There is legitimate room for debate if there could have been an effective military reaction to the attack in Libya by al Qaida terrorists that killed Ambassador Stevens and other US personnel. One was apparently never seriously entertained by senior White House, State Department and Pentagon officials. I think there ought to have been an effort to move heaven and earth and far, far greater willingness to inflict massive casualties on an attacking Libyan mob than existed, but in fairness to the Obama administration, a seat-of-the-pants, unsupported, undermanned response could also have been a replay of Blackhawk Down or Desert One. It’s a tough judgment call for any President.
That’s not why the Obama administration is in trouble today.
Poorly supported security and inept decision making by the State Department in Libya was likewise, disappointing but politically survivable and sadly, unsurprising.. We have seen similar bungling before and after 9/11 by most of our major national security departments and agencies at one time or another. It is a bipartisan phenomenon, albeit one we take far too lightly.
No, as damning testimony today made clear, the Obama administration is in trouble because their poor but not remarkably so handling of Benghazi was shielded by a ridiculous lie told entirely for partisan gain and to protect the overrated reputations and overweening egos of various administration bigwigs, most notably the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
Is there anyone today – anyone at all – who still believes that Benghazi occurred because of an obscure crackpot’s video on youtube?
Had the administration manfully said “This attack is a terrible tragedy and we dropped the ball but you can believe we won’t make a similar mistake tracking down the people who did this and make them pay” most Americans would have accepted that. No, not rabid partisan Republicans, but most Americans would have wanted to back the President, any President, in the wake of such terrorism which is directed, in the last analysis, at all of us.
They did not – and much of the rest of their reaction indicates that the real concern at State and the White House was and still is with the temerity of their political opponents in daring to demand they account for their actions as if we lived in a Republic or something.
In American politics, it is the self-inflicted wounds that fester and turn gangrenous
The Obama administration, though they would not characterize it as such nor have much desire to acknowledge it at all, have attempted a strategic detente with the “moderate” elements of political Islam.
This policy has not been entirely consistent; Syria, for example, is a quagmire the administration has wisely refrained from wading directly into despite the best efforts of R2P advocates to drag us there. But more importantly, under President Obama the US supported the broad-based Arab Spring popular revolt against US ally, dictator Hosni Mubarak, and pushed the subsequent ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Libyan revolution against the entirely mad Colonel Gaddafi. These appear to be geopolitical “moves” upon which the Obama administration hopes to build.
I would like to emphasize that there is one legitimate and valid strategic pro to this sub rosa policy; namely, if everything went well, it would provide the United States with powerful triangulation against revolutionary, apocalyptic, radical Islamism as expressed by al Qaida and various Salafi extremist movements. There are reasons, rooted in takfirism, strategy and the politics of lunacy that our terrorist enemies frequently hate and revile the Brotherhood as traitors, apostates or whatever. Isolating the most actively dangerous and violent revolutionary enemies from a large mass of potential allies is, at least, a good strategic goal.
It is also my view, that this “outreach” is as politically sensitive to the Obama administration as was the China Opening was to Nixon and about which they have been equally opaque and misleading for fear of a domestic backlash. The weird, foot-dragging, dissembling, embittered, kabuki drama inside the Beltway about public statements and intelligence on whether Benghaziwas caused by obscure crackpot Islamophobic film makers or a well-orchestrated terrorist attack is in my view due to a major foreign policy strategy never having been framed in public for what it is. I’m sure people will differ strongly with me on this (which is fine), but I would characterize detente with Islamists as a strategic shift on par with the “Pivot to Asia”.
The downside here is that first, things are not likely to come out well at all, as unfinished revolutions tend to give birth to monsters; and secondly, any detente with “moderate” political Islam is an uncertain gamble based on certain exceptionally optimistic conceptions of not only what the Brotherhood might do, but about it’s very nature.
While the removal of Arab dictators resonated with American values , it was questionable realpolitik while the administration’s de facto support of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood faction over poorly organized secular liberal modernists was an act of realpolitik that required a compromise of the democratic values so recently invoked to justify abandoning Mubarak. This was cynical diplomatic flexibility worthy of Talleyrand.
Unfortunately, the most democratic thing – perhaps the only thing – about Mr. Morsiand his Brotherhood supporters was his election.
The first question to ask in assessing if the Obama administration policy here is wise would be “What is the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood?” Americans love to personalize foreign policy, but if Morsi were to be toppled or die, the Brotherhood will remain what it currently is, the best organized political force in Egypt and one widely influential throughout the Arab world and the West itself.
