ONE YEAR AGO President Obama was still receiving “bravos” for his Libya strategy. Today that strategy is becoming a political tool to wield in an election year.
There is no way Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. would have delivered his statement explaining the shifting Administration stories if the fumbling responses from the Obama administration hadn’t escalated into the creation of a political problem for the President. Moving the media glare to intelligence failures while trying to take the heat off of the White House, Clapper helps, but won’t succeed completely, as the moment to control the story has long since passed.
A report in the Washington Post today emphasizes the obvious, that security was lax in Benghazi, but also what I’ve been writing about from other reports, which is that advice was to keep a low profile in eastern Libya, which automatically made security seen as a delicate balance, because a fortified outpost would have made the consulate a prize target.
Days before the ambassador arrived from the embassy in Tripoli, a Libyan security official had warned an American diplomat that foreigners should keep a low profile in Benghazi because of growing threats. …
Despite the security inadequacies and the warning, Stevens traveled to Benghazi to meet openly with local leaders. Eager to establish a robust diplomatic presence in the cradle of the rebellion against Moammar Gaddafi, the ousted autocratic leader, U.S. officials appear to have overlooked the stark signs that militancy was on the rise.
[...] Insecurity has beset Libya since the country’s civil war ended in October 2011 with Gaddafi’s dramatic execution. Militias have been reluctant to disband or surrender weapons. After the U.S. Embassy formally reopened in Tripoli last fall, the U.S. military’s Africa command dispatched a team to help build its security infrastructure. The troops, however, were never assigned to bolster security at the site in Benghazi, said Eric Elliott, a spokesman for the Africa command. Elliott and the State Department could not say why. [...] “They told him, ‘Look, if there’s going to be any foreign presence [in the city], it better be discreet,’ ” the Libyan official said.
What is unmistakable is that Ambassador Chris Stevens believed in the Libya mission so thoroughly that he willingly made the choice to put his life in danger to see it succeed. That’s a call few have begun to grapple with publicly. It is the price many Americans have paid to help other nations grapple with freedom. The heroism of this decision ending as tragically as any soldier who takes one for his unit.
When looking at the full context of the Benghazi terrorist attack on 9/11, taking the full picture is important, which requires a look back.
Ryan Lizza provides a perfect example, writing back in April 2011, of the coverage after Gaddafi fell. Talking about “accomplishment,” as the pervading theme was to enjoy the immediate gratification.
Frankly, what Obama did was a massive bait and switch. He used the Arab League’s support for a no-fly zone to win United Nations support for a far larger military intervention. The debate about the merits of this style of leadership should also take into account what was accomplished.
Roger Cohen, writing in October 2011, gave Obama a “bravo” on Libya.
When I tweeted a sincere “Bravo Obama” message the other day, congratulating the president on “leading from behind” in Libya, it took only minutes for the U.S. ambassador to NATO to tweet back a sharp retort.
“That’s not leading from behind,” Ivo Daalder wrote. “When you set the course, provide critical enablers and succeed, it’s plain leading.”
You can call it “leading,” but if foreign policy writers like Cohen can be taken up in a moment that is only just a beginning, is it any wonder people are scratching their heads today? People should not be surprised that the White House is scurrying to find a narrative to fit after also claiming success in a country that clearly isn’t finished convulsing.
Obama’s “accomplishment” in Libya may one day see the limelight again, but it’s clear today our media, but also the White House, dropped the ball on the story of Libya’s battle for freedom, which never could have been written in one or two years. President Obama likely knew it wouldn’t, but his mistake is not continuing the public education on Libya, which is why the White House has been scrambling and tripping ever since the 9/11 Benghazi attack.
It was a long way from George W. Bush’s embarrassing “mission accomplished” on Iraq, but the Obama administration has acted like the last chapter had already been written in Libya, as have political writers across the spectrum, for a long time, and they’re paying for it now.
Thinking Libya could go from Gaddafi to openness without more violence is an ignorant analysis and is the same reason Republicans are calling the Arab Spring a failure, because it didn’t immediately present happy, peppy democracy.
As the contagion of Administration statements jarred with what seemed obvious to many analysts, including myself, and sensing a political opening, Rep. Peter King has now demanded the resignation of UN Ambassador Susan Rice. That’s like watching two kids fight, then having someone looking through a window say because you watched the fight you get the punishment. Sen. John Kerry came to Rice’s defense for being the Administration’s point person on the Sunday shows, with her statements quickly making matters worse.
Secretary Clinton has purposely not been the point person, as the Administration scrambles to get on top of the messaging.
The International Committee of the Red Cross abandoned eastern Libya in June. The British consulate shut down right around that time, coming after their ambassador was attacked twice, first in the spring.
The Obama administration, after taking praise for the original NATO led bombing, kept the news about Libya’s deterioration and the dangers of militants rising very quiet, because there was no real interest in it. Gaddafi’s gone, it’s over, Obama won, was the political narrative.
Ambassador Stevens seems to have been so dedicated to the Libyan cause that he risked his life living and working in an environment in eastern Libya, choosing to break free from Tripoli to help the new Libya rise in a locale that was clearly unsafe.
We’re supposed to now accept that U.S. intelligence on the militants targeting the U.S. consulate missed the growing threat, so Stevens was left a sitting duck through ignorance. This knowledge not immediately known, but as information came in it became clear.
It all leads the White House open to questions from political opponents wondering if the Administration was reluctant to close the consulate and pull Ambassador Stevens in an election year for fear of political fall out.
However, if we’re going to intervene in areas of the world unraveling, why do politicians, partisans and the less informed, many of whom simply like to squeal at the opposing political side, continue to believe it will be easy and over in a year?
When there’s no interest the media doesn’t cover it, because there’s no money in stories that have been proclaimed settled.
Intervention in Libya was never a good idea, but it seemed doable, so we did it. The future may turn out on the plus side for the U.S., NATO and President Obama, which is still the best bet. But the short attention span has once again led to a politician, this time President Obama, explaining why someone took their eye off the ball, which begins with transparency on what we’re doing in Libya and what the threat level is to our people.
The only difference between Obama and what Republicans wanted to do is they wanted a larger footprint, because they still see America as an empire. That would just as likely have left a lot more than 4 Americans dead.