Sunday, October 7, 2012

Back to Libya and the Blame Game

I am glad that the Congress is taking seriously what happened in Libya. A Congressional investigation, if done right, is really the only way to go as long as Congress does not do just another version of State's own Accountability Review Board (ARB.) State's ARB will take months, and, at best, make some  marginal comments on how security should have been better in Libya and how to improve it.

I won't go over the Benghazi disaster again. I have written a number of posts highly critical of the late Ambassador, State, NSC, CIA, and the White House. "Diplopundit" has a useful timeline of events which shows that the Embassy, the Ambassador included, and the State Department did not take seriously the worsening security situation in Libya. "Diplopundit" also has an interesting post that slams the GOP Congress for slashing the Department's budget and its security budget, in particular. That issue should be examined. Was Congress partly to blame for the lack of security in Benghazi and elsewhere? I will deal with that a bit below.

There are press reports, and Sean Hannity on FOX has featured these, showing that a low level Post Management Officer denied the Embassy security team continued access to a dedicated aircraft. It is not clear that this email is the smoking gun; it is a smoking cartridge, perhaps, and might serve as one indication of how lax an attitude State had towards security in Libya. Presumably having a dedicated aircraft MIGHT have made a difference in getting people out, if that aircraft had been positioned ahead of time in Benghazi, if there had been a clear path to the aircraft, if there had been sufficient security to guarantee a convoy's safety on the way to the aircraft, if the aircraft's security could have been guaranteed, etc. Lots of "ifs" there, and readers can think of many more--not the least of which is "if" that aircraft was so important, what did the Ambassador say or do in the wake of its being pulled out of Libya? Why in light of State's presumed refusal to back him on security enhancements did he go to Benghazi on 9/11, of all days?

Other media reports show State disagreeing with recommendations from security experts to beef up security in Libya. Again, this would indicate a generally lax attitude towards security, and, more troubling, and this is the real issue, a lack of understanding of the situation on the ground. State seemed to have assigned no greater priority to requests coming out of Libya for additional security than it did to those coming out of, say, Embassy Ottawa. Those were apparently considered part of the "bureaucratic noise" from different offices and programs all wanting more.

What about the White House? Are reports accurate that the President was briefed on the attack underway, and then went to bed? Did he task SOCOM or AFRICOM to put together a rescue operation? What was the White House reaction? How did the relevant combatant commands respond? What did the NSC do? What did the Pentagon do? What did State do?

Is Congress to blame for lousy security? The House did deny some funds to State--but then no budget has been passed by the Dem-controlled Senate in years, so it strikes me as odd to blame the Republicans. In addition, I have seen how poorly State presents its case to Congress; how it refuses to make clear priorities, and to say what it will need to do and why if funding requests are not met. It is all a bureaucratic game, and State is not very good at it under Democrats and Republicans.

State is a notoriously bad manager under Democrats and Republicans. The State Department is a bloated bureaucracy increasingly removed from its core business of foreign policy and defense of US national interests. The bulk, yes, the bulk, of State offices and budgets have little to do with core US interests. One of the biggest programs when I was there involved campaigning against "trafficking in persons." While that sounds very noble, these programs basically consist of giving millions of dollars to foreign and US NGOs to fight "trafficking" by conducting seminars, police training and prosecutor training, and, of course, by constantly expanding the definition of trafficking to include stuff that is not necessarily human trafficking, e.g., all forms of prostitution. These programs require State officials to criss-cross the globe, staying in nice hotels and getting per diem, like some sort of new morality crusaders. The anti-trafficking program has steadily expanded, its offices spilling out of main State and across DC. State's human rights bureaucracy is another bloated scam which revolves around the writing of a massive, unreadable, and, hence, seldom read global human rights report that keeps adding "rights." Another huge chunk of State is devoted to visas and consular affairs. The biggest part of State consists of all the people, offices, and programs to manage and administer all the other people, offices, and programs.

When it comes to diplomatic security, a great deal of money is wasted and a huge bureaucracy has sprung up to help waste it. There are tons of regulations, forms, waivers, contracting procedures, endless and time-consuming hoops to jump through before any significant security enhancements can be instituted. This leads to all sorts of cheating.