I am not an expert on the Muslim Brotherhood, nor am I an Arabist by education. Most of us aren’t – a group that I fear includes most of the Obama administration officials involved in shaping this policy. Almost fifty years after King Faisal determined to export Wahhabism, more than thirty years since Khomeini’s Revolution and more than ten years since 9/11 the USG still has less in-house expertise related to Islam than it did about the Soviet Union and Communism a decade after the Berlin Blockade.
Perhaps we all should begin learning more?
Here is an analysis from FPRI; it is extremely critical but it touches on organizational aspects of the Muslim Brotherhood that I have not seen elsewhere (hat tip to David Ronfeldt). Feel free to suggest others, both for and against. The Brotherhood is a very large group with a long history that includes violence , terrorism and subversion on one hand and peacefully representing expressions of pious, middle-class, social conservatism in other places and times:
….Two years ago when I was doing my dissertation fieldwork in Cairo, I sought out interviews with leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood, and I was referred to a man named Muhammad Morsi, now the President of Egypt. At the time, President Mubarak was ill and had gone off to Europe for operations amid a lot of mystery surrounding his health. I asked Muhammad Morsi whether the Muslim Brotherhood would run a presidential candidate if Mubarak died tomorrow. Here is what he said:
[From an audio file played by Trager]
Eric Trager: You don’t see the Muslim Brotherhood nominating a presidential candidate [if Mubarak dies tomorrow]?
Muhammad Morsi: No… because society is not ready… Our society is not ready yet to really defend its worth. We want a society to carry on its responsibilities, and we are part of this society. Another thing, if we are rushing things, then I don’t think that leads to a real stable position.
When he made that statement, I don’t think he was lying, and I don’t think he was being coy. I think that he didn’t expect that he would be faced with this reality in a mere six months. He did not expect that Mubarak would step down six months later and, to be completely honest with you, neither did I. My dissertation was entitled “Egypt: Durable Authoritarianism”—until the revolution.
What did Morsi mean when he said that the Brotherhood was trying to build a society? Let me give you some background on the Muslim Brotherhood. It was founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, who was a schoolteacher in Ismailia. The Muslim Brotherhood’s goal was then—and remains now—to establish an Islamic state in Egypt. The way it pursues this goal is by trying to Islamize Egyptian society. Through social services, education, and the mosque, it sought to make Egyptians more religious and more Islamic as a grassroots strategy for building an Islamic state. That’s very, very different from a strategy that says, “We’re going to run for president, run for the Parliament, and use that power to transform society.” Rather, the Brotherhood says, in effect, “We’re going to Islamize society to build towards power.” It was a long-term strategy; it took them 84 years before they ran for and won the presidency. So Morsi told me in 2010 that the Muslim Brotherhood was not going to run for the presidency because it was not done Islamizing Egyptian society….
Ironically, one of the many Cabinet secretaries Nixon ignominiously fired in his bid to centralize power in his White House staff was his former 1968 primary rival, HUD Secretary George Romney, father of 2012 Republican nominee, Governor Mitt Romney. A blow from which George Romney’s political career never recovered. Nixon’s relationship with Romney had been an acrimonious one, formally polite on the surface with public shows of confidence by Nixon and machiavellian intrigues behind the scenes to undermine Romney and reverse the policies he had been advancing in Nixon’s name.
It is difficult to say if General Petraeus public career will survive this scandal that he has brought upon himself, an action which stands in jarring contrast to his sterling, some might say superhuman, record of service to America, or if he will, like George Romney, fade away. Certainly, the CIA badly needed to stop the revolving door on the Director’s office and have a strong, visionary, hands-on leader who could reform and invigorate the Agency not merely in terms of covert action but in terms of rebuilding of capacity in deep cover clandestinity and the acquisition of strategic intel. I do not often find myself in agreement withSenator Feinstein but she is correct, this resignation hurts because it is also a significant institutional opportunity cost for the IC. I too wish it had not been accepted - at one time it wouldn’t have been – but that is the President’s prerogative.
What however are the real issues? What should we be looking for?
Two things: As with Richard Nixon’s second term machinations, with such sweeping changes personnel changes in the offing for the Obama administration, ask yourself as events unfold: “Where is power flowing? And Why?”
If you do you will be in a better position to game out the direction of the next four years, especially in foreign policy and national security.
