December 28, 2013

LEARNING WOULD REQUIRE LISTENING:

A Deadly Mix in Benghazi (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, December 28, 2013, NY Times)

A BOYISH-LOOKING AMERICAN DIPLOMAT was meeting for the first time with the Islamist leaders of eastern Libya's most formidable militias.

It was Sept. 9, 2012. Gathered on folding chairs in a banquet hall by the Mediterranean, the Libyans warned of rising threats against Americans from extremists in Benghazi. One militia leader, with a long beard and mismatched military fatigues, mentioned time in exile in Afghanistan. An American guard discreetly touched his gun.

"Since Benghazi isn't safe, it is better for you to leave now," Mohamed al-Gharabi, the leader of the Rafallah al-Sehati Brigade, later recalled telling the Americans. "I specifically told the Americans myself that we hoped that they would leave Benghazi as soon as possible."

Yet as the militiamen snacked on Twinkie-style cakes with their American guests, they also gushed about their gratitude for President Obama's support in their uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. They emphasized that they wanted to build a partnership with the United States, especially in the form of more investment. They specifically asked for Benghazi outlets of McDonald's and KFC.

The diplomat, David McFarland, a former congressional aide who had never before met with a Libyan militia leader, left feeling agitated, according to colleagues. But the meeting did not shake his faith in the prospects for deeper involvement in Libya. Two days later, he summarized the meeting in a cable to Washington, describing a mixed message from the militia leaders.
Despite "growing problems with security," he wrote, the fighters wanted the United States to become more engaged "by 'pressuring' American businesses to invest in Benghazi."

The cable, dated Sept. 11, 2012, was sent over the name of Mr. McFarland's boss, Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

Later that day, Mr. Stevens was dead, killed with three other Americans in Benghazi in the most significant attack on United States property in 11 years, since Sept. 11, 2001.

As the attacks begin, there are seven Americans at the mission, including five armed diplomatic security officers; the information officer, Sean Smith; and Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Both Mr. Smith and Ambassador Stevens die in the attack.

The cable was a last token of months of American misunderstandings and misperceptions about Libya and especially Benghazi, many fostered by shadows of the earlier Sept. 11 attack. The United States waded deeply into post-Qaddafi Libya, hoping to build a beachhead against extremists, especially Al Qaeda. It believed it could draw a bright line between friends and enemies in Libya. But it ultimately lost its ambassador in an attack that involved both avowed opponents of the West and fighters belonging to militias that the Americans had taken for allies.

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO's extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

A fuller accounting of the attacks suggests lessons for the United States that go well beyond Libya. It shows the risks of expecting American aid in a time of desperation to buy durable loyalty, and the difficulty of discerning friends from allies of convenience in a culture shaped by decades of anti-Western sentiment. Both are challenges now hanging over the American involvement in Syria's civil conflict.

The attack also suggests that, as the threats from local militants around the region have multiplied, an intensive focus on combating Al Qaeda may distract from safeguarding American interests.
Posted by at December 28, 2013 6:54 PM
  
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