Foreign Policy

Who Is Responsible for the Mess in Libya?

The unraveling of a value-free foreign policy and its unintended consequences

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How many times have you heard the truism that in modern-day America the cover-up is often as troubling as the crime? That is becoming quite apparent in the case of the death of Chris Stevens, the former U.S. ambassador to Libya.

Stevens and three State Department employees were murdered in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last month, on September 11th. About an hour before the murders, the ambassador, who usually resides in the U.S. embassy in Tripoli but was visiting local officials and staying at the consulate in Benghazi, had just completed dinner there with a colleague, whom he personally walked to the front gate of the compound. In the next three hours, hundreds of persons assaulted the virtually defenseless compound and set it afire.

Around the same time that these crimes took place in Benghazi, a poorly produced, low-grade 15-minute YouTube clip was going viral on the Internet. The clip shows actors in dubbed voices portraying the prophet Mohammed and others in an unflattering light. The Obama administration seized upon the temporary prevalence of this clip to explain the assault on the consulate. Indeed, the administration sent U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to represent it on five Sunday morning TV talk shows on September 16th, to make the claim that the attack on the consulate was a spontaneous reaction to the YouTube clip, that it could not have been anticipated, and that the perpetrators were ordinary Libyans angry at the freedom moviemakers in America enjoy.

Soon, U.S. intelligence reports were leaked that revealed that the intelligence community knew the attack was not as described by Rice. The intelligence folks on the ground in Libya reported before September 16th that the attack was well organized, utilized military equipment and tactics, and was carried out by local militias with ties to al-Qaida. In response to these leaks, the State Department, for which Rice works, acknowledged that the assault was an organized terrorist attack.

The Obama administration has publicly rejected the intelligence leaks and insisted as recently as last week during the vice presidential debate that "we" did not know the assault was an act of terrorism against American personnel and property. The word "we" was uttered by Vice President Biden, whose credibility hit a new low when he insisted that the government did not know what we now know it knew. A day after the debate, the White House claimed that the "we" uttered by Biden referred to the president and the vice president, and not to the federal government or the State Department. This is semantics akin to Bill Clinton's "it depends what the meaning of 'is' is."

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in one of her rare forays into domestic politics, backed up the White House. She actually claimed that the White House was kept in the dark by the State Department.

What's going on here?

What's going on here is the unraveling of a value-free foreign policy and its unintended consequences. The whole reason that the streets in Libya are not safe and the country is ruled by roving gangs of militias is because the U.S. bombed the country last year. In an unconstitutional act of war, the president alone ordered the bombing. It destroyed the Libyan military, national and local police, roads, bridges, and private homes. It facilitated the murder of our former ally Col. Gadhafi and ensured the replacement of him by a government that cannot govern.

The consulate attack defies the claims of the president, articulated loud and long during this presidential campaign, that because he killed Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida is dead or dying, and the terrorists are at bay. Thus, in order to be faithful to his campaign rhetoric, the president has been unfaithful to the truth. I personally have seen excerpts from intelligence cables sent by American agents in Libya to Washington on September 12th, the day after the attack and four days before Rice's TV appearances, acknowledging the dominant role played by al-Qaida in the attack.

So, who is to blame here? The president. He is responsible for destroying the government in Libya, and he is responsible for the security of U.S. personnel and property there. He is accountable to the American people, and he is expected to tell the truth. Instead, he has leaked the possibility of more bombings in Libya. These bombings would be more than a month after the Benghazi consulate attack and would attack the very government that Obama's 2011 bombs helped to install.

Is it any wonder that Bill Clinton, in an unguarded private moment, referred to Obama as "the amateur"?

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  1. 1th!

    The whole reason that the streets in Libya are not safe and the country is ruled by roving gangs of militias is because the U.S. bombed the country last year.

    Well, there was a civil war going on anyhow. The US isn’t bombing Syria, and the streets there are exceedingly safe as a restult.

    1. Yep – The Libyans are ultimately responsible for their crap-hole of a country.

      The State Department and White House are responsible for exposing our Ambassador and staff to attacks on 9-11.

      1. Wasn’t it Lord North who said, “Fucked if we do, fucked if we don’t.”?

      2. It’s a excellent picture, worthy of a Rod Stewart or Duran Duran video. Very 80’s flavour, it has.

        1. ^User Error^

  2. I love that picture. He is wearing a gay shirt, sandals, and capris – and dancing the night away with his AK in front of a burning car.

