Thursday, January 31, 2013

Libya, Benghazi, and Mrs. Clinton

From a columnist’s description of the Secretary of State’s recent appearance before Congress:
The most dramatic moment came early, when Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson tried to get Clinton to explain why the State Department blamed the September 11 terrorist attacks in Benghazi on an impromptu protest over an anti-Muslim video. In a rehearsed moment of spontaneous outrage, Clinton yelled back, “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided to kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?”

Doc Pence says the senator should have been ready with a response such as the following:

Mrs. Clinton,

You are right that it really wouldn’t make any difference if it was "guys on a walk who just wanted to kill Americans" or spontaneous demonstrators.  There would, however, be a very significant difference if the attack was planned by a group which is actively organizing a military movement in Libya to be the core of a new government. It would make a very big difference if this attack is evidence that there is a well-organized armed group that controls the streets of Benghazi at night, and used the anniversary of 9/11 as a time to show that control.

If this is evidence of an al-Qaeda like movement perched to bid for control of the Libyan government based in Benghazi… If this means that the primary organized opposition which overthrew Muammar Ghaddafi is not a democratic populist movement… If the killing at Benghazi was planned by an Eastern Libyan group who are the true heirs of the US-aided victory over Ghaddafi… then that makes a very big difference indeed.

The attackers are neither spontaneous demonstrators nor “guys walking by wanting to kill Americans.” We can all agree: that distinction would make no difference. The Benghazi attack is the tip of a very dangerous iceberg; not the culmination of a single day’s passion. Understanding this makes a big difference – not just in Libya, but throughout the region.

The victors of the Egyptian revolt are the Muslim Brotherhood, not ‘yuppie’ pro-American tweeters. They have formed a very different government with a very different strategic goal than the government of President Mubarak. No matter how much we identified with the 2011 demonstrations in Tahrir Square, the new controlling element in Egyptian politics is part of the Sunni purification movement that is going to hurt liberty in general and Christians, Shiite Muslims, and the State of Israel in particular. These kind of differences must be attended to as we decide to send advanced military equipment to the new Mohamed Morsi government.

Everywhere men are arming in the Mideast. We must admit that the one coherent ideology which will organize these armed men is the jihadist Sunni purification movement associated with the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Even the Tuareg guard of Ghaddafi have returned to their homeland and joined with US-trained troops in Mali to form a military group to rule that emerging nation. What is their ideology?  It is not an existentialist spontaneity – it is a return to purified Islam.

Does it make a difference if the best organized groups of the Arab spring are going to be religious jihadists replacing the secular dictators of the last half century?  Did it make a difference that the Russians who overthrew the Czar were Bolsheviks and not liberal democrats?

Many of us thought that this killing was not about a video. We saw it as planned; as clear evidence that the best organized forces in Libya are not planning democracy, but some kind of sharia-based purification of the nation. Understanding this makes all the difference in the world, and it is precisely what some of us think you as Secretary of State have not understood throughout your tenure. To be honest, we have to say that we as Republicans have not been as articulate in demanding a more comprehensive national strategy which puts these events in context.

The problem in the Mideast is that armed groups of men are re-positioning themselves to rule nations from Turkey to Libya to Syria to Egypt. Armed men do not fight simply because they have testosterone. They fight for reasons and causes which must be understood.

Your "issues" have been the empowerment of women and internationalization of homosexual rights.  You organized your department so that those kind of concerns reached your desk, while the ongoing mobilization of armed men was deemed historically less significant. A few weeks after you were too emotionally exhausted to publicly explain what happened in Benghazi, and a few months before you were too sick to testify to Congress, you found the time and energy for a trip to Peru for an Empowering Women Conference.

We all see the world in certain categories, and organize our priorities through those lenses. Your set of priorities has led to a deep confusion about the goals and strategy of our country in dealing with the religious and military landscape of the Mideast. Even your emphasis on finding the particular killers at Benghazi belies the fundamental impoverishment of your tenure as Secretary of State. After Pearl Harbor, did we try to hunt down the particular pilots who bombed our ships?  No, we put up a map of the Pacific and started outlining our friends and enemies, and the territories we would have to concede and the islands we would take. That is what we must do now. Our failure to do this has been a bipartisan failure. Republicans have talked about Iran and nuclear weapons but seldom mentioned how that Persian nation comprises the largest organized Shia resistance to purified Sunni Islam. And let us not forget it is the Sunni purification movement that has driven the jihadists.

This is a problem much bigger than you. I hope that you take none of these remarks as implying you are solely responsible for the strategic confusion that besets our nation. The confusion preceded you. You came, you traveled, you were praised as a woman pioneer, and now you are leaving.

Hopefully, with the new team at State – and a new Congress – we will all start thinking in the broader geographic and historical terms that are necessary to establish public policy. I wish you well in private life.    

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