Revisiting Deciphering the Mystery of the Benghazi Attack

Awhile back I wrote a post, Deciphering the Mystery of the Benghazi Attack, because I got annoyed with Ambassador Rice’s explanation that the Benghazi Attack was the result of a  “spontaneous protest gone bad”. My bull shit detector had gone off so I decided to take a stab at deciphering the event using the currently available information in the news. Now that the State Department has released a more comprehensive account of the night in their Background Briefing on Libya, I can say that I got several things wrong. In that post I attempted to guess at the real events and motives and my guess at the location of the safe house(annex) was wrong. Unfortunately for the Obama Administration, the press and I are still puzzled by the attack and the odd reactions by the Executive Branch, State Department, and the Intelligence community. It seems as if the intelligence reforms instituted after the 9-11 terrorist attack have failed. The flopping around by these three groups with the facts of the Benghazi attack remind me of a fish out of water. It is still a better policy to say too little than to say too much and thought a fool.

Here is some of the information I gleaned from the background briefing and some new questions to ponder.

  1. There were no demonstrations preceding the attack so the initial intelligence report that night described a terrorist attack. So where did the “spontaneous protest gone bad” explanation come from? What foreign policy considerations are so important that our government fed the public false information?
  2. The attackers brought diesel to set fire to the consulate. Fire is a crime of passion.
  3. The safe haven in the villa, Building C, was not protected from fire and smoke. Huh?! Fire is one of the oldest and simplest forms of attack. I suspect the attackers wanted to burn the consulate and the killing of  the Ambassador and Sean Smith was collateral damage from the fire. Who would have thought we were so unprepared? I would have thought gas masks or SCBA’s would be part of a minimum security preparation. Obviously there was not a lot of attention spent on egress from the “safe haven” during a fire or a room with its own air supply. In this case the “safe haven” became a death trap. Gas masks, SCBA’s, and a little advanced preparation does not cost a lot of money. This was just plain stupid!
  4. The “safe house” or otherwise known as the annex, was about two kilometers from the consulate and it came under mortar attack. Either the attackers knew the location of the annex or they followed the car escaping from the consulate with another car containing people, guns, munitions, and a mortar. The attackers seem to be pretty well equipped and prepared to take the battle to the enemy.

Here is a marked up map of the consulate and my guesses of the location of the various buildings.


Sun setting on al Qaeda

This post is worth repeating.
— weh

The Financial Times, perhaps the most respected news journal in the English-speaking world, summarizes why al Qaeda is rapidly losing the hearts and minds of Arabs. Registration is required at the FT site, but AJStrata has an excellent summary. Quoting the FT piece:

In fact, in large measure because of what is unfolding in Iraq, the tide within the Islamic world is beginning to run strongly against al-Qaeda – and this, in turn, may be the single most important ideological development in recent years.

In November 2007 Sayyid Imam al-Sharif (”Dr Fadl”) published his book, Rationalizations on Jihad in Egypt and the World, in serialised form. Mr Sharif, who is Egyptian, argues that the use of violence to overthrow Islamic governments is religiously unlawful and practically harmful. He also recommends the formation of a special Islamic court to try Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s number two and its ideological leader, and calls the attacks on September 11 2001 a “catastrophe for all Muslims”. …

Another important event occurred in October 2007, when Sheikh Abd Al-’Aziz bin Abdallah Aal Al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, issued a fatwa prohibiting Saudi youth from engaging in jihad abroad. …

A month earlier Sheikh Salman alAwdah, an influential Saudi cleric whom Mr bin Laden once lionised, wrote an “open letter” condemning Mr bin Laden. “Brother Osama, how much blood has been spilt? How many innocents among children, elderly, the weak, and women have been killed and made homeless in the name of al-Qaeda?” Sheikh Awdah wrote. “The ruin of an entire people, as is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq . . . cannot make Muslims happy.”

I pointed out in 2003 that Al Qaeda’s primary war is against other Muslims.

Sun setting on al Qaeda
Donald Sensing
Wed, 05 Mar 2008 20:56:00 GMT

RE: 15 rules for understanding the Middle East

For a long time, I let my hopes for a decent outcome in Iraq triumph over what I had learned reporting from Lebanon during its civil war. Those hopes vanished last summer. So, I’d like to offer President Bush my updated rules of Middle East reporting, which also apply to diplomacy, in hopes they’ll help him figure out what to do next in Iraq.

