The Boko Haram-Benghazi link

An excellent article by Michael Hirsch in Politico Magazine that gives some background and nuance to the Obama administration's faltering anti-terrorism policy that cost 4 lives in Libya and prevented Boko Haram from being designated a terrorist group.

On the one hand, the administration wisely wished to avoid designating a local terrorist group like Boko Haram an international threat. It would raise their standing among jihadists and attract recruits and money to their cause. Also, the State Department wanted to keep their distance from Nigeria's bloody crackdown that every major human rights organization has condemned. This policy of trying not to expand the target list and drag us into other conflicts with local or regional terror groups still makes sense to me. If terrorists don't have the resources or reach to hurt us, why pick a fight? Continue to monitor them and if they become a direct threat or our citizens or our interests, go after them.

But this same policy also led to the catastrophe in Libya, says Hirsch. By downplaying the jihad militias, the US got blindsided Hirch doesn't think much of the GOP case that Obama covered up the attack due to campaign rhetoric that he had al-Qaeda on the run. But it's there in black and white:

“There was a sense that we have to be a lot more deliberative about everyone who pops up as an Islamist,” this official said. “Certainly there was a reluctance to make international terrorists out of people who weren’t international terrorists.”

It was in this super-stringent context that the administration approached Boko Haram and the various Islamist threats emerging in northern Africa, including the groups ultimately responsible for the Benghazi attack. This attitude was reflected broadly in speeches by Obama warning that America must get off a “perpetual wartime footing,” and declaring that “core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self.” In a landmark speech at National Defense University last year, Obama said, “We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us.… Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight.”

That’s Obama’s counterterrorism philosophy in a nutshell, and it helps explain the administration’s effort to blame the Benghazi violence mainly on widespread protests against a video lampooning the Prophet Mohammad rather than “a failure of policy,” as Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes put it in his recently released and controversial memo. It has also given rise to Republican charges, unsubstantiated though they remain, that the administration covered up what it knew about the Benghazi attackers to further the president’s case that he was defeating al Qaeda.

Is it possible that Hirsch is missing the significance of the Rhodes email? The former driver of the campaign bus comically made Deputy National Security Advisor is instructing Rice and other administration spokesmen how to minimize the political damage from the attack. Hirsch admits this later:

But the decision back in mid-2012 not to designate Boko Haram as a group, along with the administration’s somewhat cavalier approach to security for U.S. diplomats in post-Qaddafi Libya, does fit with the popular GOP narrative that the administration was playing down, for political reasons or not, the rebirth and spread of al Qaeda in the heat of the presidential campaign.

Critics say the president, and Hillary Clinton, were in denial about the new perils that were arising. Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House intelligence committee, told me earlier this year that he believes the president has been too eager to “complete his narrative” about decimating al Qaeda. “Just because we got Osama bin Laden doesn’t mean the organization went away,” Rogers said. “When someone is shooting at you, and you stand up and decide the shooting is over, that doesn’t mean they stop shooting at you. And it is incredibly naive to believe that because you say the war on terror is over, [the terrorists] believe it is over.”

As Clinton’s own Accountability Review Board concluded about Benghazi, the administration also failed to appreciate the growing Islamist peril in Libya, saying, “there was little understanding of militias in Benghazi and the threat they posed to U.S. interests.” Was that because top officials preferred not to understand, as Republicans charge?

There's no "or not" to it. The administration made a strenuous, continuing effort to keep the narrative about al-Qaeda intact. And Hirsch acknowledges the fact that Mitt Romney was right:

In a little-noticed remark, Clinton herself appeared to concede that she and other administration officials were caught napping. “Make no mistake about it, we’ve got to have a better strategy,” she said in Senate testimony in January of 2013, only weeks before her departure. “The Arab Spring has ushered in a time when al Qaeda is on the rise,” Clinton told the Foreign Relations Committee, thus appearing to acknowledge what GOP nominee Mitt Romney had tried to argue during the 2012 presidential campaign: that the terrorist group responsible for 9/11 was not close to being defeated.

And the lax security and obvious coordination by al-Qaeda inspired or affiliated terrorist groups would have destroyed that narrative and revealed the president to be playing politics with terrorism and lying about the progress being made against AQ.

These are the kinds of issues Trey Gowdy should be delving into in order to get to the bottom of administration failuires and cover ups on Benghazi.



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