Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Benghazi Conspiracy Theory


Sen. John McCain has taken the resolute position that the US Embassy Attack in Benghazi involved a cover up orchestrated by the President of the United States to conceal details from the American government and people. I can only speculate about his motivation, but I would optimistically like to think it stems from his desire to protect Americans abroad, as he has had the most unpleasant experiences at the hands of overseas enemies. His determination to hold American leadership accountable for the Ambassador Chris Stevens' death probably stems from his genuine appreciation of and fondness for him, who, by all accounts was respected and liked by all who knew him. Sen. McCain's insistence that the President is responsible probably comes from his belief that the President is weak on foreign policy and preemptively judges the President's decision-making as inadequate. Many Americans share this view of the President, therefore the theory that he knew more about the attacks than he was letting on gained traction. Many Republican supporters are reeling and angry at the election results and want to show the world just how right they were about how bad this President is. They latch onto any negative criticism of him. An unfortunate stimulant in this conspiracy theory's ability to gain traction is that  many McCain supporters already believe that the President is a Kenyan-born Muslim, so this might not seem like much of a stretch for them (moderate Republicans hate when people bring that up, but it is absolutely true) . Once several people agree about something, consensus advertising shows us it's easier for even more people to accept the premise of any claim. Now, we are in the midst of public inquiries brought about by unfounded theories.

Ambassador Chris Stevens
McCain's theory, like all conspiracy theories, is comprised of few murky details. He has access to more classified information and little-known details that make the rest of us curious onlookers envious, but he has not presented a coherent argument for his theories and is behaving in the exact way that he accused the President of behaving. He has provided no basis for his arguments. Because of that, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid denied John McCain's request for an inquisition-style Senate Committee. Investigations are already underway in the Senate and the House, so Sen. McCain's request for a televised prosecution of the President's administration, no matter how nobly intended, is absurd. Even Republican Senator Susan Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Committee, said that McCain's suggestion was unnecessary.

The accusations of conspiracy began during the presidential debates, when Republicans, for some reason, accused the president of concealing the fact that the attack did not just spawn from a protest, but was actually a coordinated attack. This does not make sense because, the day after the attack he said, "And my suspicion is there are folks involved in this who were looking to target Americans from the start." Considering the attack could have come from any number of groups that hate America, including remnants of forces loyal to Quaddafi or Ansar Al Sharia, as some military intel suggested, there was no reason for him to immediately say the attack was by Al Quaeda until verified. Still, in his speech from the Rose Garden that day, he implied that the attack as an "act of terror." Fox News tried to convince its audience with ambitious, but ultimately unsuccessful, sophistry that the President didn't say what he actually said, or rather, didn't mean what he said.

John McCain Remarks on Benghazi Investigation

The conspiratorial claims are far-ranging and constantly evolving. McCain and fellow senator Lindsey Graham first verbally assaulted U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice after she made a presentation to the United Nations, implicating an offensive Youtube video as the catalyst for a protest's organic escalation to violent mob. It was a story that the President alluded to in his Rose Garden speech after the attack. Nine days later, the administration announced that Al Qaeda had a hand in the attack. McCain and Graham claimed her integrity should be questioned because she lied to the American people. They plan to block her nomination for Secretary of State after Hilary Clinton's departure. Though she is not even an official choice of the President for the position, McCain and Graham have erected a preemptive obstacle. The President threw down the gauntlet in her defense with unexpected hostility and indignant enthusiasm, claiming she was simply reading from a prepared intelligence agency report. McCain immediately retreated from the unjust attack on Rice. He then redirected the fight again toward the President and his administration.

As already quite clear, the President should not have jumped to conclusions about this being an act of terror, because the enemy was not absolutely certain and both the CIA and FBI left out information about Al Qaeda leads because they didn't want to disrupt the investigation. The President stated publicly that the attackers were organized and targeted Americans, but that was all he was willing to say until more details were from the investigation were confirmed, as it should be. What could McCain hoped to have learned from the President the day after that he couldn't wait nine days to find out? It changed nothing. The reason the Youtube video was mentioned as the catalyst for the attack is because the attack was about the Youtube video. The militant group Ansar Al-Sharia said that they launched the attack in retaliation for the video.  United States intelligence indicated that a mob was protesting the video and marched on the consulate in an incensed rage, just as they had done in other nations that day. It was hardly the first time angry Muslims attacked embassies over perceived insults. It's not entirely clear if the Al Qaeda agents were complicit in riling up the crowd, used them because it was convenient, or began the whole demonstration as part of their plan. The concurrent attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo was a direct result of the Youtube video as well as protests at the Yemen Consulate. Not that Al Qaida needed an excuse, but it seems like the video was the excuse they chose to launch an attack on the United States.

Attack on Egyptian Embassy
CIA reports show that reliable ground level-intelligence was difficult to obtain during the first attack. The CIA had a surveillance drone in the area that gave a limited view of the events preceding the battle, which contributed to early reports that it was a spontaneous attack.  After the CIA and FBI testified that the situation "involved many, many people, and it's a mix of intent, motivation, a mix of skill, armament" the Republicans mostly seemed content that the motivations for the attack were not easily untangled within 24 hours...so they switched attack tactics. McCain then said that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's inaction during the crisis caused the deaths of four Americans. McCain made sure to identify the culprit as a member of the President's cabinet, implicating the President.