Rule 10: Mideast civil wars end in one of three ways: a) like the U.S. civil war, with one side vanquishing the other; b) like the Cyprus civil war, with a hard partition and a wall dividing the parties; or c) like the Lebanon civil war, with a soft partition under an iron fist (Syria) that keeps everyone in line. Saddam used to be the iron fist in Iraq. Now it is us. If we don’t want to play that role, Iraq’s civil war will end with A or B.

Rule 11: The most underestimated emotion in Arab politics is humiliation. The Israeli-Arab conflict, for instance, is not just about borders. Israel’s mere existence is a daily humiliation to Muslims, who can’t understand how, if they have the superior religion, Israel can be so powerful. Al Jazeera’s editor, Ahmed Sheikh, said it best when he recently told the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche: “It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West’s problem is that it does not understand this.”

Rule 12: Thus, the Israelis will always win, and the Palestinians will always make sure they never enjoy it. Everything else is just commentary.

Rule 13: Our first priority is democracy, but the Arabs’ first priority is “justice.” The oft-warring Arab tribes are all wounded souls, who really have been hurt by colonial powers, by Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, by Arab kings and dictators, and, most of all, by each other in endless tribal wars. For Iraq’s long-abused Shiite majority, democracy is first and foremost a vehicle to get justice. Ditto the Kurds. For the minority Sunnis, democracy in Iraq is a vehicle of injustice. For us, democracy is all about protecting minority rights. For them, democracy is first about consolidating majority rights and getting justice.

Rule 14: The Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi had it right: “Great powers should never get involved in the politics of small tribes.”

Rule 15: Whether it is Arab-Israeli peace or democracy in Iraq, you can’t want it more than they do.

Read the rest of the Rules.
20 December 2006

Beware of a religion without irony


Whenever I consider this matter I am struck by a singular fact about the Christian religion, a fact noticed by Kierkegaard and Hegel but rarely commented upon today, which is that it is informed by a spirit of irony. Irony means accepting “the other,” as someone other than you. It was irony that led Christ to declare that his “kingdom is not of this world,” not to be achieved through politics. Such irony is a long way from the humorless incantations of the Koran. Yet it is from a posture of irony that every real negotiation, every offer of peace, every acceptance of the other, begins. The way forward, it seems to me, is to encourage the reemergence of an ironical Islam, of the kind you find in the philosophy of Averroës, in Persian poetry and in “The Thousand and One Nights.” We should also encourage those ethnic and religious jokes which did so much to defuse tension in the days before political correctness. And maybe, one day, the rigid face of some puritanical mullah will crack open in a hesitant smile, and negotiations can at last begin.

This is such a nice piece of writing. He uses the lack of irony as a warning light for the common man’s viewpoint on the ongoing battle of secularism and Islam. Lack of adaptability is at the root of Islam’s modern day problems. Since Islam’s culture does not encourage adaptablity and planning for change, they are confined to reacting to change. The results speak for themselves. About a thousand years ago the Caliphate was the best form of government on Earth. It was not inherently good at governing or encouraging economic development but because the alternative forms of govenment were so much worse, it was successful. This is were most Muslims stumble. They focus on the success of the Caliphate and not the ineptitude of the other forms of government and the way they did business. The Western world recognized this problem and zipped by Islam five hundred years ago because they changed the way they did war and business. Then the Western world changed the way they did government and eliminated any purported advantages of the Caliphate form of government. Technology continued to drive new changes in the Western world and Islamic businesses were nowhere to be seen. The way the Western world practiced religion changed multiple times. Despite all of these changes God is not dead in the Western world. Organized religion may even be on the upswing but not in the traditional sense. Traditional pastors and priests whine about the dramatic increase in non-denominational churchs. The irony is that they would rather see the people going to a non-denominational church than not going to church at all. A rising tide lifts all boats. Isn’t it ironical that prosperity and increased spirituality can co-exist in the Western world but not in Islam? Times have changed for everyone but the Muslims.

Power Line: Old Hands At Fakery

Power Line: Old Hands At Fakery

Some time ago, Richard Landes, a Professor of History at Boston University, and Pedro Zúquete made a film about the Palestinians’ use of staged and faked video “bites,” and the credulous international news agencies that fall for them. Or, perhaps, collaborate in them. It’s called “Pallywood,” and is exceptionally well done. The video, which is about 18 minutes long, sheds considerable light on the staging and faking of photos that were so common in the recent conflict in Lebanon.

You can watch the video on Power Line Video, and learn more about the video, and related projects, on Landes’s and Zuquete’s site, The Second Draft.