    1. He gets no kick from champagne.

    2. Let’s try this again…

      It’s a excellent picture, worthy of a Rod Stewart or Duran Duran video. Very 80’s flavour, it has.

  3. The whole reason that the streets in Libya are not safe and the country is ruled by roving gangs of militias is because the U.S. bombed the country last year.

    I’m as non-interventionist as they come, but this is over-egging the pudding. The Libyan infrastructure and institutions of civil society would have collapsed regardless of the U.S. bombing campaign.

    Did the bombing exacerbate the problem? Absolutely. Was it the whole reason for the post-bellum chaos? No.

    1. Yeah, that line was a little much and crossed into “blame Obama no matter what” territory.

      1. Hey, if Obama wants to take credit for the demise of the last regime and the installation of the current one, then he has to take credit for the crapfest there now. Maybe a rewording would be in order,

        “If U.S. bombings are what assured victory for the rebels, then it is also the reason the streets are not safe now.”

    2. The Libyan infrastructure and institutions of civil society would have collapsed regardless of the U.S. bombing campaign.

      How can you be so sure? It is entirely possible that the rebels would have lost without air support.

      1. The rebels would have lost without NATO air support. Ghaddafi’s troops had Benghazi surrounded and the rebels were retreating and losing throughout the country before the bombing started.

      2. How can you be so sure? It is entirely possible that the rebels would have lost without air support.

        Yes, but the mere existence of the Libyan insurgency meant the Rubicon was crossed. Ghaddafi might have finished that insurgency, but at the cost of a very fragile Libyan stability.

    3. Agreed. Also, this:

      “It facilitated the murder of our former ally Col. Gadhafi and ensured the replacement of him by a government that cannot govern.”

      Though we established diplomatic relationships with Gadhafi, Libya was hardly our British equivalent in North Africa.

      Also, to say the current government cannot govern, is to assume that Gadhafi could. I know little about Libya under Gadhafi, but I do know that by the time fighting broke out, government institutions we’re in shambles… except for the secret police, of course.

      Seriously, I’m as against our intervention in Libya as the next libertarian, but this is some extremely lazy writing on the part of the judge.

      1. I disagree. Once again we involved ourselves where we didn’t and put people in a place that they didn’t need to be, without protection I might add, and Obama took direct credit again for something somebody else started. Obama also took credit, multiple times, for the killing of Osama which also made all of our embasies in the region a greater target then normal. I say both the action and the cover up are Obama’s fault.

  4. Too bad no one gives a crap what we do in other countries. Who orders it (or doesn’t order it) is all that matters.

  5. And since most American voters are castrated sheep who are brainwashed into ignoring Gary Johnson there are two possiblities come November 6: Four more years of bad foreign policy under Obama, or potentially EIGHT MORE YEARS of it under Romney. Of course there’s also numerous domestic problemd I don’t believe either Obama and Romney can solve. They’ll most likely worsen under either of them.

  6. Captain:

    “Welcome to my domain. Here, you obey me!”

  7. Erect Gary’s Johnson!

    1. I do intend to pull that lever.

  8. “Our former ally” ? WTF?
    Gadhafi was the guy we imposed sanctions on for 20 years after the Lockerbie bombing.
    He was NEVER a US ally. Ever.
    We HATED him. Saddam Hussein was more of an ally.

    1. Hazel, you are impinging a perfectly good narrative here. When US convinced that tin-plated despot to abandon his hopes of chemical and nuclear weapons ambitions, that instantly made him an ally worthy of an invite for tea and biscuits. He simply made do with lording over his people as opposed to exporting his special brand of crazy.

      In diplomatic-speak, “containment” == “ally”.

      1. Ghaddafi was assisting the American government with hunting down Islamic extremists within Libya. According to the Bush administration Ghaddafi was an “ally” in the war on terror.

        1. Considering he was a guy we beat into submission with 20 years of sanctions, what else was he going to do? Decide that 9/11 was the moment to double down on terrorism?

          In fact, even the governments of Sudan and Syria cooperated with us on terrorism. Are Sudan and Syria our “allies”?

