Political Animal


December 19, 2012 4:56 PM Answers About Benghazi Emerge - But Are We Asking the Right Questions?

By Samuel Knight

An independent commission released a report today on State Department shortcomings related to the fatal September 11 Benghazi consulate attack.

Since then, three officials have tendered their resignations.

Investigators, according to The Guardian, criticized State for its “confusion, lack of transparency and inadequate leadership at senior levels,” and for relying on Libyan militiamen for security.

Assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, Eric Boswell; deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security, Charlene Lamb; and a third unnamed official all stepped down.

Conspicuously absent from the report was Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice.

Not that she would be mentioned, with her having nothing to do with overseeing embassy security. Its just a reminder of how absurd Republicans were in treating her like the leader of a some byzantine cover up.

But the Ambassador Rice-Benghazi falsehood is just one way that the political discourse on Libya is problematic. The debate tends to generally gloss over the fact that our intervention gave rise to a grim situation there in the first place.

Now, a Reuters report on Libya — published today to coincide with the Benghazi investigation — makes our creation seem one major incident away from full blown carnage, The report describes Libya as a country where “armed militias wield the real power on the ground.”

Here are some other excerpts from the dispatch:

Seeking justice remains a tough task in the oil-producing North African state, where authorities - overwhelmed without an effective army or police force at their disposal - have little power to protect citizens or confront criminal suspects.

Libya has insisted it will lead the investigation but one U.S. official in Washington familiar with the inquiry described it as “a joke”: “(There is) no real progress that we can see.”

Another offered a more tempered view. “It has been inherently challenging considering the nature of the crime and the region of the world.”

“Inherently challenging,” indeed.

A Libyan security source initially involved in the investigation said he quickly decided to step down. “Who was going to protect me if we carried out the investigation honestly?” he said.
“Benghazi is a small place, everyone knows everyone and those people with the kind of weapons used during the attack are well-known in the community. The probe was going to lead to them but we were not given guarantees of protection.”

It makes for a pretty grim read, doesn’t it?

What’s even more bothersome is that it describes a city that NATO forces were alleged to have saved from massacre — an assertion that has been called into question since Obama committed American forces to humanitarian intervention. FBI agents sent to Benghazi to investigate the consulate attack were never allowed to enter the city due to security concerns. Nor are Libyan law enforcement officials safe there — Benghazi’s chief of police was shot dead last month. Militia strongmen can do what they please, it seems.

And they wouldn’t be in power — not as armed bandits, anyway — if not for our intervention. In iits desperate bid to see rebels overthrow Qaddafi, the U.S. government ended up financing the arming strongmen..

This chaotic situation means that our intervention might not produce the best outcome for Libyans or Americans. Despite the fact that, according to an August Gallup poll, 75% of Libyans approved of the NATO intervention, 48% also said they see western forces as a “major” security threat. And one can only surmise, based on the situation, that pollsters were unable to reach those with the strongest enmity towards the west. There’s no telling how this will end, but it would be optimistic to assume that the Benghazi attack will be the last wound inflicted on Americans there. The power vacuum will also certainly claim more Libyans in the months — probably years — to come. Qaddafi might have been a detestable tyrant, but that’s no guarantee that whatever regime ends up succeeding there will be better.

Its something to keep in mind as we gear up for our next adventure.

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.


  • schtick on December 19, 2012 8:24 PM:

    This is the problem we have when we stick our noses into the politics of other nations. We arm them, we sell them all kinds of military armaments, up to, and including WMDs. Look at Iraq. Look at Iran. Look at Afghanistan. We armed them and trained them and now they are the bad guys. Hello?

  • Doug on December 19, 2012 8:40 PM:

    So, we should have invaded Ira...I mean Libya?
    Because if you think a "hands-off" policy was possible, I'd certainly like to hear why you believe that would have produced a "better" result.

  • mb on December 19, 2012 8:50 PM:

    What was the alternative in Libya? It is not clear to me that there have been any real alternative to the approaches we've taken throughout the so-called Arab Spring. That entire region is a mess but when hasn't it been? Can't ignore it and it won't go away or fix itself. Seems to me we either do what we've done and continue to do, or we become a real boots-on-the-ground colonial power and prop up a bunch of western backed leaders around the region. I hope we all agree that would be madness. Fortunately, we are led by a well known anti-colonialist -- one thing I agreed totally with Newt Gingrich on -- though I couldn't understand why he'd consider "anti-colonialist" an insult.

    What we, and our allies, have to do is be able to turn our back on their oil. Until we do that, we're just along for the ride -- and it's going to be a bumpy one.

  • RepubAnon on December 19, 2012 11:16 PM:

    The problem, of course, is that there aren't enough people with guns there. If only more people in Libya had guns, like maybe the schoolteachers, the bad guys would have been stopped.

    Oh, wait.

  • tko on December 20, 2012 7:29 AM:

    Humanitarian reasons, my ass. We got Qaddafi out for the oil companies because he wanted a larger share of the profits from the contracts.

  • c u n d gulag on December 20, 2012 8:32 AM:

    One might think that after over a half a century, we Americans would learn that arming local strongmen may not be in either our, or the countries we're doing that in, best interests?

  • lou on December 20, 2012 9:07 AM:

    tribal societies organizing toward statehood select for strong men

    we helped to fell the strongman

    in the absence of any democratic institutions and via the abundance of guns

    the selection of the strongest is in progress

    while our commission of the expert elites arrive at the diagnosis of our diplomat's murder -- lack of security -- that was obvious to all from the get go

    while our own brand of strong men hold US citizens hostage in their struggle to undo our own democratic institutions

    "Sometimes the world is too ridiculous to live in" Little Big Man

  • AgentX on December 20, 2012 9:08 AM:

    Winning a war is easy- it's winning the peace that takes the most work.

    In American history, we had similar problems- i.e. Whiskey Rebellion, recriminations, after formation. Libya is going thru some growing pains, that's all. But, it better hurry and grow or it will stagnate and Gaddafi #2 will appear, or a Balkans scenario will result.

  • SteveT on December 20, 2012 9:10 AM:

    The United States arming local warlords and bandits to overthrow a government we don't like . . .

    Haven't we seen this movie before?

  • T2 on December 20, 2012 9:11 AM:

    "Qaddafi might have been a detestable tyrant, but thatís no guarantee that whatever regime ends up succeeding there will be better."
    Yep, and the same could be said about Saddam Hussein. Both put out of office by the United States.

  • Tigerdawg on December 20, 2012 9:40 AM:

    Has anyone even considered exactly WHY Stephens would put himself in that dangerous spot on 9-11, of all days?