Monday, September 24, 2012

Obama's feckless foreign policy in the Middle East

Here are the rather amazing things that Obama said on Sixty Minutes last night. Referring to recent events in the Middle East:
CBS's Steve Kroft asked, “Have the events that took place in the Middle East, the recent events in the Middle East given you any pause about your support for the governments that have come to power following the Arab Spring?”

President Obama answered, “Well, I'd said even at the time that this is going to be a rocky path. The question presumes that somehow we could have stopped this wave of change. I think it was absolutely the right thing for us to do to align ourselves with democracy, universal rights-- a notion that-- people have- to be able to-- participate-- in-- their own governance. But I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road because-- you know, in a lot of these places-- the one organizing principle-- has been Islam. The one part of society that hasn't been controlled completely by the government. There are strains of extremism, and anti-Americanism, and anti-Western sentiment. And you know can be tapped into by demagogues. There will probably be some times where we bump up against some of these countries and have strong disagreements, but I do think that over the long term, we are more likely to get a Middle East and North Africa that is more peaceful, more prosperous and more aligned with our interests.”
Did the President of the United States refer to the murder of an American ambassador and other Americans in Benghazi as "bumps in the road"?

And what exactly does he mean that "the one organizing principle" has been Islam? Is he still ignoring that the attack on our consulate was terrorism? As Stephen Hayes details, the Obama administration has been trying to spin the recent "bumps in the road" as solely about the video and had nothing to do with 9/11. They sent out our ambassador to the United Nations last week and everything she said was false. She said that there wasn't any information that the attacks had been "premeditated or preplanned" and that there was a substantial security protection at the consulate. Jay Carney also denied any connection to 9/11. But everything that the administration spun for a week after the murders in Benghazi was contradicted immediately by others who knew more.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong. Intelligence officials understood immediately that the attacks took place on 9/11 for a reason. The ambassador, in a country that faces a growing al Qaeda threat, had virtually no security. The two contractors killed in the attacks were not part of the ambassador’s security detail, and there were not, in fact, “many other colleagues” working security with them.

The nature of the attack itself, a four-hour battle that took place in two waves, indicated some level of planning. “The idea that this criminal and cowardly act was a spontaneous protest that just spun out of control is completely unfounded and preposterous,” Libyan president Mohammad el-Megarif told National Public Radio. When a reporter asked Senator Carl Levin, one of the most partisan Democrats in the upper chamber, if the attack was planned, Levin said it was. “I think there’s evidence of that. There’s been evidence of that,” he responded, adding: “The attack looked like it was planned and premeditated, sure.” Levin made his comments after a briefing from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

Representative Adam Smith, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, agreed. “This was not just a mob that got out of hand. Mobs don’t come in and attack, guns blazing. I think that there is a growing consensus it was preplanned.” And according to CNN, Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy “has said that the attack appeared to be planned because it was so extensive and because of the ‘proliferation’ of small and medium weapons at the scene.” Not only was the attack planned, it appears there was no protest at all. Citing eyewitnesses, CBS News reported late last week: “There was never an anti-American protest outside the consulate.”

So we are left with this: Four Americans were killed in a premeditated terrorist attack on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, and for more than a week the Obama administration misled the country about what happened.

This isn’t just a problem. It’s a scandal.
As John Podhoretz writes, the Obama administration is the "gang that can't lie straight." Obama went on Univision and said that he didn't know yet if the attack in Benghazi was premeditated at the same time that Jay Carney was saying that it is "self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack.
Which one of these guys didn’t get the memo?

When Carney spoke, it seemed as though he’d been directed to change the administration’s baffling official line— which last week was that the killing of Americans, the breaching of the Cairo embassy walls and the other riots against US embassies had simply been the result of spontaneous uprisings against a YouTube video that insulted Mohammed.

But who would direct him? Carney speaks in the name of the president. Yet the president opted to follow the line spoken by State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland (full disclosure: an old friend of mine), who said Monday, “I’m not going to put labels on this until we have a complete investigation . . . I don’t think we know enough.”

Why the smokescreen? Why is Carney saying one thing and Obama saying the other? Why did Carney and other administration spokespersons ever say anything other than what he said yesterday?

And why did Obama continue to say he didn’t know when, oh, yes, he certainly did then and he certainly does now?

What the hell is going on here?
So why did the administration keep trying to mislead the public?
The conduct of the administration in the face of an attack on Americans and American soil — and its acceptance of the “guilt” of the YouTube video that only served inadvertently to justify further riots and attacks on American sites across the Muslim world — is shocking. And on the surface, it seems to make no sense.

After all, why not say Benghazi was a terrorist attack, when it clearly was? And for that matter, why not operate from the assumption that the effort to overrun the Cairo embassy was, too?

The most cynical explanation is that the Obamans feared the political repurcussions with the election approaching. If so, they’re not as savvy as the Romney camp fears.

After all, what’s better politically — seeing Arab countries erupt in flames and seeing a US ambassador’s body dragged through the street and saying it’s all because of some video you can’t get YouTube to take down?

Or would it have been more politically sound to stand before the American people and say, “Eleven years after al Qaeda attacked American soil on the homeland, it has taken to attacking American soil abroad in the form of our diplomatic outposts. We will not tolerate, we will not allow, we will not stand for this. Those who have done this will hear from us soon.”

I know which of the two would have made criticism from the Romney camp impossible — and it wasn’t the “blame the video” option.

Let’s say the administration understands it had a patriotic play here and it chose not to make it. Why?

Maybe it doesn’t wish to face the harsh reality — the reality that its four-year campaign to improve America’s image in the Arab world, to find common ground lost under his supposedly ruthless predecessor, has come a cropper.