The White House has attempted to sell a story that the FBI doing a low-level harassment investigation stumbled upon a security breach and – on their own authority, mind you – tapped the email account of the Director of the CIA and kept him under surveillance and investigated his mistress and, oh, yeah, the President was only informed of this business after the election on Thursday. Wait! And the DNI ( a three star general whose career was primarily intel administration) on his own initiative called the CIA Director ( a four star general and former theater and combatant commander) in on the carpet and fired him told him to resign. Right.
No, what most likely happened was that the minute the special agents realized who was involved in their investigation and the magnitude of the implications, they stopped and informed their superiors and the matter went up the chain to the FBI Director’s desk. The FBI Director, a former prosecutor with a political antennae circumspect enough to be appointed by George W. Bush and have his term be extended by Barack Obama, would have duly informed the Attorney-General of the United States before proceeding further and – I expect – the National Security Adviser, White House Chief of Staff and the DNI. Worst case scenario thinking in terms of national security would have been one driver. Another would be the fear of an all too juicy story leaking and the media catching an unbriefed POTUS unaware on the campaign trail with a blockbuster scandal before the election. How would that have gone over?
I would further expect that we will in the next few days and weeks hear the most salacious contents of the emails between Petraeus and his biographer, leaked by anonymous officials, timed to coincide with difficult days of testimony regarding Benghazi or new appointments to the administration that could, on a slow media day, prove controversial.
Instead of being distracted by prurient nonsense unrelated to the stewardship of the Republic, time would be better spent scrutinizing the host of nominations to come, not as individuals but as “teams” for particular areas of national security and foreign affairs cutting across bureaucracies – ex. arms control, Russian relations, Mideast etc. What commonalities or congruencies emerge?
I suggest this because back when the Obama administration decided on their “pivot” to Asia, the people they selected for second to third tier workday management related to the Asia-Pacific region were all accomplished, decent, honorable public servants, but their greatest common characteristic was a lack of any professional expertise with China. We saw the same personnel gambit with the Bush administration in the run-up to the war with Iraq where the greatest disqualifier for a job with the CPA was familiarity with the Arab world, Islam or Iraq. When you want careful stratagems, you solicit the advice of experts; when you want grand and revolutionary gestures, the wheels of policy are better greased with bold ignorance. There’s a reason Nixon appointed William Rogers Secretary of State – he knew the State Department bureaucracy would largely oppose his foreign policy initiatives and he wanted someone ill-suited and uninformed in charge there who he could more easily manipulate and keep in the dark.
The sixties radicals used to assert “the personal is the political”; in the eighties, Ronald Reagan in staffing his first administration understood that “the personnel are the political” and picked people culled from Heritage and Cato. My intuition is that in the second decade of the 21st century, the inside circle of the Obama administration have discovered that ” the political are the patterns”.
The story unfolding is no longer the “smoking gun” or the compromising jigsaw piece but the entirety of the puzzle.
[ by Charles Cameron -- this post is about comparisons -- what you make of them, and what they make of you, death calculus, and Handel ]
Scraped from my morning read, these two quotes — a tweeted headline from Breitbart and a gobbit of the Jerusalem Post — neatly illustrate a paradox I’ve been wrestling with, the way more profound souls wrestle with angels [link is to Rilke].
It’s the paradox of comparison.
On the one hand, I can barely imagine what it would be like to build — with, say, enough funds for a latter-day Manhattan Project — a Department whose job it was to monitor all activities and ensure even-handedness in the allocation of resources.
So that not ever would a Presidential aide on vacation receive a security detail until each and every ambassador had an equivalent force of marines around them at any given moment, in embassy or out.
I mean, what about consuls, or CIA heads of station — are they ambassadorial enough? Members of the cabinet on vacation? Members of the National Security Council? How far do we need to go with our even-handedness? Is Benghazi different from London? Londonistan?
How would one possibly assure oneself that no “hand” of government, left, right, center, upper, lower, or oblique to all of the above, ever arranged things in a way that compared foolishly with the way some other “hand” of government had arranged something more or less similar?