          1. Considering he was a guy we beat into submission with 20 years of sanctions, what else was he going to do?

            And a very well-targeted bombing campaign by Reagan.

            Remember, we’ve had sanctions on Iran for longer than that and it’s resulted in nothing. Funny how sanctions + bombs == success!

      2. In diplomatic-speak, “containment” == “ally”.

        You’re either with us or against us, there is no middle ground.

  9. I like Napolitano. Especially his hair. But when I want credible international news punditry from a judge, I go to Reinhold.

  10. “Who Is Responsible for the Mess in Libya”

    The Libyans ? I mean, unless we are going to accept the idea that it is our business to make sure that every place on Earth is decently governed, in which case let’s just conquer the whole boiling, OK?

    Now, did we contribute to the mess, by both action and inaction? Sure. What should we have done? Well, frankly, knocking Q’daffy Duck into a cocked hat about thirty years earlier springs to mind, if we were going to do anything at all. But somehow I get the impression that that isn’t the answer Mr. Napolitano wants to hear.

    1. Well, frankly, knocking Q’daffy Duck into a cocked hat about thirty years earlier springs to mind

      Reagan tried.

      1. Not very hard.

        1. The world of Libyan-sponsored terrorism became a very quiet neighborhood after a bomb landed in Ghadaffi’s rec-room.

          1. Until Flight 103. Which should have earned his ass an invasion. As it was, we had to wait 24 years for the rebels to do that.

  11. All I know is the whole Middle East thing makes me bone-tired. I fully admit to confusion on this particular issue. I’ve studied it and studied it and I just want to bang my fucking head against a soft wall. Friends are Enemies that were once Friends. Friends are Allies and Allies are not necessarily Friends. We kill Enemies for things they do even as Friends engage in the same things. Sand… Bombs. unending Riots called spring this and spring that. Torture. CIA More sand. Arabs… Mohammed Flames Men in white robes Kill Allies torture and TERRORISMS…

    Fucking crap, man! What to make of this? On this article, Andrew, the only point I can reliably align my ethics and rationale to is the questions surrounding Stevens untimely death. Aside from this the quag still roils.

    1. The problem with understanding the Middle East is that a segment of Western Intellectuals are determined to put some issues off the table, for a variety of reasons, most of which make the intellectuals look like pillocks.

      Item; In an area where all ‘ownership’ tends to come back to whose ancestors took possession by the sword most recently, the Israelis claim are somewhat better than most; the original Zionist movement BOUGHT THE LAND from the Arabs who held title.

      Item; the radical squirrel food have been a periodic problem essentially forever. They have been quiescent only when their necks were firmly stepped on (for example; under the Turks or the Mongols).

      Item; Islamic cultures that were showing signs of tolerance and social progress (such as Iran or the Islamic parts of Lebanon) were savagely criticized by the Intellectual West, while at the same time any bomb throwing barbarian with a nice line in revolutionary patter was lionized. We REALLY aren’t supposed to notice this one.

      It isn’t that the situation in the Middle East is so complicated. It’s that we aren’t supposed to say things like “What do you expect from a bunch of religious hysterics, misogynist thugs, and glorified bandits?”. We aren’t supposed to notice that Civilization is out of fashion in the area. We aren’t supposed to treat barbarians like barbarians.

      1. Meanwhile, their counterparts on the right are determined to pull any issue off the table that impugns American military and intelligence actions in the region. So there’s not much left to talk about, really.

        It wasn’t bleeding heart liberals that overthrew Mossadeq in Iran in 1953 and massacred democracy protesters in Bahrain.

        1. Once you are prevented by prevailing fashion from calling religious fanatics like Khomeini religious fanatics instead of ‘freedom fighters’ NOBODYs policy is going to make any goddamned sense.

          1. I haven’t seen anyone on the left call Khomeini a freedom fighter, or anyone on the right shouted down for calling him a religious fanatic.

            There’s a big difference between thinking it’s none of our biz whether fanatic scoundrels run the Middle East, and thinking that fanatic scoundrels aren’t fanatic scoundrels, too. The former is the noninterventionist position that the right seems desperate to take off the table.

