ZNet, October 26, 2015
So there was another big Republican-orchestrated Congressional hullabaloo last week over Hillary Clinton and what she did or didn’t do as Secretary of State to prevent the deaths of US Libyan ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. diplomatic staffers in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012.
Was it about Republican politicking as the country approaches its next presidential election year? Of course it was – and it appears to have failed in that regard, with Hillary emerging from her latest Benghazi hazing looking more “presidential” than ever.
Does that mean that Hillary and the White House’s hands on Benghazi are clean and that all good progressives should applaud the forgetting of the incident? Not at all. More than four years ago, in early 2011, the Obama administration launched a criminal air war on Libya that collapsed the Libyan government long headed by Muammar Gaddafi. Gaddafi’s removal predictably opened the nation to chaos that led to the triumph of Islamist militia men in Libya.
The air war was launched by Washington in the names of democracy and human rights, as part of Washington’s supposed alignment with the Arab Spring. But there was always something outrageous about the notion that the petro-imperialist US and its Western allies were going to join with the US-sponsored, arch-authoritarian, and theocratic Sunni monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf to spread democracy and human rights across the oil-rich Middle East. And US power in the region had been weakened considerably by 2011 thanks to Washington’s epic military failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Come the uprisings of 2011,” the prize-winning Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn notes, “it was the [al Qaeda-linked and inspired] jihadi and Sunni-sectarian, militarized wing of rebel movements that received massive injections from the kings and emirs of the Gulf. The secular, non-sectarian opponents of the long-established police states were soon marginalized, reduced to silence, or killed.”(P.Cockburn, The Rise of the Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution [Verso, 2015]. P.8)
Libya was no exception. The speciousness of the pretense that the Libyan “freedom fighters” were pro-Western democratic-humanitarian moderates was revealed early on. One of the first acts carried out by the Islamist rebels who rose to power there after US and NATO air strikes finished off the Gadaffi regime was to call for the legalization of polygamy. As far as Western “leaders” and media were concerned, however, there were no serious similarities between al Qaeda and the supposedly noble, NATO-backed rebels who fought against Gaddafi.
The foolishness of this belief was exposed when Stevens and his colleagues were killed by Sunni jihadists on 9-11-2012. This demonstration of al Qaeda-like Islamist power in a nation “liberated” by US and NATO bombs did not fit Washington’s narrative about its supposed democratic and humanitarian role in the region. It also contradicted Obama’s insistent election-year claim to have won the “war on terror” by killing Osama bin Laden the previous year. (The Obama team loved it when Vice President Joe Biden had recently coined a new campaign slogan: “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”)
There should have been nothing surprising about the assault on the US mission in Benghazi, a major oil-port on the Mediterranean Sea. In the months leading up to the assault, her top staff made it clear to Secretary Clinton that the U.S. mission in Benghazi was vulnerable to attack by heavily armed Islamist militias who were roaming the city’s streets with impunity. Hillary was hardly unaware that numerous violent incidents had jarred Benghazi over recent months. She knew that the US mission there had in August sent her a cable warning of its inability to defend itself. Even as Obama crowed over his supposed victory over Islamist terrorism in the run-up to his 2012 re-election, he was getting regular intelligence briefings telling him that jihadist networks had metastasized and posed a growing threat to “American interests” across the Middle East.
Why didn’t Hillary take action to protect the US mission in Benghazi, or to close it? And what was Stevens doing in an under-protected, highly exposed hot spot like Benghazi anyway? Hillary figured, incorrectly, that the CIA – the actual US agency behind the Benghazi mission – would provide adequate security if the “diplomatic post” was attacked. She reasonably calculated that CIA Director David Patraeus was the relevant authority responsible for the Benghazi mission, which was a front for the “intelligence” agency’s arming of rebels in Syria. As the conservative author Edward Klein has noted:
“the American effort in Benghazi was from first to last a CIA operation. Of the forty or so Americans officials stationed in Benghazi, only seven worked for the State Department. The consulate’s primary purpose was to provide cover for the thirty-plus Americans who worked for the CIA…Hillary personally ordered the consulate to remain open in order to accommodate the CIA’s mission. As she knew all too well, the CIA was involved in the clandestine – and probably illegal – transfer of weapons out of eastern Libya, through Turkey, and into the hands of rebel groups fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Those weapons, including rocket launchers, were purchased from al-Qaeda-affiliated militants in Libya. And many of those arms were finding their way back into the hands of al-Qaeda fighters in Syria and terrorists in other parts of the Middle East…All of this was being done [illegally] without the knowledge or consent of the United States Congress…in an operation that had many of the earmarks for the Iran-Contra Scandal…” (Edward Klein, Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. The Obamas [Regnery, 2014], p.143)
Stevens was in Benghazi to oversee the CIA’s arms smuggling operation there.
The Benghazi mission, attacked as part of a jihadist upsurge sparked by U.S.-imposed regime change in Libya, was part of the U.S. effort to bring about regime change in Syria. And, as we know now, the Washington-led campaign against the Assad regime in Syria has created the basic context for the revival of jihadism in Iraq and for the rise of the arch-reactionary Islamic State across vast swaths of both Syria and Iraq.
With less than two months leading up to his re-election, Obama could not let anything close to the truth about Benghazi come out. The reality of what happened there undermined two of his leading campaign claims: (1) that he had won the “War on Terror” and swept Middle Eastern jihadists into the dustbin of history and (2) that he had successfully kept the U.S. out of another war in the Middle East by refusing to get involved in Syria. Benghazi and the larger context surrounding it also raised unpleasant questions about the Obama administration’s violation of federal law requiring Congressional oversight of the CIA and about Obama’s continuation of George W. Bush’s policy of illegally pursuing regime change in foreign nations.
And all of that is why the White House concocted a story claiming that the Benghazi attack had emerged from a “spontaneous demonstration” sparked by an Internet video that had mocked the founding Muslim prophet Mohammed. Obama instructed Hillary to play along with fairy tale and she complied. Late in the evening of September 11, 2012 she released a statement connecting the attack to “inflammatory material posted on the Internet” and “deplor[ing] any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.” The message expressed America’s “commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation.”
Thus was an incident that emerged from blood-soaked and jihad-fueling US imperialism in the Middle East wrapped in the deceptive flag of America’s supposed noble commitment to tolerance and diversity in its grand humanitarian struggle with Islamist fanatics. It is certainly a story that should interest any serious antiwar and anti-imperial Left, not just right-wing politicos.
And antiwar types should be concerned also about something very odd and chilling that Mrs. Clinton claimed in her testimony before the House of Representatives last week. She told her inquisitors that the 2012 attack on the Benghazi consulate was the consequences of a “power vacuum” resulting from the US prematurely withdrawing its military after “the Libya War.” Never mind that Washington never committed ground forces to its criminal air war on Libya. ”Far from a lesson learned,” Jason Ditz notes on Antiwar.com, “Clinton’s testimony likely reflects the beltway’s conventional wisdom on the matter, and [suggests] that years later Benghazi could easily happen again in any number of places, with the attack only strengthening official resolve to meddle.”
Paul Street is an author in Iowa City, IA.