Responding directly to John McCain, Secretary Panetta wrote that they could not reach the consulate in time, in part, because "several hundred reports were received indicating possible threats to U.S. facilities around the world." The military was all over the place, investigating threats to other consulates, dealing with the aftermath of other attacks and attempting to defend against other credible threats. They also had to constantly evaluate intelligence received from Benghazi, determining the best plan of action. There are two major criticisms that troops on the ground frequently level at their military superiors when the situations arise: 1.) sending men blindly into a firefight with little-to-no intelligence about the situation, which Panetta clearly was unwilling to do, and 2.) delaying a military response until it's too late. The two criticisms are diametrically opposed. If you avoid one, you run the risk of falling victim to another. Black Hawk Down was a movie-worthy tale of sending troops into a situation with inadequate intelligence. Into the Fire is a book about the deadly consequences of taking too long to evaluate threats. The best any military commander can do is balance the two. McCain was not satisfied because reports surfaced that Ambassador Stevens had repeatedly requested additional security after an armed assault targeted embassy personnel on August 6, but additional security was not given. There was a reason for that, however.

The loss of American lives has blinded many to the enormous task of protecting consulates. On July 2, a planned attack on the Kenyan consulate was thwarted. The U.S. Embassy said terrorist threats were still active a week later. On July 26, a gunman opened fire outside the U.S. Embassy in Bosnia. On August 5, terrorists attacked Israel, killing 16 soldiers and raising the alert for American personnel in that area. On August 6, demonstrations in Afghanistan became violent as they began violently attacking Western targets of opportunity. After an unrelated suicide attack in Yemen, authorities captured Al Qaeda militants who planned an attack on the U.S. Embassy. U.S. Embassy security was heightened in Islamabad, Pakistan in anticipation of violence during Pakistan Independence Day. More personnel was diverted to Pakistan after a suicide bomber killed two embassy employees on Sept. 2. Viable Jihadi groups in Egypt threatened to attack the Cairo Embassy on September 11. In addition to the terrorist attacks, the military attempted to protect the Egyptian and Yemen Consulates from spontaneous attacks. The authorities were also investigating threats to embassies in Lebanon, Tunisia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Zambia, Armenia, Sudan, Berundi and others. The United States is under attack all the time. The military believed some of the others had greater reason to fear an imminent attack, and some did (they were attacked). They simply couldn't be everywhere at once.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
Not programmed to pass up an opportunity to lie through its teeth, Fox News claimed that the CIA denied backup to the "diplomatic mission." They even marketed the story as an "EXCLUSIVE" and it is still available on their site. The story was debunked in less than 12 hours. They are still sticking to that story, even now. Immediately after learning of the attack, we now know that the President ordered special forces dispatched from Italy to help in the fight and scrambled jets from North Carolina to aid in the rescue effort. Military bases in nearby countries evaluated the threat and situation, drafted deployment plans and traveled to Benghazi where they arrived after the firefight. Shortly after the first-wave attack on the main building, the nine-man security team was overwhelmed in a rapidly deteriorating situation. The building was set on fire, causing the death of Management Officer Sean Smith and Ambassador Chris Stevens. CIA operatives from a nearby annex building heroically rushed to the aid of the remaining Americans, bringing them back to the more secure annex building. Less than three hours after fighting began, U.S. security reinforcements from Tripoli arrived to help. In a second attack five hours after the first, a rocket fired at the building killed two security operatives on the roof, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. Hopelessly outgunned, the remaining Americans managed to escape to the airport, flying safely to Tripoli and then Germany where they were interviewed by the FBI.

I'm really not sure what John McCain thinks anyone should have done here. I'm not sure what he thinks the President could have done better. I'm not sure why he thinks Panetta could have done better, considering the complicated and delicate nature of the task, as well as having Congress cut Embassy funding by $327 million. Cutting funding may have been the right move from a domestic spending standpoint, but it certainly made Panetta's job harder. I'm also not sure what McCain wanted the CIA to do, and they made a pretty significant sacrifice in the first place.

Ex-CIA Director David Petraus
The conspiracy took another turn when the affair between CIA Director David Petraeus and his biographer went public, as extremist right-wing conservatives accused the Obama Administration of blackmailing Petraeus to keep quiet about what really happened during the Benghazi attack. Even Charles Krauthammer, the (until recently) respected intellectual elite of the right, is propagating the conspiracy theory. All that McCain, Graham, Krauthammer, and pundits like Andrew Napolitano seem convinced of is that there is a conspiracy. All other details are flexible. They adjust the narrative continually and obsessively to meet each new revelation that deflates the veracity of their claims. They can't name a viable reason for the President to conceal the motivation of the attack from anyone. There are no rewards to be reaped. No one's reputation should be affected by honest and rapid action that nonetheless fell short. There isn't enough reason for the President to instigate an international conspiracy to...do...whatever it is Republicans think it's supposed to do. There's no advantage to this so-called conspiracy in any way. Every single person has been honest since day one. Every single story aligns perfectly to the events portrayed by the person testifying ahead of them, from the people on the ground to the people in the Pentagon.

There's nothing to see here, folks.

Many Americans don't know the details of what surrounds the Benghazi attack. Many understandably rely on news outlets to give them the summary after it's over. But, right now, there are high-level Republican government officials who are determined to live in a conspiracy-filled fantasy world. The Benghazi cover-up isn't even the most ridiculous conspiracy from the Republicans this month. The Georgia Republican Senate Majority Leader sponsored a seminar explaining how Obama won the election using mind-control. That is not a joke or exaggeration. Donald Trump is still spouting about the President's birth certificate. Wisconsin and Florida elected officials are stating that hundreds of thousands of cases of voter fraud per state won Democrats the election. Before the election, seventy percent of Republicans believed the polls were skewed toward Obama, even though they were accurately depicting his victory. This type of conspiratorial thinking should have ended with the election. I thought the message to Republicans was clear: this insanity will no longer be tolerated.

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