy construction, security and maintenance budget was almost 10 percent of the entire appropriation for that account over those two years, said Scott Lilly, now a scholar at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.”
Perhaps while searching so hard for answers when he feels it’s more important to pugilisticly pose for the cameras than attend classified meetings that might give him the answers he seeks, McCain should stop campaigning, up his meds, and do his job. When asked by Cavuto what he would do if Susan Rice was nominated to be Secretary of State, McCain told the FOX host “I will oppose [Susan Rice] unless she has some logical explanation- I will listen to anybody tell their side of the story- but clearly right now I would be opposed; the American people were told false information by her.” That’s rich, coming from a man who went out of his way to support, ultimately promoting Condi “yeah, sure there are WMDs in Iraq” Rice not to mention foisting a certain Sarah Palin on those same, unknowing American people. McCain said on November 14th “We are all responsible for what we say and what we do.” Perhaps before throwing stones, the Senator should look to his own house of glass.
Coming full circle, all this vitriol begs the question; why are Senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte (who has been all but mute during this war of words, and appears to have been included in the attack simply to be the requisite possessor of two X Chromosomes in case it looks like McCain and Graham are beating up on a woman) and now Republican members of the four different committees investigating the Benghazi incident so adamant to discredit Susan Rice who was just doing her job with the information available at the time to not only the White House but also all the members of Congress?
The answer goes back to the election, distribution of the Senate and the great state of Massachusetts. Now that Senator Angus King (I-ME) has announced that he will caucus with the Democrats, Republicans are outnumbered 54 to 45 by Democrats and liberals. Senate Republicans like McCain support the notion of Senator John Kerry (D-MA) as Secretary of State; Kerry is a known quantity on the Hill, supports unilateralism through NATO, is well liked internationally, worked together with McCain on the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIAs as well as working to lift trade embargos with Vietnam in the 90’s, and as McCain told FOX News “came within a whisker of becoming President of the United States.”
So far so good, right? But if Senator Kerry did fill Hilary Clinton’s size seven pumps as Secretary of State, that would leave a seat open in Massachusetts, breathing new life both into Republican Scott Brown’s failed campaign against Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and GOP hopes to have a little more control in the Senate.
Scott Brown is an attractive candidate for Senate Republicans- he was only narrowly defeated 52-48% by Warren, and is popular in the state. He is young, vibrant, a self-professed “Reagan Republican,” opposed the stimulus, does not support the use of public funds for elective abortions, and lest we forget, isn’t harsh on the eyes. Unlike some of his doomed defeated GOP brethren, Brown denounced Todd Akin’s remarks on “legitimate rape,” supports gay unions but not marriage, and broke with Republicans over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Best of all, he’s an acceptable face of Republicanism that makes for a far more telegenic presence than some of his older esteemed colleagues on the Right.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has ridiculed and dismissed Brown’s odds in returning to the Senate, calling Brown’s claims of bipartisanship as a “travesty” and a “big joke,” citing Brown’s willingness to vote his party’s line on the issue of Citizen’s United that would have made donations to PACs and SuperPACs transparent rather than private; Brown voted to keep that information privileged. Brown’s staff also were involved in an ugly racial incident after opponent Elizabeth Warren claimed to have Native American ancestry, but all in all, the GOP have high hopes for Brown’s political future.
Senate Democrats don’t seem concerned by the thought of Brown winning Kerry’s possibly vacated seat. “We feel very comfortable — if, in fact, something does happen — we feel comfortable about Massachusetts,” Reid told the Huffington Post reporter Michael McAuliff. “I think that I’ve already told you how I feel about Scott Brown.”
At the end of the day- and all this taxpayer money that is being wasted on four, maybe even five, committees attempting to find out who to blame for Benghazi- the demonization of Ambassador Susan Rice just a hellstorm in a hookah- not about truth telling, who ordered which talking points, or even really what happened in a dusty town in Libya that resulted in the regrettable, perhaps even preventable deaths of four American servicemen and CIA employees- the concerted effort to paint Susan Rice in a bad light is about is Republican political gain, pure and simple, with truth and American blood paying the price along the way.