The Pallywood video was a fascinating video on media manipulation by Palestinians. Always skeptical I wondered who produced to Pallywood. Now I know I have the link and the history. When I first saw the video I thought the video was both funny and quite sad. I am pretty sure that there are legitimate atrocities in the Middle East that we should be concerned about but the media manipulation efforts by these Muslims taint all reporting. If foreign opinion is important to Muslims, they are hurting themselves.

Random Thoughts about the war between Israel and Hezbollah

There are many opinions floating around about this war and I have my own. Here are some of them.

  1. War is Hell! The US is the only country that believes it can fight a perfect war. Everyone else understands that they cannot fight a perfect war and that collateral damage is going to occur. It is a natural outcome of wars like this that both sides are losers!
  2. Israel knew that Hezbollah was stockpiling missiles and it was not for a 4th of July celebration.
  3. Nasrallah made a strategic error. His pride deceived him. If he really believes that Israel would attack Hezbollah between September and November as indicated here, he should have left Israel alone and completed his stockpiling. His attack and kidnapping of the Israel soldiers unified the people of Israel in a war against Hezbollah. From my vantage point I do not believe Israel would have approved an operation of this size without a trigger like a Hezbollah attack on Israel soldiers.
  4. Israel is attempting to destroy not only Hezbollah’s military capability but also its entire social structure. My guess is that all Hezbollah towns are being bombed into rubble. This will make these towns inhabitable for several years as they rebuild infrastructure. The Shiites will be beholden to the other Lebanese factions and international supporters for food, housing, and medical services for the next couple of years. This will create a new dynamic in Lebanese politics. It will be interesting to see how this plays out since certain Hezbollah officials have threatened the leaders of these Lebanese factions.
  5. The Hezbollah soldiers have impressed everyone with their fighting ability. The Israel artillery and air support will guarantee Israel will be the victor. If you believe that this article maybe indicative of how the battle is going then Hezbollah needs to stop beating their chests and negotiate a truce while they can still claim they are the winner. My guess is that the IDF thinks Hezbollah is on the ropes and wants to finish them off before diplomacy saves Hezbollah.
  6. Hezbollah needs the rest of the Shiite world to stop encouraging them to fight on. Hezbollah soldiers are probably being killed at a rate of about three to four to one Israel soldier. Hezbollah is a much more potent political force in Lebanon if their army is intact. No army + no social services = no political power.
  7. If Hezbollah wants to force a cease fire, they should unilaterally stop firing missles at Israel and let international diplomacy force a solution on Israel.

Moderate Islamists Found

Moderate Islamists Found

I wrote a shorter version of this piece for one of the largest American newspapers, one that gets a hefty dose of criticism almost every day. The editor rejected it because it wasn’t “groundbreaking enough.” I wish he would have…

For me this was an interesting article. I have recently been reading several books on the history of Islam. My fundamental question has been whether Islam was ever really religously tolerant and whether Muslims would accept any form of separation of church and state.

There have been many statements made about Islam being a tolerant religion but you cannot see it today. Their historical method of religous tolerance was an innovative solution for medival times but it appears to be severely flawed for functioning with today’s religous communities. At its core the Muslim approach to toleration is apartheid by a different name. The expectations of today’s communities are much higher than what apartheid can offer.

The problem with separation of church and state goes to the heart of the economic problems faced by Islamic countries. It is not hard to see that Islamic governments have a long history of being economic laggards. The attempts to assimilate the best of the western ideas into Islam without actually changing anything in Islam have failed. Plan B is to separate church and state for the sake of Islam. It does not have to be a complete separation but govenment needs more indepence from religous preference to do the right thing for all of the people. Living in perpetual war and poverty is not most Muslim’s hope for their children or for their religion.

Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English)

Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English)

Islamic extremism will remain in our midst, sometimes behind the scenes, other times at the center of events. The fundamentalist movement is convinced us non-believers lead worthless lives, stuck in the dark ages, lacking divine inspiration. Our problem is due to a lack of a genuine Islamic system of government.

This is the true crisis which for too long we have failed to address, in our thought, our education system, and political reality. Our societies ought to create individuals liberated from the failings of the past and focused on the future. There are some who jump on the bandwagon and support extremism because of its popularity, others are duped into supporting fundamentalisms, and some are even genuinely convinced extremism is the answer to our region’s ailments.

Yet, the truth remains: The problem will remain unless we realize the bloody dream of an Islamic Caliphate is a fantasy. The road to recovery is fraught with dangers and setbacks but it is a road we need to embark on if we are to cure ourselves from this pervasive age-old illness that is extremism.