Monday, December 30, 2013

Regarding Al Qaeda and Benghazi … and 'Not Doing Enough' in Syria

Map of U.S. diplomatic compound and annex in Benghazi, Libya

It doesn't really matter if the Islamist terrorists who slaughtered four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012 were formally associated with Al Qaeda or simply sympathized with its brand of religious fanaticism. The issue of AQ membership or affiliation on the part of the perpetrators of the Sept. 11-12 attacks is a "sideshow," as a leftwing writer observes. 

What matters is the blowback: the fact that the Obama administration, as if bent on repeating mistakes of the Carter and Reagan administrations that led to the 2001 mega-attacks on New York and Washington, DC, stupidly and cynically supported Al Qaeda types--Islamist terrorists and murderers--in  order to topple the regime of a deranged … but secular … dictator.

What matters too is that the intervention in Libya was unnecessary--another case of "humanitarian imperialism" (or interventionism) by the United States and NATO. The U.S. and its European allies had been at peace with the Libyan dictator for nearly a decade; he had renounced weapons of mass destruction and sponsorship of international terrorism and had cooperated closely with the Western powers in the struggle against Islamist terrorism. Hence, the large and growing U.S. and UK intelligence apparatus in Libya at the outbreak of anti-regime demonstrations that quickly morphed into a violent uprising--and a civil war. Protest signs turned into machine guns in a matter of days.

Even worse, it matters that the administration came close to intervening in Syria--yet again on the Sunni Islamist side--in order to replace a secular despotism allied with Russia and Shiite Islamist Iran with a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Islamic republic. The pretext for the planned intervention was a chemical attack on a Damascus suburb that the administration blamed on the Syrian regime. In fact, it seems increasingly likely that the attack was a false flag operation conducted by Al Qaeda-linked fighters armed indirectly by the U.S. and directly by Saudi Arabia, notwithstanding its preference for supporting Salafists--Islamists supposedly somewhat less extreme than actual Al Qaeda killers (which is akin to comparing, say, Nazi Germany's Storm Troopers to its SS).  

Thus, the criticism of President Obama as being too weak or too hesitant with regard to Syria misses the point, which is that Syria didn't have to follow the Libyan script in the first place. The U.S. should never have meddled in Syria under "Arab Spring" cover. Rather, Washington should have made a serious effort to cut a deal with Russia for Syria's political neutralization in line with U.S. and Russian interests--that is to say, for pulling Damascus out of Tehran's orbit (and ridding Syria of Hezbollah operatives) while allowing Moscow to keep its naval installation at Tartus and to keep on selling arms to Syria (after losing lucrative Libyan arms agreements) provided the weapons threaten neither Israel nor Saudi Arabia.

Egypt … Libya … Syria … connect the dots and the outlines of an utterly failed foreign policy are clearly visible. President Obama has narrowed the definition of the Islamist enemy to Al Qaeda alone, i.e. to its core, killing its founder and chief, Osama Bin Laden, and degrading (not "decimating") the organization via targeted drone strikes (which have tragically also killed many noncombatants, including children). With the exception of Al Qaeda's core, however, U.S. policy under Obama has been to consider practically all Islamist organizations or regimes, from the Muslim Brotherhood to Iran's monstrous mullahocracy, as acceptable partners for "engagement"--the administration's diplomatic code for potential U.S. allies.

As Senator John McCain and other important Republican leaders have tacitly backed the President's policy by urging support for so-called freedom fighters and "rebels," regardless of their Islamist affiliations, conservative lawmakers and pundits have, for reasons of policy or party politics, generally been careful to confine their criticisms of the administration's handling of Benghazi to allegations of lying about an Al Qaeda role in the attack. Put differently, Obama's GOP opponents and critics who have charged the President with misleading the American people regarding Benghazi have themselves mislead the people by focusing on a disputed detail--actual Al Qaeda membership or affiliation on the part of the perpetrators of the attack.

Moreover, Republican accusations of "not doing enough" to help the so-called Syrian rebels--who are mainly cut from the same jihadist cloth as the men who murdered Ambassador Stevens--further misled the public by helping to preempt serious discussion and debate concerning the U.S. national interest as it pertains to Syria.