            1. I’m 50. I remember reading (and hearing) lefty intellectuals characterize Khomeini as a ‘political dissident’ (that’s liberal code for a freedom fighter they hope you won’t look at too closely), and vilifying the Shah for his dictatorial behavior. By which they mostly meant treating a range of nutcases who advocated to violent overthrow of society the way that 19th century fairly progressive governments treated nutcases who advocated to violent overthrow of society.

              Then when, due in part to our withdrawing support, the Shah’s government (one of the most socially advanced in the area, which is to say edging into the post American Civil War era) collapsed, Khomeini took over and was just as bad as Stalin in a Bishop’s Mitre.

              1. the Shah’s government (one of the most socially advanced in the area, which is to say edging into the post American Civil War era)

                Right, good old Savak. The Shah was a brutal, ruthless dictator. Khomeni was more like Lenin vs old Russia.

  12. Who is responsible for the mess in Libya? Judging from the photo accompanying this article, it *might* be Ben Affleck.

  13. Wow no way man that is like the coolest thing ever dude.

    http://www.private-at.tk

  14. “The whole reason that the streets in Libya are not safe and the country is ruled by roving gangs of militias is because the U.S. bombed the country last year.”

    The Qatari troops invading, spearheading the offensive, and arming and financing the rebels was, by far, more important than our bombing campaign.

    If we helped the rebels win, then we saved the country from a long, drawn out devastation the ongoing struggle in Syria.

    Libya was not like Iraq. We did not decide unilaterally to overthrow Gaddafi. The Libyan people chose to overthrow Gaddafi; we simply chose to side with the Libyan people…

    We’re probably less responsible for the rebels winning in Libya than France was responsible for the rebels winning the American Revolution.

    If Libya descends into madness, it won’t be America’s fault for helping them win their freedom. The future of Libya is up to the Libyan people. I hope they choose freedom. But anybody that whines about people losing a dictator for fear that free people might choose badly should really think hard about what it means to be a libertarian.

    1. “If Libya descends into madness”

      If what I read about Libya under Q’daffy Duck is reliable (who knows), madness might be a step up?

      Backing one side or another in a civil war is a lot like giving posterboad and paint to kindergarteners; the results aren’t really remotely under your control, and there tends to be a lot of splash.

      1. “Backing one side or another in a civil war is a lot like giving posterboad and paint to kindergarteners; the results aren’t really remotely under your control, and there tends to be a lot of splash.”

        I think there’s a difference between a civil war and a revolution. And I think it’s possible to support a revolution but not pick any side in the civil war.

        One excellent way to not have to pick any side is to never put American troops on the ground. All credit to Obama, there! (Nobody can fault me for not being objective, here.)

        I hope there is no civil war in Libya. But even if there is? It will be something like what we went through here in the United States, right? Who during the American Civil War looked back with nostalgia at colonial times and said, “This Civil War never would have happened if we’d just remained an English colony–damn Freedom and the horse it rode in on!”?

        We still haven’t healed all the wounds from slavery and the Civil War, but the idea that the Libyan people being free to make their own choices is somehow a net negative strikes me as a really odd position coming from libertarians–and Americans! They could go through a civil war and still come out the other side a free country, without making half as much a mess of things along the way as we did.

        1. A revolution is, generally speaking, a civil war that the original government lost. I’m not aware of any other real distinction.

          1. A revolution is between a people and their leadership.

            A Civil War is between some among the people and others among the people.

            1. That kind of throws the American Revolution and the American Civil War topsy-turvy, doesn’t it?

              The leadership of the colonies during the Revolution was mostly in favor of the revolution, and a large part of the people were against it.

              And the leadership of the South was the US Government in the Civil War.

          2. Yeah, the usage seems to depend on the relative power of the belligerents at the beginning of the conflict. A conflict starting with a weak government, or an unusually strong opposition, will be called a civil war rather than a revolution (eg USCW, Spanish CW). And obviously if neither side has ever been a legitimate govt it’s called a civil war.

            1. I think that you could also propose that in Civil Wars the result is likely to be a semi-stable government, no matter who wins, and in a revolution the result is likely to be a chaotic mess, no matter who wins.

              But, really, there isn’t much rational difference.

    2. The Libyan people chose to overthrow Gaddafi;

      One of my pet peeves. Much more accurate to say that some of the Libyan people decided to overthrow Gaddafi, some tried to defend his regime, and most just stayed clear. The actual fighters, of course, picked sides mostly on tribal grounds.

