Chuck Spinney: Benghazi & Domestic Politics

Cultural Intelligence, Peace Intelligence
Chuck Spinney
Chuck Spinney

Below is a lengthy report on the Benghazi attack that just appeared in the New York Times.

The report makes it pretty clear how ideological preconceptions implicit in the Orientation guiding the OODA loops of US policy makers prevented them from making a realistic appreciation of the situation in Benghazi, as well as a larger appreciation of the more general ramifications of a decision to remove Qaddafi by force.

This  report was criticized immediately by Republicans (and a few Democrats, here and here, for example) as being as a white wash of the Benghazi debacle.  The critics asserted the NYT report downplays al Qaeda’s involvement and provides some support for Susan Rice’s controversial contention that the attack was as spontaneous event triggered by the anti Muslim video produced in the US but aired in Egypt.  IMO, the complexities explained in the NYT report show why such knee-jerk responses are simple minded  The evidence in the NYT report does suggest there are elements of truth in the Rice hypothesis, but that is not the whole the story.  The report also discusses evidence of premeditation in the attack, although al Qaeda is notable by its absence.  Important also is the pervasive sense of chaos and confusion that remains.  Just reading the report shows how difficult to make sense out of the events leading up to attack on the US compounds that resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

On the other hand, the rapid-response mentality of the Republican critique is important for what it tells us about the relationship of domestic politics to foreign policy.  It reveals a value system wherein an ideological adherence to a simple anti-Obama narrative at home trumps the importance of making a dispassionate effort to understand foreign events and especially the remaining uncertainties implicit in any appreciation of those events. (For the record, I am no fan of Obama’s foreign policies–particularly his extra-judicial liquidation and interventionist policies, Libya included, which I believe have exacerbated the global terror problem).

To be sure, foreign policy is always a reflection of domestic politics … and when domestic politics go out of whack, so does foreign policy.  Today our blundering foreign policy is wildly out of whack precisely because it is shaped by the poisonous mix of ideological preconceptions and a kind of gong-show vindictiveness that makes our domestic partisan politics a mockery of the checks and balances envisioned by the Framers of the Constitution.  Scoring points domestically in the short term is now more important than shaping a sensible grand strategy to guide America’s relations with the rest of world over the long term.  The ideological nature on both sides of the debate over the unintended blowbacks of our intervention in Libya, of which Benghazi is only one (Mali is another), reflect this. Ditto for the debates over intervening in Syria, the lack of debate over our de facto support of Israel’s settlement expansions, or the oxymoronic character of a domestic political debate over increasing sanctions on Iran just when the Iranians are indicating an openness to a negotiated solution, etc.

The larger grand-strategic result of is that the United States is stumbling along an self-destructive foreign policy pathway, tossed and turned by a chaotic domestic political interplay of chance and necessity, that left uncorrected, must end badly for our country.  Benghazi is only one warning sign on the road to ruin … but the real problem is clear: political rot at home guarantees more Benghazis. 

I urge readers to read the NYT report carefully — and think about how its complexity contrasts with the simple-minded gong-show narrative shaping political debate in the Hall of Mirrors that is Versailles on the Potomac.

A Deadly Mix in Benghazi

By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, New York Times, December 28, 2013

See Also:

Benghazi @ Phi Beta Iota

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