Sunday, October 21, 2012

An Open And Shut Case To An Open And Shut Mind

In his 2010 book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, Mitt Romney accused President Obama of continually apologizing for the nation.  Now shamelessly exploiting the recent attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Romney on September 11 told reporters "I think it's a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values, that instead when our grounds are being attacked and being breached, that the first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation.  An apology for America's values is never the right course." At the second presidential debate, the Repub candidate claimed "the president's policies throughout the Middle East began with an apology tour and pursue a strategy of leading from behind, and this strategy is unraveling before our very eyes."

Romney's claim at Hofstra that "it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror," as well as the "apology tour" he imagines, have been thoroughly debunked, the latter even by Politifact.   His contention, however, that "the administration indicated this was a reaction to a video and was a spontaneous reaction," is not completely ludicrous, given that there were conflicting statements from administration officials in the weeks following the attack.

But the charges that all the violence there was assiduously planned, and that the Administration therefore did not with one voice immediately and consistently label it as nothing more than a terrorist plot for nefarious political purposes, are way over the top.      David D. Kirkpatrick of The New York Times reports

To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck the United States Mission without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as members of a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.

“It was the Ansar al-Shariah people,” said Mohamed Bishari, 20, a neighbor of the compound who watched the assault and described the brigade he saw leading the attack. “There was no protest or anything of that sort.”

To the simplistic Republican mind (but I repeat myself), angry Muslims were involved, and any suggestion of spontaneity is tantamount to apologizing for America.   But the Muslim world- especially- Islamists but including the 'Arab street'- have complaints (legitimate or otherwise) against the U.S.A., including the Iraq War, U.S. support for Israel, and the Administration's extensive use of drone attacks, causes Mitt Romney is hardly critical of.

Arguably, the attack was of a terrorist nature but precipitated by the video; unarguably, intelligence was imperfect. Initial intelligence reports suggested the likelihood that the militants had reacted to the distasteful and offensive anti-Muslim video.  But counter-terrorism veteran extraordinaire Richard Clarke cautions

I dealt with scores of incidents and military operations over 30 years in the Pentagon, State Department and White House. I never saw a case where there was initial and accurate clarity about what happened.

In the case of TWA 800, the FBI thought for months that it had been shot down by a missile, only to learn much later that it was a maintenance problem that caused the fuel tank to explode. When the destroyer Cole was attacked in Yemen, it took the CIA director weeks to decide that the attackers were from Al Qaeda . The Iranian hand in the attack on the U.S. Air Force barracks at Khobar, Saudi Arabia, did not emerge for months.

News media and members of Congress may want instant answers when something explodes, when Americans die, but national security professionals know that “first reports are always wrong.” That is why, when pressed by reporters to say what had happened, UN Ambassador Susan Rice qualified her response by saying that the investigation was ongoing. She then said what the intelligence community had reported to her at that time.

The Washington Post's David Ignatius writes

“Talking points” prepared by the CIA on Sept. 15, the same day that Rice taped three television appearances, support her description of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate as a reaction to Arab anger about an anti-Muslim video prepared in the United States. According to the CIA account, “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.”

It would never occur to Mitt Romney, who blasts the Administration for not definitively and consistently laying the blame entirely on "terrorism," to question the nation's primary agency responsible for gathering intelligence, upon which the Administration relied.   Its head, tellingly, is David Petraeus, and one never is to question the sainted General.

The Times' Kirkpatrick concludes

United States intelligence officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have said they intercepted boastful phone calls after the fact from attackers at the mission to individuals affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. But they have also said that so far they had found no evidence of planning or instigation by the group. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, described the participation of individuals “linked to groups affiliated with or sympathetic with Al Qaeda” — acknowledging, at best, a tenuous or indirect link.

“It is a promiscuous use of ‘Al Qaeda,’ ” Michael Hanna, a researcher at the Century Foundation, said of those charging that Al Qaeda was behind this attack. “It can mean anything or nothing at all.”

The Cold War, with the United States on one side and the Soviet Union, is over, a situation little understood by Mitt Romney, who maintains that Russia and not terrorism, Iran, or nuclear proliferation is the greatest threat to world peace.    Contemporary world affairs is complicated and confusing to a lot of us, but we don't have the temerity to present ourselves as fit to be leader of the Free World.

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