      But it doesn’t sound nearly as grand to say “Some Libyan people decided to overthrow Gaddafi”, does it?

      1. It’s not that it isn’t as grand, but a 100% consensus is never possible.

        And by no means did the United States decide to topple Gaddafi–not the way we decided to topple Saddam Hussein.

        And, certainly, the will of the protestors, who were being shot randomly, as they protested the Gaddafi regime, seems to indicate that they’d rather make their own choices than live by Gaddafi’s.

        Is it fair to say that the Syrian people want to get rid of Assad? I think so.

        It’s by no means unanimous, but given how widespread the resistance to the Assad regime is, I think it’s fair to say that the Syrian people want to get rid of Assad–and are choosing to do what’s necessary to get rid of him.

        The American people are about to choose a new president. I don’t expect it to be unanimous, but that doesn’t mean the American people aren’t making the choice.

        1. Who said anything about Iraq, Ken?

          Sticking your finger into a running lawnmower is not as bad as sticking your entire hand into the mower. That doesn’t make it a good idea.

          1. I did!

            I think a lot of people are wary of Libya because of what we did in Iraq.

            I’ve seen people object to Libya as if it were the same as Iraq over and over again.

            Libya isn’t Iraq.

            There, I said it again.

            1. People were wary of Libya KMA for totally independent reasons, and said so, over and over again, and your only respsonse is inevitably “Libya isn’t Iraq”.

              Now that you’ve been stripped of the hopes that the Arab Street would fall in love with American military might after Libya, it appears to be all you have left.

  15. The Obama administration has publicly rejected the intelligence leaks and insisted as recently as last week during the vice presidential debate that “we” did not know the assault was an act of terrorism against American personnel and property… Earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in one of her rare forays into domestic politics, backed up the White House. She actually claimed that the White House was kept in the dark by the State Department.

    And that’s supposed to be better? Maybe if Captain 0 had actually been bothering to attend the daily intel briefings he would have known. No time for that though, he’s got an election to win!

    What an incompetent moron.

    1. This is the valuable point people should take away from your comment and the article is that either Obama is an incompetent liar and a fool or his entire staff that he picked are incompetent liars and fools who keep information from their leader to protect him, The king has no cloths. Based on this instance alone he should not be re-elected but since this article will never go beyond the pages of reason it will have little affect.

      1. The king has no cloths

        He sits on a throne of polyester!

        1. An empty throne, according to Clint.

  16. I think we’ve found the people who are responsible, and they’re even disrupting someone’s dinner now.

    http://thecomicssection.blogsp…..ot-me.html

  17. It facilitated the murder of our former ally Col. Gadhafi

    So he was murdered. The man was a pig, but it’s a decision we should’ve all made together.

    1. Calling him an ally is a stretch, but you can bet every tinpot dictator out there noticed what happened to the tinpot dictatorship that abandoned its WMD plans vs. the one in North Korea that didn’t.

      Friggin NK is shelling South Korean territory and we wag our fingers.

      1. Do we wag our fingers? I wasn’t sure our response was that strong.

  18. I thank Judge Napolitano for a fine article, providing details I’ve not seen before, and laying out a case of Obama’s failed foreign policy. But I believe Obama politicized our ambassador’s death, for his political career. Something he took umbrage upon in the debate, yet is doing himself.

    I think the judge is too kind to the administration regarding the video. That it was “going viral” “about the same time these crimes took place” is no reason for Carney/Rice/Obama to say that caused the attack. If they didn’t know, they shouldn’t have speculated. But I suspect that Obama made up the story, to avoid responsibility for his failing foreign policy, his narrative on the Middle East and Muslims, his lack of providing security for our ambassador and other embassy personnel (in his mind, I believe he thinks there wasn’t any danger) and their deaths.

    A simple question not needing any investigation: From who, when and where did Carney, Rice and Obama, get the idea the attack was due to a video.

    Obama won’t answer it, because he made it up. Instead he says it’s under investigation, and you can bet there won’t be any answers before the election, if ever. But no investigation is needed for them to tell us where the idea came from. It came from Obama.

    Napolitano is right, Obama is responsible. Obama’s actions were totally irresponsible, and selfish, putting himself before those who lost their life. He’s a liar.

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