Lost Sight of Who We Are[1]

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I don’t understand the continued obsession with the “Talking Points,” which are now accepted to be a State Department rewrite of events to scrub their culpability from ignoring an obviously deteriorating security environment in Benghazi, resulting the killing of four Americans, including the first ambassador to die in the line of duty in thirty years. The paper trail of changes made to CIA’s talking points clearly shows State driving the whitewash through eleven versions before releasing it to Congress and Ambassador Rice. The administration’s blaming a video, and then claiming that CIA’s version had to be altered to protect the investigation are both clearly refuted in the eMails between participants. We now know the administration’s entire version of events was a fabrication.

Although it didn’t work out that way, Ockham’s Razor tells us that the plan was to walk back the fairy tale, with the aid of a compliant press, after the election.

More troubling than the administration misleading people during an election cycle is the willful abandonment of the Benghazi post to the wolves in the face of repeated pleas for more security during an increasingly dangerous environment and a Department drawdown. Assistant Secretary of State Eric Boswell, writing privately, noted, “I do not feel that we have ever been at a point where we sacrificed security due to a lack of funding … Typically, Congress has provided sufficient funding[2].” This is in accordance with Charlene Lamb, who testified, in response to a direct question whether funding ever led to security decisions regarding Benghazi[3], with a simple “No, Sir[4].”

That puts to rest a brief Democratic talking point – that Republican budget cuts to DoS were responsible for weakening security at Benghazi.

Equally troubling is Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s response to the press. First, it was, “But – but the basic principle here – basic principle is that you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on; with having some real-time information[5] … ” But that’s exactly what Special Operators do – go in, find out what’s going on, and rectify it. CIA calls theirs “Action Teams” now (the one I was on in 1968-69 was amusingly called a “Study and Observation Group”). The official DoD line then switched to not having assets close enough to have gotten there in time. But, of course, they didn’t know that as events were unfolding – that assumption is only valid in hindsight. But that’s not the problem. We had F-16s at NAS Sigonella [Sicily], less than an hour’s flight-time from Ambassador Stevens’ compound in Benghazi – “It would have taken seven or eight hours to put them in the air” we were told. Know what that means? The flight crews had to be mustered and briefed, the aircraft had to be fueled, armed and complete pre-flights performed – in other words, none of them were on alert status. Why not? AFRICOM (and therefore the Joint Chiefs) was kept updated on the deteriorating conditions in Benghazi by the DoD’s Security Support Team’s daily situation reports, and the National Security Council was aware of the State Department’s dwindling security footprint in Benghazi. Why did DoD not stand-up the Marine and Air Force assets to alert status just 400 miles away? Where were the 6th Fleet’s carrier strike groups if not in the Eastern Mediterranean?

I think Mr Panetta was trying to protect a CIA op that was collecting Russian-supplied SA-7 MANPADS (that had been looted from Qaddafi’s arsenals during the uprising) for transfer to Syrian rebels through Turkey, but that’s speculation (as to the reason for inaction, not the fact of the op)[6]. If not, we’re left with incompetence or administration suppression of ugliness during an election cycle. Pick one.

The fundamental problem with DoD’s inaction is the abandonment of the American precept of not leaving anyone behind. The visceral message of Benghazi is that if the administration places you in hazardous circumstances, it does not have your back. That’s new. It runs against an ethos that has become a part of the American way.

The Benghazi incident reveals a dysfunctional State Department – from beginning to the present day – and, once underway, a dysfunctional Defense Department. It also shows a disconnected Executive, in the same way that the Bush White House lost control of events in post-capitulation Iraq[7]. In the case of Benghazi, the president told the SecDef and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs “to handle it,” knowing (or not) that they couldn’t put troops on the ground in a sovereign nation – only the president can do that. No one talked to the president after that meeting – he was out of the loop.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that politics drove the administration’s public reaction to the Benghazi debacle – nothing else explains the asinine cover story that was doggedly perpetuated by the White House and State Department far past anyone believing it. Secretary Clinton blamed the attack on “the video” while accepting the remains of Ambassador Stevens, Information Officer Sean Smith, CIA contract operator Tyrone Woods, and CIA contract operator Glen Doherty at Dover AFB [ME], on September 13, while her State Department was scrubbing “the Talking Points” of any mention of terrorism because “[Victoria Nuland’s] building was uncomfortable” with the implications. Read: it doesn’t fit the narrative the administration had settled upon.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Pentagon was caught flat-footed by Benghazi, notwithstanding the plethora of red flags being hoisted by everyone from State and Defense on the ground, and the common knowledge that Libya was a very dangerous and unstable area, demonstrably lacking the official capacity to protect foreign diplomats. It’s even worse if the reason for inaction was to protect a CIA op, because Mr Panetta came to Defense from being CIA Director, and should have been particularly sensitive to the predicament that produced in an instable Libya. That should have been gamed with contingencies in-place.

