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Belmont Club

The Meaning of Benghazi

November 16th, 2012 - 12:54 pm
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The question still puzzling observers is why the administration told the story about a YouTube video when seeking to explain the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. One possible clue lies in the forgotten attack on the American embassy in Tunisia. Reuters reported that one of the Salafists believed responsible for the attack died in police custody after a hunger strike.

Tunisia could have been a tragic copy of Benghazi save for the fact that when the attack occurred the facility was not manned. As early as September 15, 2012, al-Qaida in Yemen claimed that “the uprising of our people in Libya, Egypt and Yemen against America and its embassies is a sign to notify the United States that its war is not directed against groups and organisations … but against the Islamic nation that has rebelled against injustice.”

Tunisia

Benghazi was not a sui generis. It was part of a coordinated counterattack on a broad American policy in the region. Why was the whole series of attacks ascribed to the infamous “video”? Perhaps the answer to this elusive mystery can be approached indirectly. Lee Smith sheds some light on what policy faction in Washington could gain from the dismissal of David Petraeus. “The general was one of few who understood that Iran was at war with the U.S., and no bargain could be struck”.

As commander of American forces in Iraq from February 2007 to September 2008 and in Afghanistan from July 2010 to July 2011, Petraeus fought Iranians’ local proxies and frequently the Iranians themselves, often drawn from the Qods Force. As head of Central Command from October 2008 to June 2010, the general had a large area of responsibility that afforded him an overview of Iranian activities throughout the region, in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, the Persian Gulf states as well as Iraq and Afghanistan. During the course of almost a decade, Petraeus became Washington’s institutional memory of all of Iran’s activities directed against the United States and its allies.

An institution is characterized by what it chooses to forget as much as what it chooses. By who it chooses to get rid of and who it promotes. What Washington appears to remember almost to the point of obsession, is its desire to strike a deal with Teheran. That is going to be advanced at all costs, whatever the setbacks.

AOL Defense reports, “the United States and its allies would like to have a “face to face” meeting with Iranian officials before the end of the year, even as they struggle with just what to offer the Islamic Republic.” And to make it sweeter,  Washington now feels it safe to signal that any military action against Iran is off the table. The ever reliable conduit CNN says “an all-out U.S. war with Iran, including an invasion by American troops, would cost the global economy close to $2 trillion in the first three months and could go as high as $3 trillion, according to a Washington think tank.” Translation: Obama will never do it.

Nor will Obama act to take control of Syrian chemical weapons. The New York Times reports that “the Pentagon has told the Obama administration that any military effort to seize Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons would require upward of 75,000 troops … so far, there is no evidence that Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon but has become increasingly active in protecting the government of President Bashar al-Assad, is making any effort to gain control over the chemical weapons. Its decision to train fighters close to the major chemical sites, some officials speculate, could be rooted in a bet that their camps will not be bombed if the West believes there is a risk of hitting the stockpiles.”  Translation: if Assad falls Hezbollah will get the chemical weapons.

Obama has signalled he will talk no matter what.  This provides a tantalizing, if indirect set of clues as to what Benghazi was all about. Let’s list the clues again:

  1. Eastern Libya, that part closes to Egypt, is now overrun by al-Qaeda like militias;
  2. Obama will not strike Iran under any circumstances;
  3. Obama will not intervene decisively in Syria;
  4. Petraeus was a possible roadblock to any deal with Iran.

This creates the a bag of loot to sweeten a Grand Bargain. By denying himself the military option Obama may believe he makes a diplomatic solution foregone. One scenario that emerges is that Obama entrusted the entire management of the Middle East to a combination of covert action and diplomacy (called “Leading From Behind”) in which the military has no real part as an active instrument of policy. He is committed absolutely to it.

For loot, pParts of Libya and perhaps parts of Syria and Jordan are now available to be carved up and fed to those who are to be enticed into a Grand Bargain. Maybe Israel can be forced to contribute to the feast.

In this power play the Pentagon basically loses. It loses budget, clout and influence.  Israel basically loses. The oil powers and the peace wing of the Democratic party win.

The attacks on Libya, Tunisia and Egyptian diplomatic had to be minimized in order to avoid the complete discredit of this approach. Nor would it do to blame our Partners for Peace — the militias. The diplomatic corridor had to be held open at all costs; and the weakness of the “Leading from Behind” policy covered up whatever befall. This may have led the video-story and the accelerated program of retirements, firings and suspensions in senior military ranks, whose effects are still being felt today.

If this scenario is anywhere near close to the truth, the greatest danger is what happens if it falls apart.  What happens if “Leading from Behind” crashes and burns and there is no Plan B. The military, emasculated by budget cuts and marginalized in the decision-making process, can no longer ride to the rescue any more.  The dangers of assuming success and dispensing with a backup plan are illustrated by history, as in the ill-fated decision of Adolf Hitler to supply his armies in Stalingrad From Above.

In a conference with Zeitzler and Hitler on Nov. 24, Goering grandiosely announced, “Mein Fuehrer, the Luftwaffe can resupply Stalingrad from the air”. Zeitzler summoned the nerve to confront the Reichsmarschall, and a nasty exchange followed. He asked Goering if he was aware of the tonnage involved. Goering responded that he did not, but his staff had the figures. Zeitzler yelled, “It’s a lie!”, and Hitler put an end to the discussion with the statement by announcing, “The Reichsmarschall has given his reassurances, and I am obliged to believe him.”

That didn’t work. But they were in denial until Zhukov came calling in Berlin.  But the narrative must be served. “‘Go after’ Obama’s Ambassador in DC and you’ve got a problem. Kill one in Benghazi, and you don’t.”

If Benghazi was a lie, it would not be the first time in history that falsehood has ridden to the rescue of fantasy. Nor will it be the last. In the end, it’s not what you know that is false that gets you, but what you misrepresented as the truth which you believed that does.

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