It seems that the facility in Benghazi was one of those "cheaters." It is not clear what that facility was, and how it was classified. It is not listed as a consulate. Who had primary responsibility for that facility? Was it, as some press reports have indicated, primarily a CIA listening post? Was it something else? As I have noted before,
The facility in Benghazi was not a regular consulate despite what the press has been saying. It is not clear what exactly that facility was--it does not appear on the Embassy Tripoli website or in the State Department's list of consulates--but appears to have been operated on the bureaucratic sly to enable it to avoid expensive and time-consuming security requirements. The Near East (NEA) head, the Diplomatic Security (DS) head, the Undersecretary for Management (M), the Deputy Secretary (D), and the Secretary of State (S), and, of course, the CIA Director, and the head of the NSC, knew this, or should have, and should be fired--if they did not, they also should all be fired. Any investigation must focus on what functions the facility performed, and what risk assessment had been made; in other words, what were the pros and cons of running this place? Was it worth the risk of operating it under the conditions it did? 
Again, the real issue is that the State Department has increasingly little foreign policy common sense. It recruits people out of the universities who have little experience or common sense, and merely reflect the nonsense passed off as wisdom in grad student or teacher lounges. The State Department rewards people who do not rock the boat, who have a good ear for domestic US trends, and who worry about achieving consensus. You do not often find the thinkers and doers and knowers in the action parts of the State department. You will find some of the smartest people at State working in Intelligence and Research (INR), in fact, their reports tend to be considerably better than those by CIA or DIA; they are virtually ignored, especially if their assessment is at odds with whatever the political fad of the day has become. INR is a career dead-end; doesn't pay to be smart and knowledgeable.

State has come to believe that foreign policy just involves an exotic locale for carrying out domestic political obsessions. We will liberate women! We will bring democracy to these people! They are just like us but don't know it yet! A piece I wrote last April about developing a post-Obama foreign policy seems relevant for today's discussion,
[We must realize that] Our Army is the American, not the Salvation Army. No more nation building. That has proven our undoing in Afghanistan. There are places in the world where we will have to go, e.g., Afghanistan, that are nasty pieces of work. They have religions, cultures and political traditions hostile to freedom, equality, PETA, and gay rights. There is little effective we can do about that. We need to pursue our core interests; in the Afghan case, killing the al Qaeda thugs and their supporters, and move on. Bribe some warlords to kill folks who need killing, forget about trying to build democracy and farm-to-market roads, or empowering feminist NGOs. I am always reminded of the scene in the 1974 Luis Buñuel film, The Phantom of Liberty, in which Napoleon's soldiers are gunning down Spanish peasants while shouting "Long live liberty!" and the Spaniards are dying shouting "Down with liberty! Long live the chains!" Freedom might not be for everybody on the time table we would wish.
Bottom line: Liberal delusions and an administration with no appreciation for US interests or understanding of Islam and its intimate relationships with terrorism came together to produce disaster in Benghazi and across the Muslim world.

7 comments:

  1. I remember my late Ambassador father saying with disdain about little Jimmy Carter, "'Human rights' is not a foreign policy." It's not gotten better since with the exception of some of the Reaganauts.

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  2. Ah Diplomad well written and depressing. State is truly a behemoth, but only one in a herd of behemoths. Sometimes I think a big enough shock and the whole rotten edifice would crash to pieces (all out war comes to mind). Oh well we still must try to change it, though it'll be a long struggle. But I remain an optimist and the tools are still there if we would just use them.

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  3. Add to the Trafficking in Persons costs annual training for Defense Department personnel. ALL of them, uniformed and civilian, get their annual repeat of the old "training" pap.

    And I agree that we need to follow the old counsel, "We are the friends of freedom everywhere, but guardians only of our own."

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  4. A state department that has paid for all of the idiot Alec J Ross luxury vacations and his 180k salary can NEVER blame congress for lack of funds. they are clearly wasting money out the ya hoo.

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  5. It's circular: State's annual human rights and trafficking in persons reports, among others, are mandated by Congress. But State does know how to take congressionally mandated busywork and turn it into an additional waste of money.

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  6. ABC news is reporting tonight that there was "no demonstration prior to the attack".

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