We’ve just lost sight of who we are.


[1] Title art by Lisa Benson/Washington Post Writers Group.

[2] Email exchange between Mr Boswell and Diplomatic Security Chief Financial Officer Robert Baldre, October 28 2012.

[3] Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA-46): “Mrs Lamb, you made this decision personally [to reject the request for more security], was there any budget consideration, or lack of budget, that allowed you not to increase the people in the security force there?”

[4] Testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the Department of State Charlene Lamb, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee also testified: “We had the correct number of [security] assets in Benghazi at the time of 9/11 for what had been agreed upon,” October 11 2012.

[5] Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, CBS News, October 25 2012.

[6] The person to depose on this would be the Deputy Director of CIA for Operations (DDCIOPS) – the actual spy master in the agency – but that would have to be done in closed session, and I don’t how much could be disclosed to the public. We likely may never know the real answer to this one.

[7] In the case of Iraq, SecDef Rumsfeld didn’t have near enough troops ready to sweep in behind combat operations to take civil control of Iraq while a transitional government was formed. Chaos ensued.

the Sacrificial Lamb?[1]

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This is the most transparent administration in history. I can document that this is the case. Every visitor that comes into the White House is now part of the public record. Every law we pass and every rule we implement we put online for everyone to see.

– President Obama,

Google Plus Fireside Hangout,

February 14 2013

This is, perhaps, the best real-world example of unadulterated chutzpah. It rates right up there with Bill Clinton’s pre-Lewinski pledge to run “the most ethical administration in the history of the republic,” and Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook.” The present situation, however, is reaching critical mass with the three-ring ScandalPalooza unfolding – and the administration’s opaque response to them. Hillary “What difference does it make” Clinton captained her ship of State down the rabbit hole over Benghazi, and then left government to prep herself for a presidential run in 2016. General Petraeus was CIA head when his department was blamed by the White House and State for the “talking points,” and he’s now out of office. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was unable to put assets on the ground in Benghazi, and he’s gone. The IRS got its mammaries in a wringer over suppressing conservative groups’ ability to raise money during two election cycles (2010 and 2012), and the people most directly responsible have been promoted out of harm’s way. Justice Department has probably been the most dysfunctional agency in the Cabinet, and Mr Holder is still there – in a perverse game of musical chairs, he’s the last man sitting. That will probably change. He is the most visible (and expendable) sacrificial symbol of President Obama’s “dedication” to open and honest government.

Eric Holder first came to public notice in 2001 when it was disclosed that he wrote the talking paper favoring Marc Rich’s pardon. For those too young to remember, Bill Clinton issued 140 pardons as his last act as president on January 20 2001. The most infamous was that of Marc Rich, a fugitive who had fled to Switzerland during his prosecution (a felony in its own right) for 51 counts of tax fraud, totaling over $48 million. The pardon was issued after Denise Rich (Marc’s former wife) made substantial contributions to the Clinton library and to Hillary’s New York senatorial campaign.

Almost immediately after taking office as Attorney General, Mr Holder’s Justice Department dropped a promising case against the New Black Panther Party and two of its members, Minister King Samir Shabazz and Jerry Jackson, for voter intimidation at a Philadelphia voting site (for carrying clubs and menacing voters they deemed unlikely to vote for Obama) in 2008. This prompted J Christian Adams, in May 2010, to resign his post at Justice, claiming that he had been told that this Justice Department won’t pursue Black-on-White voter intimidation cases.

