The New York Times just delivered a mortal blow to the Obama administration and its Middle East policy. Call it fratricide. It was clearly unintentional. Indeed, is far from clear that the paper realizes what it has done.
Last Saturday the Times published an 8,000-word account by David Kirkpatrick detailing the terrorist strike against the US Consulate and the CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012. In it, Kirkpatrick tore to shreds the foundations of President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism strategy and his overall policy in the Middle East.
Obama first enunciated those foundations in his June 4, 2009, speech to the Muslim world at Cairo University. Ever since, they have been the rationale behind US counterterror strategy and US Middle East policy.
Obama’s first assertion is that radical Islam is not inherently hostile to the US. As a consequence, America can appease radical Islamists. Moreover, once radical Muslims are appeased, they will become US allies, (replacing the allies the US abandons to appease the radical Muslims).
Obama’s second strategic guidepost is his claim that the only Islamic group that is a bona fide terrorist organization is the faction of al-Qaida directly subordinate to Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Only this group cannot be appeased and must be destroyed through force.
The administration has dubbed the Zawahiri faction of al-Qaida “core al-Qaida.” And anyone who operates in the name of al-Qaida, or any other group that does not have courtroom-certified operational links to Zawahiri, is not really al-Qaida, and therefore, not really a terrorist group or a US enemy.
These foundations have led the US to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan. They are the rationale for the US’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood worldwide. They are the basis for Obama’s allegiance to Turkey’s Islamist government, and his early support for the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Syrian opposition.
They are the basis for the administration’s kneejerk support for the PLO against Israel.
Obama’s insistent bid to appease Iran, and so enable the mullocracy to complete its nuclear weapons program. is similarly a product of his strategic assumptions. So, too, the US’s current diplomatic engagement of Hezbollah in Lebanon owes to the administration’s conviction that any terror group not directly connected to Zawahiri is a potential US ally.
From the outset of the 2011 revolt against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, it was clear that a significant part of the opposition was composed of jihadists aligned if not affiliated with al-Qaida. Benghazi was specifically identified by documents seized by US forces in Iraq as a hotbed of al-Qaida recruitment.
Obama and his advisers dismissed and ignored the evidence. The core of al-Qaida, they claimed, was not involved in the anti-Gaddafi revolt. And to the extent jihadists were fighting Gaddafi, they were doing so as allies of the US.
In other words, the two core foundations of Obama’s understanding of terrorism and of the Muslim world were central to US support for the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
With Kirkpatrick’s report, the Times exposed the utter falsity of both.
Kirkpatrick showed the mindset of the US-supported rebels and through it, the ridiculousness of the administration’s belief that you can’t be a terrorist if you aren’t directly subordinate to Zawahiri.
One US-supported Islamist militia commander recalled to him that at the outset of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion, “Teenagers came running around… [asking] ‘Sheikh, sheikh, did you know al-Qaida? Did you know Osama bin Laden? How do we fight?”
In the days and weeks following the September 11, 2012, attack on the US installations in Benghazi in which US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed, the administration claimed that the attacks were not carried out by terrorists. Rather they were the unfortunate consequence of a spontaneous protest by otherwise innocent Libyans.
According to the administration’s version of events, these guileless, otherwise friendly demonstrators, who killed the US ambassador and three other Americans, were simply angered by a YouTube video of a movie trailer which jihadist clerics in Egypt had proclaimed was blasphemous.
In an attempt to appease the mob after the fact, Obama and then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton shot commercials run on Pakistani television apologizing for the video and siding with the mob against the movie-maker, who is the only person the US has imprisoned following the attack. Then-ambassador to the UN and current National Security Adviser Susan Rice gave multiple television interviews placing the blame for the attacks on the video.
According to Kirkpatrick’s account of the assault against the US installations in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, the administration’s description of the assaults was a fabrication. Far from spontaneous political protests spurred by rage at a YouTube video, the attack was premeditated.
US officials spotted Libyans conducting surveillance of the consulate nearly 15 hours before the attack began.
Libyan militia warned US officials “of rising threats against Americans from extremists in Benghazi,” two days before the attack.
From his account, the initial attack – in which the consulate was first stormed – was carried out not by a mob, but by a few dozen fighters. They were armed with assault rifles. They acted in a coordinated, professional manner with apparent awareness of US security procedures.
During the initial assault, the attackers shot down the lights around the compound, stormed the gates, and swarmed around the security personnel who ran to get their weapons, making it impossible for them to defend the ambassador and other personnel trapped inside.
