While Hillary Clinton jumps on a live hand grenade for the Benghazi attack, the White House has leaked to the AP its latest spin on the situation in Libya.Apparently the U.S. has drones and SEALs on standby around the Mali and Eastern Libya area in case intelligence officers are able to locate those responsible for the consulate attack — which is hardly news. Though the timing is convenient, the position is unchanged from military options on the table Sept. 13, two days after the attack, when CNN reported that “drones and warships” were patrolling the area around Benghazi.
With Libya on the lips of every prominent Republican, the foreign policy one-two punch comes just in time for the all-important presidential debate on foreign policy tonight. Both parties are trying to hone an otherwise scattered message, a messy truth — Obama wants the chaos in the Arab world to reflect part of his larger plan, undoubtedly “democracy in action.” The Romney camp seeks to box the flames and fighting into phrases like “foreign policy unravelling before our eyes” (and, in tinfoil circles, “massive cover up”).
All of which makes what’s really happening more disturbing.
The reality on the ground is that the drones and SEALs have not much to go on and intelligence officers can’t triangulate a legitimate target. In fact, there’s not enough supporting evidence to point the finger at any one particular group of “insurgents. “
Initially, the finger pointed at a group recently dubbed “Ansar al Shariah” (Partisans, or Soldiers of Shariah, depending on who translates). But following the attacks Ansar released a statement saying it “didn’t participate in this popular uprising as a separate entity … the brigade didn’t participate as a sole entity … rather, it was a spontaneous popular uprising.”
The statement has since been corroborated by evidence on the ground. But like all statements coming from “terrorists” groups following attacks, diplomats in Washington simply replaced, or more accurately, washed it out with statements more convenient to their own domestic political ends.
Initially, for Obama and the Dems, the attack was just a protest gone horribly wrong. For Republicans, it was an “organised, planned, commando style raid.”
Republicans stated the use of weapons, like Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs), mortars, and Ak-47s, as evidence of a more militaristic approach. Those same Republicans, just a year earlier, however, were arguing concertedly for the issuing of those weapons to that same exact populace — and largely looked the other way as Egypt and Qatar dumped those weapons into the country.
Prior to the ousting of Muamar Ghaddafi, those weapons were not easy to come by for citizens in Benghazi.
Meanwhile, the Obama camp’s picture of a protest over a film gone horribly wrong unravelled as intelligence officials concluded that yes, in fact, it was a “terrorist attack” on the consulate.
First, the film was undoubtedly related, but not solely responsible — one need only look at the concurrent riots that spread through the Muslim world as a result of the video, and also that this same group attacked an Italian consulate, in Benghazi, six years prior because a minister allegedly wore a t-shirt bearing the image of Muhammed.
Second, reports from the ground initially said that there were some protestors, while reports coming out of the state department later strongly indicated otherwise. There’s even video from the BBC the night of the attack which shows citizens, in front of the burning consulate, angry over the video.
The truth is that initial reports coming out of Benghazi were rushed, scattered and inaccurate, and an administration hell bent on shaping the high-ground message simply cherry picked the best one: out of control riots.
Conversely, Republicans sought to paint a picture of a unified enemy, mounting a centrally-planned, Al Qaeda related attack. Stevens himself reported that he thought he was on a hit list.
Though there isn’t an American ambassador in a fractious Muslim country that isn’t on some group’s hit list. And just how, ‘planned’ was the attack? There are several types of planning — ranging from mock-up Osama Bin Laden compound in the North Carolina woods type of planning, versus cell phones and trucks and standing orders to take out American diplomats type of planning, as we reported here at BI shortly following the attacks.
A few key graphs from a John Walcott and Christopher Stephen report out of Bloomberg this morning best illustrate the situation:
– While details of the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya last month may never be fully known, there is ample evidence neither the Obama administration’s initial accounts nor Republican portrayals of the incident are accurate.
– There is no intelligence suggesting that either the remaining core of al-Qaeda in Pakistan or its loose affiliates in Yemen and North Africa plotted, financed or directed the attack, which one of the U.S. officials described as amateurish.
– Instead, accounts from U.S. intelligence officials and Benghazi residents, along with evidence in the burned-out American diplomatic compound, point to a hasty and poorly organised act by men with basic military training and access to weapons widely available in Libya.
– “The partisan debate is feeding public misunderstanding of foreign events and the nature of diplomatic and intelligence work,” Paul Pillar, a former U.S. intelligence official, said in a telephone interview.
The report goes a step further when it says that Obama’s recent drone/warship report is basically the awkward position of political posturing, while intelligence forces him to publicly state that there isn’t enough “actionable” intelligence to mount a strike anywhere.
NOW TAKE A LOOK BACK: At Our Original Report On The Likely Story Behind The Libya Attacks >
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