Then, of course, came Fast and Furious, an ill-conceived plan to allow guns into Mexico so that DoJ or AFT could trace them back to specific drug lords. The Bush administration abandoned this scheme after losing track of a couple of dozen weapons. The Obama administration went ahead and, with the cooperation, and under the supervision of, the Holder Justice Department, ATF ran over a thousand weapons into Mexico – without notifying either our diplomatic people in Mexico or the Mexican government – losing track of virtually all of them.

Lastly, there is the curious case of leakers of classified information where the Justice Department has decided to shoot the messenger – vastly overreaching in its collection of phone-call details and private eMails of reporters. Mr Holder disqualified himself from the Sergeant Schultz defense by signing the subpoena for James Rosen’s eMails himself. In 2010.

All three of these circus acts are going to continue to expand, and the intrusion into reporters’ First Amendment territory has the press – finally – taking a look at the competence of this administration. It’s not just FOX and right-wing talk radio. It’s ABC News, CBS News, CNN and NBC News, it’s the New York Times and Washington Post, it’s the Atlantic Monthly, Politico, New Yorker and Time, it’s even reached the leftist British papers Daily Mail and Guardian. And these aren’t just covering the news of the scandals, they are asking questions about the competency of the administration, and about such things too much going on to be coincidence – hinting at true scandal (intent) rather than de facto scandal (bumbling). This is beginning to erode Mr Obama’s moral authority to govern and somebody’s going to pay – hint: it won’t be a mea culpa from Mr Obama.

The only one left to point a finger at is Mr Holder.


[1] Title art by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters and EagleWatch.

Hyper-Partisanship disguised as High-Mindedness

HyperPartisanship disguised as HighMindedness[1]

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He warned us. He campaigned on “fundamentally changing America,” as though we were hungering for a Liberal dystopia looking more like George Orwell’s 1984 than Frank Capra’s Mr Smith Goes to Washington. And yet, the political right also warned us. “He’s not qualified – he’s never run anything, other than for office.”

Benghazi, by itself, is nothing more than an episode of utter incompetence from start to finish, except, of course, that four good Americans died as a result. If that was all that happened, cover-up and all, it would just be a shameful blemish on a presidency. But Benghazi isn’t “by itself.” It came out that the IRS had been targeting conservative groups for harassment if they applied for 501(c)4 status as a non-profit organization, and auditing conservative individuals if they dare speak out against the administration’s agenda. And now, it seems, Justice has seized the phone records of over a hundred reporters and editors on the pretext of finding a leaker of classified information.

President Obama, who always considers himself to be the smartest guy in the room, has employed the Sergeant Schultz (“I know nothing!”) defense to all of this. And that’s entirely possible as he doesn’t seem to like anything about actual governing. He likes to go around informing the people about the superiority of his agenda and the demonic intentions of his adversaries. Paying attention to what his minions are doing, in his name, in the tone that he has set, doesn’t show up on his “To Do” list.

Take Benghazi. He was informed of the attack at a regularly scheduled meeting within an hour of Washington finding out that our mission in Benghazi was under attack (not “demonstration”). He instructed SecDef Panetta to handle the situation, finished the meeting, retired to the Residence, and flew to Las Vegas for a campaign event the next morning. No one handling the attack in Washington heard from the president again that night. No one in Libya heard from the president until they returned stateside. His first public reaction, the next morning – and for the next two weeks or so – placed the blame on a video, which appeared nowhere in the accounts from Libya (now he says that he called it “terrorism” from the start). State Department, for their part, also pointed to the video for as long as they could, and then decided that finding out who was responsible was pointless, or as Secretary Clinton so sensitively put it, “What difference, at this point, does it make?!” Defense, for its part, claimed that they didn’t have enough real-time intel to put troops in harm’s way (ignoring the fact that that’s exactly what Special Ops does – find out what’s going on and handle it), and then switched to, “We didn’t have assets in-place close enough to be effective” (begging the question as to why we didn’t have assets in place in one of the most volatile and dangerous places on Earth).

