World

Should the U.S. Have Expected Trouble in Benghazi?

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Ambassador Chris Stevens

I note, with interest, growing evidence that the United States should have expected trouble at the consulate in Benghazi. No less a personage than the late ambassador, Chris Stevens sent the State Department a diplomatic cable in 2008 warning that the area was becoming a ground zero for dangerous lunacy. And the U.S. government reportedly had heads-up two days before the fact that attacks were being planned. The first report seems to be a given; if the second one pans out, somebody really screwed up.

From CNN:

Before he became U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens warned in a 2008 diplomatic cable of jihadist sentiment growing not far from Benghazi.

Stevens, who became ambassador to Libya this year,  was killed this week in an attack that U.S. sources tell CNN was planned by a pro-al Qaeda group of extremists. While it is not definitively clear whether this group, or what group specifically, is behind the attack, it's clear that Stevens expressed concern about a radical movement fomenting in the port city of Derna.

The cable was leaked in the trove that WikiLeaks released in 2010 and 2011, and CNN reported on it last year.

That earlier report said:

Derna even made it into U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by Wikileaks. A cable from 2008 describes it as a "wellspring of Libyan foreign fighters" for al Qaeda in Iraq. High youth unemployment, discrimination by the Gadhafi regime and the influence of veteran Libyan jihadists from Afghanistan all played a role in radicalizing a new generation.

"Other factors include a dearth of social outlets for young people, [and] local pride in Derna's history as a locus of fierce opposition to occupation," the cable said. "Most young men watched a mix of al-Jazeera news, religious sermons and western action films on English language satellite channels broadcast from the Gulf. The result was a heady mixture of violence, religious conservatism and hatred of U.S. policy in Iraq and Palestine."

Of more recent vintage, The Independent reports:

According to senior diplomatic sources, the US State Department had credible information 48 hours before mobs charged the consulate in Benghazi, and the embassy in Cairo, that American missions may be targeted, but no warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert and "lockdown", under which movement is severely restricted.

This suggests that the Benghazi area has long been recognized as one in which special caution should be observed, and that American officials had good reason to anticipate the threat that resulted in this week's bloody tragedy. With recent reports that the Bush administration overlooked warnings in the months leading up to 9/11, it looks like the Obama administration may be emulating its predecessor even more than we suspected.