Let’s go to what my friend Bryan Alexander calls the death calculus. Since we’re interested in terrorism here, I’ll pull quotes from a couple of pieces that you can read in full if this topic interests you. Two paras from TomDispatch:
In 2008, 14,180 Americans were murdered, according to the FBI. In that year, there were 34,017 fatal vehicle crashes in the U.S. and, so the U.S. Fire Administration tells us, 3,320 deaths by fire. More than 11,000 Americans died of the swine flu between April and mid-December 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; on average, a staggering 443,600 Americans die yearly of illnesses related to tobacco use, reports the American Cancer Society;5,000 Americans die annually from food-borne diseases; an estimated 1,760children died from abuse or neglect in 2007; and the next year, 560 Americans died of weather-related conditions, according to the National Weather Service, including 126 from tornadoes, 67 from rip tides, 58 from flash floods, 27 from lightning, 27 from avalanches, and 1 from a dust devil.
The now-infamous Northwest Airlines Flight 253, carrying Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and his bomb-laden underwear toward Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, had 290 passengers and crew, all of whom survived. Had the inept Abdulmutallab actually succeeded, the death toll would not have equaled the 324 traffic fatalities in Nevada in 2008; while the destruction of four Flight 253s from terrorism would not have equaled New York State’s 2008 traffic death toll of1,231, 341 of whom, or 51 more than those on Flight 253, were classified as “alcohol-impaired fatalities.”
Two paras from a Salon piece [copied here sans links and emphases]:
“The number of people worldwide who are killed by Muslim-type terrorists, Al Qaeda wannabes, is maybe a few hundred outside of war zones. It’s basically the same number of people who die drowning in the bathtub each year,” said John Mueller, an Ohio State University professor who has written extensively about the balance between threat and expenditures in fighting terrorism.
Last year, McClatchy characterized this threat in similar terms: “undoubtedly more American citizens died overseas from traffic accidents or intestinal illnesses than from terrorism.” The March, 2011, Harper’s Index expressed the point this way: “Number of American civilians who died worldwide in terrorist attacks last year: 8 — Minimum number who died after being struck by lightning: 29.” That’s the threat in the name of which a vast domestic Security State is constructed, wars and other attacks are and continue to be launched, and trillions of dollars are transferred to the private security and defense contracting industry at exactly the time that Americans — even as they face massive wealth inequality — are told that they must sacrifice basic economic security because of budgetary constraints.
On the one hand, that the world is far too complex to avoid disparities that can draw mockery down on the heads of those one might wish to mock.
And on the other, that comparisons also have an invaluable role to play in giving us a sense of the relative peaks and valleys of the terrain we live in — and may be literally or metaphorically mountaintop removal / valley fill coal mining in preparation for our children’s children…
Here’s a “DoubleQuote” for you:
Or for the musically inclined:
Now there’s a fascinating comparison (between the mining and the music) that doesn’t tell you much. Or does it?
Onwards to the issue of that sacred plateau in Jerusalem, featured as my second “reading for the day” at the top of this post.
It appears that you can be arrested for carrying a concealed knife on the Noble Sanctuary — or tallit or tefillin on Temple Mount — same place, different perspective.
That’s the sort of comparison that makes me catch my breath with wonder.
As the Famous Thinkers School might ask, giving you a pencil and a blank sheet of paper: can you draw this conclusion?
The full text of Matthew 6.3 reads in the KJV:
But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
Columbia University Pressjust sent me a review copy of Mission Revolution: The US Military and Stability Operations by Jennifer Morrison Taw, an assistant professor of IR/Security Studies atClaremont McKenna College. Taw has written a very timely book given the looming threat of sequestration – she has investigated and analyzed the institutional and strategic impact of the US having elevated MOOTW (military operations other than war) in 2005 to a DoD mission on par with war-fighting, terming the change a “Revolution”.
[ Parenthetical aside: I recall well Thomas Barnettloudly and persistently calling for the Pentagon to deal with MOOTW by enacting an institutional division of labor between a heavy-duty Leviathan force to handle winning wars and a constabulary System Administration force to win the peace, manage stability, defend the connectivity. Instead, in Iraq and Afghanistan we had one Leviathan force trying to shoehorn in both missions with a shortage of boots, a river of money and a new COIN doctrine. Soon, if budget cuts and force reduction are handled badly we could have one very expensive, poorly structured, force unable to do either mission.]
Thumbing through Mission Revolution, it is critical and well focused take on the spectrum of problems the US has faced in the past ten years trying to make a “whole of government” approach an effective reality in stability operations and counterinsurgency. Taw covers doctrine, training, bureaucratic politics, procurement, policy, grand strategy, mission creep, counterterrorism and foreign policy visions of the civilian leadership, all with generous footnoting.
I am looking forward to reading Mission Revolution and giving it a detailed, in-depth, review in the near future.
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.