Our “post-partisan” leader of “the most open and transparent government in American history” has shown himself incapable of either. He is anything but “post-partisan.” To Team Obama, everything is about politics – hacking and clawing to the top and destroying any opposition. They simply ignored the 52% of those polled that were appalled by ObamaCare and rammed it through Congress without a single Republican vote. The Democrats took over one-sixth of the American economy because they could. Whenever opposition occurs, the White House responds, not with reasoned issue-based argument, rather with ad hominem attacks against those with the temerity to raise objections. All politics all the time.

The politicization of the Internal Revenue Service is horrific. It’s the kind of thing we used to accuse the Soviets of doing to dissenters. It’s absolutely … well … Orwellian. Of conservative groups, the IRS demanded donor rolls, membership lists, data on all contributions, names of volunteers, the contents of all speeches made by members, Facebook posts, minutes of all meetings, and copies of all materials handed out at gatherings. Among its questions: What are you thinking about? Did you ever think of running for office? Do you ever contact political figures? What are you reading? Liberal groups got their 501(c)4 status within 60 days. This was no coincidence or statistical anomaly, it was too finely targeted. This wasn’t the work of two lowly Cincinnati functionaries, it was too methodical and orchestrated. This was a result of the venomous tone set in the White House as to how the opposition is to be treated. The IRS Commissioner’s response to Congress – Sergeant Schultz.

That brings us to Justice Department’s scooping up of Associated Press phone records, which probably will turn out to be little more than a case of overreach, based on a legitimate query. The story we’re hearing is that an AP story about a CIA operation in Yemen that blocked an al Qaeda plan to explode a bomb on a plane headed for America. The story was published last May 7. It apparently contained classified information, and someone with an impressive pay grade demanded the leaker be found. In response, DoJ took the records of twenty of AP’s phone lines, used by over one hundred reporters and editors. This is not a search for a leaker, this is intimidation. A search for a leak would look at the byline reporter’s phone lines … this is Chicago-style warning to AP not to run unapproved stories and to sources not to talk to reporters. AG Holder’s response to Congress – Sergeant Schultz.

Nobody in this administration seems to know anything about anything that’s going on. If you complain about it, you’ll get audited (or worse). They all solemnly claim to take “responsibility” for their department, but no penalty is ever paid (assuming they can find somebody to pin it on). Benghazi? Four DoS officials were place on paid administrative leave, soon to return to duty in lower-profile jobs (at the same pay). IRS? The acting head has been “fired,” leaving office when he was going to leave anyway (also, Sarah Hall Ingram, the IRS officer in charge of the tax exempt section, has been placed in charge of ObamaCare enforcement). Justice? We’re still waiting to hear about Fast and Furious, Black Panther voter intimidation, and now, I guess, Associated Press.

What’s clear in all of this, is the tone set at the top – as it always is – is one of intimidation, bullying, obfuscation and politicization. The president doesn’t have to pass down instructions on how to do this, he sets the tone and those under him replicate it with impunity. Government has become a tree of the poisonous fruit.


[1] Title art by AP/EagleWatch.

No Good Option

No Good Option

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President Obama laid a trap for himself and it worked. His political practice of fecklessly moving the goalposts has crept into foreign policy with regrettable results. “The use of chemical weapons in Syria will be a game-changer,” he famously remarked last month. Israeli and British intelligence have stated that they have seen evidence of sarin having been used in Sunni neighborhoods (typically aligned with the rebels). And the president’s response was a resounding “I stand by my statement that the systematic use of chemical weapons will be a game-changer.” Except that’s not what he said. By adding the word “systematic,” he has moved the goalpost from “don’t use them” to “don’t regularly use them.”

The Syrian regime called Mr Obama’s bluff and he blinked.

This has Britain and the EU scratching their heads, and has terrified Israel (who now wonders if “we will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran” really means “we will not tolerate a ‘systematically’ nuclear-armed Iran”). Many of our allies are pressuring Washington to action. The two-year civil war in Syria has pretty much outlived its ability to be ignored by the West – counter-population air strikes against cities, the occasional mass execution of citizens in Sunni areas, siege-by-artillery of cities, and now mounting evidence of gassing their own citizens. The United Nations will be of no help (the Chinese and Russians will stop any meaningful Security Council measures from going forward). Everybody is looking to see what America does, especially after Mr Obama’s edict about chemical weapons use.

