My good friend, writer and conservative Burwell Stark, made his return to blogging today writing about the incompetence of President Barack Obama’s handling the aftermath of a terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. As you will know, I am a walking talking proud liberal and have in the past taken Burwell to task for some of his posts – or tried to anyway. To read Burwell’s blog, click here. For background reading on the attack on the Libyan embassy in Benghazi, check out a fair NY Times report.
Warning: Obligatory dig at George W. coming up…
Let’s start by saying, President Obama, when faced with an OBVIOUS attack, like say, 9/11 didn’t sit in a classroom reading an upside children’s book looking like a deer in headlights with Ari Fleischer whispering in his ear, “Mr President, the country is under attack”..
Now we got that out of the way…
It appears the central bone of contention for Burwell appears to be this: “Why did it take Obama 14 days to specifically label the Benghazi attack an act of terror?” He asks this question before going on to accuse the president of incompetence for not reading his daily intelligence briefing.
I have been strangely puzzled by the Benghazi story. Of course, the killing of an ambassador on the most tragic of American days, September 11th, will rightly burn more than on any other day in the calendar. It was the day that changed everything.
Maybe it was the images of the ambassador’s body bruised and bloodied surrounded by his attackers? It reminded me a lot the humanitarian intervention in Somalia where American bodies were dragged across Mogadishu. George Bush, Sr. sent troops there, and shortly afterwards, President Clinton gauging the country’s temperature for American soldiers getting brutally murdered on a humanitarian mission ordered all the troops home.
After the attacks, President Obama came out that afternoon and made the following statement, referring to the Benghazi attack as an act of terror, and saying:
“No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.”
Maybe it was a tactical decision that on the 11 of September, that Obama thought the country was wanting to mourn its dead and deal with remembering the victims rather than hear of yet another attack on a fellow countryman? I dont know. I am only speculating, but I imagine Obama didnt want to fire people up on that day of all days. He went on to refer to the attack as an act of terror twice the following day, once in Colorado and once in Las Vegas.
So why and how in the world is Obama discredited with not calling the Benghazi attack as a terrorist attack?
Burwell falls back on empirical claims to back his claims up, specifically that the President spends more time with Hollywood and Big Bird than he does getting his daily intelligence briefing. Firstly, this seems to suggest that the Benghazi attack wouldn’t have happened if Obama had read his daily briefings.
I can imagine the planners sitting in Libyan Desert, waiting on walkie talkies for someone to phone through:
“Breaker, breaker! It’s a go. Obama did not read briefing!”
“Roger that.. 10-4 good buddy!!”
“Uh, Abdul…we just got confirm on the squawker box, Obama didn’t read his briefing today!”
“It’s a go, attack! Attack! Roger. Abdul, over and out!”
Of course, I jest Burwell. We have an understanding. Much of it has to do with the fact I like to give the President credit, and he doesn’t like to give him any, even when it is due.
This may come as a surprise to some of you, but President Obama likes to read his intelligence briefings by himself. This is where I take umbrage with Burwell’s remarks. He is still briefed daily. He still gets his reports. According to National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor, the President does not meet every day with senior intelligence officials. Obama does not need briefers. He can forgo his daily intelligence meeting because he is, in Vietor’s words, “among the most sophisticated consumers of intelligence on the planet.”
American Enterprise Institute Op-ed writer Marc Thiessen recounts a story about President John F. Kennedy. He once gathered every living American Nobel laureate for dinner at the White House in 1962 and declared it “the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
I am not going to go as far as to state that Obama is a Jefferson, but what I am willing to stake is that Obama is smarter than Bush. He is also less manipulated by the advisors around him. Can you say, “neo-con”? Dick Cheney? Paul Wolfowitz? Douglas Feith? There is something to be said for reading your intelligence briefings on your own.
This only leaves Burwell’s argument that Obama failed at interpreting the issues regarding the attack, with the specific accusation that he did not provide enough security. When a set of State Department emails were released Wednesday, one reporting that a local Islamist militia had claimed responsibility for the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya, conservatives thought they had the smoking gun that the Obama administration had lied about what had occurred.
Reuters reported Wednesday that on September 11—the day of the attack—a State Department email with the subject header “Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack” was sent to the White House. The message stated that “Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli.” Case closed, conservatives said: The White House had engaged in a cover-up.
There’s only one problem. The email appears to have been incorrect. Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi, the group suspected of attacking the consulate, never claimed responsibility for the assault. In fact, according to Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who monitors jihadist activity online, Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi didn’t post about the attack on its Facebook or Twitter page until September 12, the day after the attack. They expressed their approval of the incident, but they didn’t take credit; they did imply members of the group might have been involved, according to Zelin, stating, “Katibat Ansar al-Sharia [in Benghazi] as a military did not participate formally/officially and not by direct orders.” The statement also justifies the attack by implicitly alluding to the anti-Islam video linked to unrest in other parts of the Middle East, saying, “We commend the Libyan Muslim people in Benghazi [that were] against the attack on the [Muslim] Prophet [Muhammad].”
I know this makes perfect sense to most of us, but when one sees something on Facebook, we shouldn’t always believe it. We analyse it. We study it. We look at the previous history of the type of action and the area of the world where it comes from. We often look beyond our comfort zones. It is only then that we should come to a conclusion. But of course, with this President, it seems the right wing is concerned more with coming to knee jerk reactions and labelling based on biases and prejudices than actually taking the time to analyse intelligence. I am still waiting for someone on the right to tell me what was lost by Obama not responding immediately to the attack in the manner in which they wanted him to? Has the Middle East and North Africa not seen enough of knee-jerk reactions in recent times?