Pickering's Red Flags

Diana West

11/2/2012 10:51:00 AM - Diana West

As we arrive at Election Day, some of the most crucial questions left unanswered about Benghazi are, in fact, the simplest. They are not “fog of war” questions. They are not questions rendered unanswerable by “conflicting intelligence.” They are questions that probe clear actions taking place not on the roof of a safe house under mortar fire, but inside the fortress-like, orderly and well-lit White House.

Who turned down requests for military relief for Americans under rocket and mortar fire? Who decided to suppress the fact that no protest preceded this attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that claimed four American lives? Who ordered senior Obama administration officials to lie to the American people for two weeks by blaming a YouTube video for a “spontaneous” outbreak of violence that was, in fact, a coordinated terrorist assault?

President Obama declared he made his priorities about Benghazi clear “the minute I found out what was happening.” He said: “Number one, make sure that we are securing our personnel and doing whatever we need to.” If he issued an unexecuted order to this effect, there was a grievous breakdown in the chain of command that must be exposed. If, on the other hand, Barack Obama is lying, that must be exposed, too. It’s not a hard fact to find out.

But is Thomas Pickering, Obama’s choice to lead the Benghazi investigation, the proper person to search for it? On first glance, Pickering, a retired top diplomat and State Department official, sets off conflict-of-interest alarms for heading an investigation that must focus closely on the State Department. On closer inspection, however, so many red flags pop up around Pickering that his selection becomes another Benghazi-gate scandal in itself.

Pickering is one of those Washington insiders whose public record is less a matter of what he’s done than what he’s been: U.S. ambassador to Russia, Israel, El Salvador, Jordan, India, Nigeria and the United Nations. What such postings may obscure, however, is that the man is a foreign policy establishment leftist. It’s not just that Pickering serves as chairman of the board of trustees of the International Crisis Group, a George Soros group that, for example, advocated engagement with the Shariah-supremacist Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Pickering has personally explored opening relations with Hamas; pushed peace talks with the Taliban; argued for getting rid of, or removing to the U.S., all tactical nuclear weapons in Europe (and moving Russia’s to east of the Urals); and promoted bilateral talks with Iran without preconditions. And speaking of Iran, Pickering sits on the boards of two pro-Tehran groups, the American Iranian Council and the National Iranian American Council. The Iranian connections are additionally disturbing since one Benghazi scenario to be explored is whether Iran was involved, possibly in retribution for U.S. support of anti-Assad forces (including jihadists) in Syria.

Pickering’s politics place him squarely inside the Obama foreign policy mainstream, but that’s not the proper point from which to investigate an Obama foreign policy fiasco. Indeed, Pickering has expressed support for Obama’s Libya policy, “where,” as he put it in March, “we play a major role behind the scenes and … incorporate many other people in the activities we did in Libya.” Explaining the Libyan “experimentation” in “consultative leadership” that minimizes the U.S. military role, Pickering sounds as if he also endorsed the disastrous policy of relying on local jihadist militias for U.S. security.

On a panel titled “The Muslim Experience in America” at Washington’s National Cathedral, Pickering recently advocated “dialogue with the Iranians … informed by an effort to develop religious understanding and perhaps harmony,” while also bridging the “gulf” with Islam in America more generally. He also made an ominous call for “strong efforts … to deal with opinion leaders who harbor (anti-Islam) prejudices, who espouse them and spread them.” Then he took a question on how returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans might “complicate efforts to promote the acceptance of Muslims in America.” His answer, in a nutshell, was that it wouldn’t. He noted that soldiers “understand that as loyal Americans that kind of prejudice is not to be expressed.”

This drew a fervent rebuttal from co-panelist James J. Zogby of the Arab American Institute, who argued that “the racism [of soldiers] was really intense”; further, that it resulted from manuals and classes now expunged from Pentagon and Justice training. (“The FBI training program is shameful,” he added, referring to Islamic educational materials and trainers “purged” earlier this year.)

“There’s a direct correlation between the president of the United States and Islamophobia,” Zogby said, adding: “This hatred toward Muslims is largely concentrated with middle-class, middle-aged white people. And men. And it overlaps almost identically with the Tea Party.”

Racism, hatred and the Tea Party: Zogby put this whole concoction down not to jihad, not to the Islamic movement to spread Shariah (Islamic law), but solely to economic hard times. “And in the midst of all of that,” he continued, “this group of white, middle-aged, middle-class men looked around and saw a young African-American, educated at Harvard, with the middle name Hussein, get elected president of the United States. It fueled this phenomenon. It opened the door for the wedge issue to operate.”

Noting polls reflecting persistent doubts about the president’s birth certificate and other documents, Zogby concluded: “So there’s an overlay between the racism and the Islamophobia, and I think that we have to understand it and address it. And realize that there is this dangerous cancer that has affected the electorate. And is being used as a wedge issue.”

Pickering’s response? “Let me just go further. Jim, I agree with what you say about both domestic politics and the wedge issue. And the effect on the attitude toward the president. I’m deeply concerned. I don’t agree with you that the veterans are a problem. I agree with you we had a huge problem with the armed forces, and you’re right: It is the enemy.”

Those “racist” armed forces are “the enemy”? That’s a U.S. diplomat talking? Perhaps this most undiplomatic expression of institutional animus toward the military represents the mindset that helped lead us to Benghazi.

Could someone who agrees that jihad is a poisonous figment of envious Tea Partiers and not an age-old institution of Islam possibly find out what’s at the bottom of Benghazi? Of course not. And who doesn’t think that’s why Barack Obama picked him?