If he’s forced out of the corner into which he has painted himself, he has three general options. None good. The United States could hasten the fall of the regime – most probably by instituting a no-fly zone over Syria; we could increase the capabilities of the rebels – most probably by arming them; or we could secure/destroy the chemical weapons in Syria – involving boots on the ground. As I say, none good.

A no-fly zone would require neutralizing Syria’s air-defense network before our pilots could begin flying combat air patrols, and there would be no hope of eliminating even most MANPADS[1]. Once CAP operations begin, we would almost certainly need to involve a 6th Fleet carrier strike group in the eastern Mediterranean. As the CAP becomes more effective, Assad will come to rely more and more on tanks and towed artillery tubes to assault suspected rebel concentrations, which will almost ensure mission-creep of the no-fly zone into striking concentrations of artillery pieces (as it did in Libya). Look for Iran to pump missiles into Syria – bound for Hizbollah in Lebanon – between the establishment of the no-fly zone and the creep into paying attention to road traffic. This could cause yet another rift between Washington and Tel Aviv as the no-fly zone would foreclose Israeli interdiction of these missile shipments before they enter Lebanon. This situation could actually lead to forcing our hand into mission-creep as Mossad shares its evidence of Iranian involvement with CIA and White House.

The lowest cost option is to allow lethal aid to the rebels – equip them well enough to tilt the stalemate in their favor. This comes, of course, with all the nightmares of 1980s Afghanistan. CIA insists that al Qaeda “didn’t get one dime” from the assistance that went to the mujahedeen, and though true, that didn’t stop them from getting their hands on countless Stingers, Kalashnikovs and tens of thousands of 7.62mm rounds. Almost any turning out of the Assad regime will be a Sunni victory (which we prefer – to act as a buffer between Shi’ite Iran and their Shi’ite Hizbollah ally in Lebanon), but it must be remembered that al Qaeda is Sunni, and that they are not above working with Shi’ite interests in pursuit of American interests. We also don’t know to what lengths Iran will go to shore up the Assad regime when they realize that American arms are going to the rebels – they could send in battle-hardened Hizbollah fighters from Lebanon; they could step up arms supplies to loyalist fighters; they could heavily bolster Savak assets already in Syria; they could step up attacks on American interests in the Greater Middle East; on and on. Particularly if we choose this low-intensity route, Tehran would have little fear of reprisals for anything they choose to do. There is no respect for American power, short of platform-centric force-on-force conflict, among the ruling Mullahs in Tehran.

The direct approach to the corner Mr Obama has painted himself into would be to control or destroy the chemical weapons in Syria themselves, but this is fraught with hazards. Taking control of Syria’s chemical stockpile would require many, many troops on the ground, and we would have to guard it against both sides (al Qaeda and its affiliates would go to great lengths to acquire these weapons). With imperfect intelligence – and intel is always imperfect – we won’t know where all of the stocks are being stored, so we would have to augment the arsenal guardians with special operators tasked to find what we don’t yet have. This would be tantamount to joining the rebels in combat operations against the regime. It would make no sense to go in hard and not overthrow the regime in any case. This just isn’t an option under the current situation. Destroying Assad’s chemical stockpile shifts the body count from us to Syrians in that you won’t incinerate all of the sarin during an airstrike, meaning that some will be released into the air. We would, in essence, be doing what the president said he wouldn’t abide – gassing the Syrian people. All of the same imperfect intelligence concerns are present with this option as well.

The most probable course taken, assuming that any course is taken, is the providing of lethal aid to the rebels, probably resulting in a proxy war between the United States and Iran, with the Syrian people caught in the middle and terrorists reaping a bounty of American-made arms.

No good options.


[1] MAN-Portable Air Defense Systems, an example of which would be our FIM-92 Stinger or Russian supplied 9K38 SA-18 Igla. These systems tend to be heat seekers, and can be deployed by a single soldier against rotary-winged or fixed-winged targets.