Last week the State Department released its annual terrorism report. Of greatest note was the portion on Libya in the months leading up to Sept. 11, 2013. It relates the country’s descent into jihadist hell, chronicling the death and destruction wrought by Islamic militants.
Gregory Hicks, foreign service officer and former deputy chief of mission/charge d’affairs in Libya at the State Department, testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Benghaz last month. (Reuters/Yuri Gripas)
A brief excerpt: “In Libya, the security vacuum in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution provided more opportunities for terrorists to operate. This vacuum, combined with the weakness of Libya’s nascent security institutions, allowed violent extremists to act, as we saw too clearly on September 11 in Benghazi, when J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, and three staff members, died during attacks on U.S. facilities.”
Most striking is the long list of incidents:
• On February 6, gunmen allegedly killed five refugees in a Tripoli camp.
• On May 22, assailants launched a rocket-propelled grenade at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)’s building in Benghazi. The violent Islamist extremist group Brigades of Captive Omar Abdul Rahman claimed responsibility for the attack. The ICRC evacuated Benghazi in mid-July.
• On June 4, approximately 200 armed fighters from the al-Awfea Brigade surrounded the international airport in Tripoli. The gunmen drove armed trucks onto the tarmac and surrounded several planes, which forced the airport to cancel all fights. The armed men were demanding the release of one of their military leaders who was being held by Tripoli’s security forces.
• On June 6, violent extremists attacked the U.S. facilities in Benghazi with an improvised explosive device (IED). The group claimed that the attack was in retaliation for the assassination of Abu-Yahya al-Libi, the second highest ranking leader of al-Qa’ida.
• On June 11, a convoy carrying the British Ambassador to Libya was attacked in Benghazi.
• On June 12, assailants attacked the ICRC office in Misrata, wounding one.
• In August, there was a series of attacks against security personnel and facilities, including the bombing of the Benghazi military intelligence offices on August 1, a car bombing near the Tripoli military police offices on August 4, and the explosion of three car bombs near the Interior Ministry and other security buildings in Tripoli on August 19, killing at least two. Libyan security officials arrested 32 members of an organized network loyal to Qadhafi.
• On August 10, Army General Hadiya al-Feitouri was assassinated in Benghazi.
• On August 20, a car belonging to an Egyptian diplomat was blown up near his home in Benghazi.
• On September 11, terrorists attacked the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three staff members.
Recognizing in hindsight what a pit of vipers Libya became over the course of the year, we come back to some fundamental questions about the Obama administration:
What in the world was Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens doing in Benghazi?
How could the president, secretary of state and CIA director have missed these developments and failed to provide adequate security?
If Clinton was aware of the situation in Libya, did she ever brief the president or vice president?
Where was the National Security adviser (who is supposed to coordinate information and get all the players on the same page) while Libya burned?
If we had paid proper attention to Libya’s security and civil society needs after the war, could this tragic path have been diverted?
The reason the post-attack dissembling and the CIA officials’ attempt to cover their rear ends are so significant is they point to the inherent bias against recognizing and declaring the Libyan murder of four Americans to be a terrorist operation. For if they did, the very questions we are asking now would have come tumbling out before the election.
Like the snooping on journalists and the recently discovered beehive of secret e-mail accounts, Benghazi is a reminder how vehemently the administration tried to clamp down on critics and alternative information channels to help cement the president’s reelection. Information that contradicted the narrative — Obama has al-Qaeda licked, we can slash defense, his view of national security was superior to Bush’s — had to be blocked, distorted and its purveyors intimidated. The governing rule from the White House podium became “whatever the traffic will bear.”
In fact there was good reason for the White House to cover-up, dissemble and intimidate: Its national security approach was (and remains) a disaster, a combination of wrongheadedness and out and out incompetence. From North Africa to Iran the wheels were coming off the bus, a reality that became apparent only after his reelection was secured.
Like the IRS’s attempt to bully tea party activists, the Benghazi blunder may have made a difference in the election. We’ll never know because this president was taking no risks. This is the essence of political corruption — misusing the instruments of power and deliberately misleading voters so as to remain in power.