The reality that the Arab Spring is more ominous than promising.

The reality that leading from behind — his supposedly innovative form of waging war and making foreign policy — is not only a grammatical oxymoron but a potential recipe for disaster.

So much easier to blame a video. And so much easier to blow smoke and speak out of both sides of your mouth — say it was terrorism and say you don’t know if it was terrorism — when your ludicrous position becomes untenable.
Just think of how Obama would have benefited if he'd taken Podhoretz's first suggestion of how to have reacted to the ambassador's murder. There would have been such a "rally around the flag" effect that I don't think Romney would have ever recovered.

And as CNN has reported from Ambassador Christopher Stevens' personal journal that they found, he was worried about the situation in Libya and role of al Qaeda there.
“A source familiar with Ambassador Stevens’ thinking said in the months before his death, he talked about being worried about what he called the never-ending security threats, specifically in Benghazi,” Cooper said.

“The source [is] telling us that the ambassador specifically mentioned the rise in Islamic extremism, the growing al-Qaeda presence in Libya, and said that he was on an al-Qaeda hit list,”
That source turned out to be Stevens' own journal. His family is outraged about CNN's reporting from the journal, but the entries clarify that Stevens seemed to have had more concern about security there than the State Department which gave warnings to the embassy in Cairo leading up to September 11, but didn't do anything to increase security in Libya or at least get him out of Benghazi which was known as a center of al Qaeda in Libya. If the ambassador was writing these fears in his own journal, is there any doubt that he wasn't also sharing those concerns with the State Department? That is one of the jobs of an ambassador. Congress should press to find out what Stevens had reported back to the State Department and what their reaction was. It certainly wasn't to strengthen protection of our embassy officials.

Stephen Hayes reminds us that the Obama administration has tried to tell us that an attack on Americans was not related to terrorism or Islam.
On December 28, 2009, three days after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate explosives in his underwear aboard an airliner over Detroit, President Obama told the country that the incident was the work of “an isolated extremist.” It wasn’t. Abdulmutallab was trained, directed, and financed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a fact he shared with investigators early in his interrogation.

The same thing happened less than six months later, after Faisal Shahzad attempted to blow up his Nissan Pathfinder in Times Square. Two days following the botched attack, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano took to the Sunday shows to dismiss reports of a conspiracy and insisted that the attempted bombing was just a “one-off” by a single attacker. It wasn’t. A week later, after much of the information had leaked, Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged that the United States had “evidence that shows that the Pakistani Taliban was behind the attack. We know that they helped facilitate it, we know that they probably helped finance it and that he was working at their direction.”

In each instance, top administration officials quickly downplayed or dismissed the seriousness of the events, only to acknowledge, after the shock had worn off and the media had turned to other news, that their initial stories were incorrect. Whether it was because the attempted attacks were unsuccessful or because the media simply lost interest, the administration largely escaped serious criticism for making claims that turned out to be wrong.
Mona Charen reminds us of Obama's response when Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 unarmed soldiers while shouting "Allahu Akbar."
“This morning I met with FBI Director Mueller and the relevant agencies to discuss their ongoing investigation into what caused one individual to turn his gun on fellow servicemen and women,” the president intoned. “We don’t know all of the answers yet, and I would caution against jumping to conclusions until we have all of the facts.” What did the president imagine would happen if people openly speculated that Hasan was a Muslim terrorist? Did he think St. Louis would descend into Cairoesque lawlessness? Did he picture Americans scaling the walls of the Palestinian mission to the U.N. in New York to tear down the Palestinian flag and replace it with the Stars and Stripes?
Obama would have preferred that everyone blame anti-American extremism in the Middle East on George Bush's clumsy and arrogant policies. Obama's mere inauguration would be enough to improve our relations with Muslims around the world.
Obama has badly misjudged the roots of Muslim rage. The crowds in Cairo shouted, “Obama, there are a million Osamas.” Worse, he badly misjudged his own country.

And the media have let the Obama administration get away with deflecting attention away from reality. Even when the administration finally admits that more is going on than they'd originally acknowledged, that turnaround gets little play. Instead the administration has raised the visibility and importance of this one video so that radicals could excite more outrage around the Muslim world.
That’s exactly what the radicals wanted, according to a U.S. intelligence official familiar with the reporting on Egypt. The focus on the film was an “information operation” by jihadists designed to generate rage against America. If he’s right, it worked.

Barack Obama came to office promising to repair relations with the Islamic world. What he couldn’t accomplish by the mere fact of his presidency, through his name and his familiarity with Islam, he would achieve through “smart diplomacy.”

Instead, over the last four years, and particularly the last two weeks, the defining characteristics of his foreign policy have been mendacity, incompetence, and, yes, stupidity.
And that is not all that Obama said that was troubling in his interview on Sixty Minutes. Here is what he said about Israel and its concerns about Iran.
In an interview with CBS’ Steve Kroft recorded the day following the deadly attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing four including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Obama was asked if he felt pressure from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to change his policy and a draw line in the sand when it comes to Iran's nuclear program.

“When it comes to our national security decisions any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people, and I am going to block out any noise that’s out there,” said Obama.

“Now I feel an obligation - not pressure but obligation - to make sure that we’re in close consultation with the Israelis on these issues because it affects them deeply. They’re one of our closest allies in the region and we’ve got an Iranian regime that has said horrible things that directly threaten Israel’s existence.”
"One of our closest allies in the region"? Which other allies are as close as Israel? And there is a lot more that Iran had done besides saying "horrible things." And was he really referring to Netanyahu's pressure on Iran as "noise that's out there"?

It's too bad that he doesn't show the same concern for responding to Israel's "noise" that he has shown for responding to the mobs in the streets supposedly protesting that video.