According to Kirkpatrick, after the initial attack, the organizers spurred popular rage and incited a mob assault on the consulate by spreading the rumor that the Americans had killed a local. Others members of the secondary mob, Kirkpatrick claimed, were motivated by reports of the video.
This mob assault, which followed the initial attack and apparent takeover of the consulate, was part of the predetermined plan. The organizers wanted to produce chaos.
As Kirkpatrick explained, “The attackers had posted sentries at Venezia Road, adjacent to the [consulate] compound, to guard their rear flank, but they let pass anyone trying to join the mayhem.”
According to Kirkpatrick, the attack was perpetrated by local terrorist groups that were part of the US-backed anti-Gaddafi coalition. The people who were conducting the surveillance of the consulate 15 hours before the attack were uniformed security forces who escaped in an official car. Members of the militia tasked with defending the compound participated in the attack.
Ambassador Stevens, who had served as the administration’s emissary to the rebels during the insurrection against Gaddafi, knew personally many of the terrorists who orchestrated the attack. And until the very end, he was taken in by the administration’s core belief that it was possible to appease al-Qaida-sympathizing Islamic jihadists who were not directly affiliated with Zawahiri.
As Kirkpatrick noted, Stevens “helped shape the Obama administration’s conviction that it could work with the rebels, even those previously hostile to the West, to build a friendly, democratic government.”
The entire US view that local militias, regardless of their anti-American, jihadist ideologies, could become US allies was predicated not merely on the belief that they could be appeased, but that they weren’t terrorists because they weren’t al-Qaida proper.
As Kirkpatrick notes, “American intelligence efforts in Libya concentrated on the agendas of the biggest militia leaders and the handful of Libyans with suspected ties to al-Qaida. The fixation on al-Qaida might have distracted experts from more imminent threats.”
But again, the only reason that the intelligence failed to notice the threats emanating from local US-supported terrorists is because the US counterterrorist strategy, like its overall Middle East strategy, is to seek to appease all US enemies other than the parts of al-Qaida directly commanded by Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Distressingly, most of the discussion spurred by Kirkpatrick’s article has ignored the devastating blow he visited on the intellectual foundations of Obama’s foreign policy. Instead, the discussion has focused on his claim that there is “no evidence that al-Qaida or other international terrorist group had any role in the assault,” and on his assertion that the YouTube video did spur to action some of the participants in the assault.
Kirkpatrick’s claim that al-Qaida played no role in the attack was refuted by the Times’ own reporting six weeks after the attack. It has also been refuted by congressional and State Department investigations, by the UN and by a raft of other reporting.
His claim that the YouTube video did spur some of the attackers to action was categorically rejected last spring in sworn congressional testimony by then-deputy chief of the US mission to Libya Gregory Hicks.
Last May Hicks stated, “The YouTube video was a non-event in Libya. The video was not instigative of anything that was going on in Libya. We saw no demonstrators related to the video anywhere in Libya.”
Kirkpatrick’s larger message – that the reasoning behind Obama’s entire counterterrorist strategy and his overall Middle East policy is totally wrong, and deeply destructive – has been missed because his article was written and published to whitewash the administration’s deliberate mischaracterization of the events in Benghazi, not to discredit the rationale behind its Middle East policy and counterterrorism strategy. This is why he claimed that al-Qaida wasn’t involved in the attack. And this is why he claimed that the YouTube video was a cause for the attack.
This much was made clear in a blog post by editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal, who alleged that the entire discourse on Benghazi is promoted by the Republicans to harm the Democrats, and Kirkpatrick’s story served to weaken the Republican arguments. In Rosenthal’s words, “The Republicans hope to tarnish Democratic candidates by making it seem as though Mr. Obama doesn’t take al-Qaida seriously.”
So pathetically, in a bid to defend Obama and Clinton and the rest of the Democrats, the Times published a report that showed that Obama’s laser-like focus on the Zawahiri-controlled faction of al-Qaida has endangered the US.
By failing to view as enemies any other terror groups – even if they have participated in attacks against the US – and indeed, in perceiving them as potential allies, Obama has failed to defend against them. Indeed, by wooing them as future allies, Obama has empowered forces as committed as al-Qaida to defeating the US.
Again, it is not at all apparent that the Times realized what it was doing. But from Israel to Egypt, to Iran to Libya to Lebanon, it is absolutely clear that Obama and his colleagues continue to implement the same dangerous, destructive agenda that defeated the US in Benghazi and will continue to cause US defeat after US defeat.