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Patrick Poole

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February 4, 2013 - 10:13 am

A surprising exchange yesterday on Meet the Press yesterday with guests departing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

Chuck Todd asked the Joint Chiefs Chairman if there were any lessons learned from the Benghazi debacle, which elicited a shocking admission:

TODD: And is there anything that could have been done better on the intelligence front, you think that could have given you more time to do something or is this something that, you know, this is– this is what happens in a place like Libya that right now is an unstable state?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, we– we’ve learned a lot from the Benghazi incident. And we– as the Secretary said, we work with the State Department and, you know, kind of surveying those parts of the world where– where there’s a new norm, if you will, of– of instability in terms of, you know, discussing the intelligence apparatus. It’s pretty easy to talk about the intelligence failures. We don’t talk much about them many times when we have intelligence and we’re able to stop or prevent, disrupt an attack so, of course, we should continue to learn from these events.

A “new norm of instability”? Wait, what? Why didn’t we hear about this during the presidential campaign? Whatever might have prompted this “new norm of instability”?

Fortunately, they returned to the topic a few minutes later with Chairman Dempsey and Secretary Panetta identifying exactly what the source was of this “new norm of instability” that Dempsey was referring to:

TODD: General Dempsey, is AQIM here, al Qaeda in North Africa, the number one national security threat in the United States?

GEN. DEMPSEY: No, I wouldn’t describe them as the number one national security threat, but they– they’re a threat that is localized, becoming regionalized and left unaddressed, will become a global threat. By the way, to the secretary’s point and yours about did we miss something here, let’s think about what’s changed over the last three or four years in that region. The– the regimes that used to maintain control over that space that would in fact be part of the solution of keeping al Qaeda and its affiliates at bay, are no longer there. The Arab Spring has stripped that away. And what we’ve got is a period of ungoverned space, or we have a– I mean, the period at which– at which geography is less governed than it used to be. That’s why this has become a– a near term problem.

TODD: You know, he brings up the Arab Spring, Secretary Panetta. This is the– the issue here of what is our policy, North Africa and the Middle East? Is it stability or is it democracy? We’ve been on the side of these democratic movements in Libya, in Egypt, but it’s brought instability and it’s brought more danger.

MR. PANETTA: Well, that’s what change is all about. And that’s what we’re seeing in– in that part of the world, is a tremendous amount of change. I mean, our– our hope is that– that change can move in the direction of providing greater democracy and greater stability. That’s what you hope for, for these countries. That’s what you hope for– for the people.

TODD: It’s less stable in other way.

MR. PANETTA: But well, there– there is instability associated with change, and that’s what we’re seeing in these key countries and that’s what’s creating some of the opening that General Dempsey talked about.

So the Obama administration now openly admits that the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ is the source of this “new norm of instability”.

Did I miss this two years ago when all of the administration officials were praising the ‘Arab Spring’, that it was going to lead to greater instability, which Chairman Dempsey explains is a “near-term problem” for American national security, and that our assistance in overthrowing Arab dictators was going to lift the lid on Islamic extremism? What’s that? They never mentioned it once?

But a front page article in Sunday’s Washington Post on the resurgence of Al-Qaeda indicates that this “new norm of instability” was not anticipated by the administration that was quick to declare the defeat of Al-Qaeda after the death of Osama bin Laden:

After bin Laden was killed in May 2011, senior U.S. officials including Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta described the group as being on the verge of strategic defeat. Since then, a series of unexpected developments have extended the network’s life span.

In particular, al-Qaeda franchises have gained strength in regions touched by the Arab Spring. The popular uprisings that toppled autocratic governments across the Middle East also weakened the grip of security services that had kept extremist forces in check. Civil wars in Syria and Libya provided local militants with weapons, experience and popular legitimacy.

“What we’re seeing in North Africa and Syria is an unfortunate result of Arab Spring,” said Seth Jones, a Rand Corp. analyst and former consultant to the Pentagon on counterterrorism.

Islamists in those countries are only nominally tied to al-Qaeda, and most are focused on local causes. But their resurgence threatens Western interests in the region and perhaps beyond, Jones said.

Western governments already are warning of increased threats to embassies, businesses and tourists in the region. In France, where 10 percent of the population is of North African descent, security officials are bracing for the possibility of retaliatory strikes in response to its military action in Mali against militants linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the affiliate in North Africa’s Sahara and Sahel regions.

The Arab Spring “freed up people, resources and energy,” while attracting foreign jihadists who gave local organizations a more international character, said Mike Shurken, a former CIA analyst.

“We’re seeing evidence of internationalization of these local groups, particularly AQIM,” Shurken said. “They are evolving rapidly and perhaps finally becoming the thing that people were fearing: a group with an international agenda.”

Regular PJMedia readers won’t be surprised by these developments since you’re reading Barry Rubin, Andy McCarthy, myself and others. But I ask again, why didn’t we hear ANY of this from the establishment media before November’s election? Did the fatal Benghazi debacle catch the administration off guard, or was the establishment media protecting their boyfriend Barack to get him over the November election finish line before it all started coming apart and they would be forced to cover it?

Patrick Poole is a national security and terrorism correspondent for PJMedia. Follow me on Twitter.
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