22 October 2015

Benghazi Hearings: Business as Usual in the Hall of Mirrors that is Versailles on the Potomac

The Republican antics in the hearings of the Benghazi Committee in the House of Representatives are a good example illustrating how broken American politics have become.  The clear aim is narrowly political: to embarrass Hillary Clinton (and President Obama) for partisan reasons, while avoiding the roots of the larger Libyan debacle that flowed from the US led intervention.  Accounting for the deeper causes of the Libyan debacle is off limits, because just about everyone’s hands are dirty: Our bombing campaign was supported or acquiesced to by the Republican neo-cons and their humanitarian interventionist allies in the Obama White House and the Secretary of Defense, as well as a majority of the Republican congressional leadership* and most Democrats in Congress.  So, Democrats have tried to present the Benghazi hearings as yet another anti-Clinton witch hunt for the parallel reason of partisan domestic politics.  
But the real issue, as Nancy Youssef explains below, is that President Obama's ill-considered and unprovoked war to remove the leader of Libya was a rerun of Bush’s ill-considered and unprovoked war to remove the leader of Iraq, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale of horror.  Neither country had anything to do with 9-11 or attacked the U.S; both operations centered on regime change; and both administrations failed to plan for the post-war problem of reestablishing a new regime out of the chaos they created.  As a result, both interventions (1) broke a country into lawless chaos, where warring factions increased the political power of — and the volume of arms flowing to -- radical Islamists; (2) created massive refugee flows that have added a costly and potentially destabilizing burden on our NATO allies; and (3) then both leaders tried to ‘exit' the mess they created on terms that sowed the seeds for increased conflict in the future (as is evidenced in the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS).**  Yet, in the Democratic Presidential debate, Hillary Clinton chose to channel Jeb Bush’s silly claim that President George W. Bush’s responses to 9-11 (including the unprovoked invasion of Iraq) "kept us safe" by making the equally absurd claim that the U.S. intervention in Libya was “smart power at its best.”   But in contrast to Jeb — who got Trumped, Hillary got away with it.
Which brings us back to the Benghazi Committee.  The Constitution rests on a theory of accountability through a system of checks and balances, which include the power of Congress to investigate and censure the actions of Presidents and their appointed representatives.  And there is much to account for in the Libyan debacle. To date, as Youssef notes below, the Benghazi Committee has been asking the wrong questions — to which I would add for reasons of gaining narrow political advantage that have little to do with the wider Libyan debacle.  When Committee fails to change course, it will end up being another forgotten confirmation of the thesis propounded by Mike Lofgren’s in his first book: The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted.  But it will provide great theater to keep the masses distracted.
* In June 2011, some House Republican backbenchers and a few Democrats tried to end the Libyan war because Obama failed to consult Congress prior to initiating it.  The Republican leadership in the House postponed indefinitely a vote on Dennis Kucinich’s (D-OH) resolution to end the war on the grounds that its passage would “adversely affect” the war effort.
** Youssef’s news peg rests, quite unnecessarily in my opinion, on an interview Obama’s Secretary of Defense in 2011, Robert Gates.  Gates claims to have opposed the U.S. intervention because, as he told her, “We were playing it by ear.”  But Gates is a very dodgy character when it comes to the blame game.  My good friend Mike Lofgren in responded to my blaster emailing: 
Your introduction is a good summary of the insanity over Libya.  But is Bob Gates a reliable witness? From my web searches of 2011 articles about the intervention, Gates’ role was ambiguous. He was undoubtedly more of a fence-sitter than Hillary, who was gung-ho for intervention, but he defended the decision before Congress (albeit in a mealy mouthed manner – although he concocted “atrocity” stories to defend the US bombing). He also castigated NATO members for insufficient participation, suggesting his doubts were more because of the “overstretched US military” argument rather than that intervening in Libya was a bad idea per se. If he really believed Libya was a bad idea, Gates could have gotten away with publicly criticizing intervention at the time because (1) Obama needed him more that Gates needed Obama in order for the president to maintain the illusory fa├žade of “bipartisanship.” I heard in 2009 that Obama essentially gave Gates carte blanche to get him to remain as SecDef; (2) Gates was on the point of retirement anyway; (3) Gates had no problem contradicting the White House in preemptively arguing for the Afghan surge in 2009.
Gates’ actions in inflating the Soviet threat as deputy director of the CIA, his involvement in Iran-Contra, and his selective recollection of both, are also strong reasons to doubt  Gates’ retrospective claims. Bob Gates has been a loyal bag-handler of the Bush family for three decades. Perhaps his current recollection of Libya is his attempt at a boost to the flagging campaign of Jeb Bush, a know-nothing scion of the family dynasty, against his likely Democratic foe – that is, should Jeb have the good fortune that his more popular GOP opponents implode.
Attached are excerpts for Youssef’s report … I urge readers to read it in its entirety
Hillary’s Libya Post-War Plan Was ‘Play It by Ear,’ Gates Says
Nancy A. Youssef, The Daily Beast, 20 October 2015
She still defends the invasion as ‘smart power at its best.’ But war backers like Clinton had no plan for securing the country, says ex-Pentagon chief Bob Gates.
When Hillary Clinton appears before Congress’s special committee on Benghazi Thursday, she’ll likely be asked all the wrong questions.
Clinton will be peppered with queries about why she kept a private email server, what caused the 2012 attacks on the U.S. special consulate in Benghazi, and how come U.S. forces didn’t respond more quickly to the strikes. But the really important issues—the questions longstanding followers of the U.S. and NATO intervention want answered—are: Why did Hillary Clinton push for strikes that contributed to the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi? And why didn’t the Obama administration bother to plan for the all-too-predictable chaos that came next?
In 2011, as the United States considered intervention, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was among those who pushed for intervention—without resolving just how Libya would be governed after Gaddafi, according to a senior defense official who was part of the decision-making process. Obama advisers like Samantha Power and Susan Rice also made the case alongside Clinton. They argued the U.S. had a moral obligation to save lives in Benghazi facing a threatened genocide by Libyan dictator Gaddafi. The only strategy spelled out publicly was that the Europeans’ newly formed “Libyan Transitional Council” would be at the forefront of the effort. Washington was “leading from behind,” to use a famous phrase from the era.
As then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who opposed the U.S. intervention, frustratingly explained to The Daily Beast: “We were playing it by ear.”
And the consequences of that improvisation are still being felt today. The country is an epicenter of the refugee crisis sweeping the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. Part of Libya is under the control of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. And the Russians use the U.S.-NATO intervention in Libya to justify their own military incursions in places like Syria.
But to Clinton, Libya was—and still remains—a major achievement. “We came, we saw, he died,” she crowed in October 2011. “Smart power at its best” is how Clinton described it during the most recent Democratic debate. …

… And to this day, Hillary Clinton says the invasion was the right call.
“Well, let’s remember what was going on,” she offered during the recent Democratic debate. “We had a murderous dictator, Gaddafi, who had American blood on his hands, as I’m sure you remember, threatening to massacre large numbers of the Libyan people. We had our closest allies in Europe burning up the phone lines begging us to help them try to prevent what they saw as a mass genocide, in their words. And we had the Arabs standing by our side saying, ‘We want you to help us deal with Gaddafi.’”
“The Libyan people had a free election the first time since 1951. And you know what, they voted for moderates, they voted with the hope of democracy,” she added.
Clinton admitted that “there was turmoil” after the invasion. But she said the chaos was unleashed “because of the Arab Spring, because of a lot of other things.”
She never admitted she might have something to do with reaping the Libyan whirlwind.