Let’s Play Benghazi – A Game of Double Standards

Like a strong cold front sweeping across the country, the propagandists of the right are united in their condemnations of the Obama Administration’s handling of the attack on the U.S. “consulate” in Benghazi, Libya, during the 2012 presidential election. The central thrust of their current political operation is that all the president’s men conspired to hide the truth about the attack – that it was a deliberate act of terror by Muslim extremists rather than a spontaneous popular outburst of anger against an offensive video – and thereby deceived the American electorate into believing that the Administration had been more successful in prosecuting the War on Terror than might otherwise have appeared. In combination with the brouhaha over IRS targeting of Tea Party groups who sought 501(c)(4) status and with the far more important (but less politically useful) Justice Department examination of Associated Press phone records, the Benghazi scandal is helping to take the bloom off what is left of Obama’s rose. In one sense, that is no bad thing: Obama deserves to be compared to Richard Nixon, and the comparison is not favorable. But, in a larger sense, the political scoreboard is irrelevant, for the Benghazi matter underscores the depravity of the American polity as a whole.

The Fuzzy Math and (Barely) Hidden Motives of Imperialism

Question: When is four greater than 50,000? Answer: When the number four refers to dead Americans whose demise may be exploited for political purposes, and the 50,000 refers to the number of Libyans who lost their lives in a Western-orchestrated coup d’etat. As with the Iraq War, the precise number of local deaths is unknown and probably unknowable; more to the point, few people in the West – particularly those in positions of political power – appear to give a hoot. A genuinely neutral observer might be forgiven for wondering why American politicians and, sadly, most of their constituents, evince such a dramatic lack of proportionality. Is this imbalance justifiable on the grounds that the Libyan civil war was due to internal forces, with the Americans and their faithful allies struggling nobly to restore order and prevent civilian casualties, as the official narrative would have it? Not exactly. The deception we should be talking about in the Libyan context is what we were doing there in the first place.

Benghazi I

As Russ Baker has explained in a series of excellent articles on WhoWhatWhy.com, the West in general, and the U.S. in particular, had been itching for an opportunity to remove Muammar Qaddafi. And they had already tried once before:

Muammar QadaffiQaddafi has long been a thorn in the side of the West’s oil industry and their national security apparatus. In the early 1970s he worked closely with Occidental Petroleum chairman Armand Hammer in thwarting the ambitions of the oil majors. He was a leader in the boycott of Israel and often cozied up to the Soviet Union.

Back in the 1980s, the Reagan Administration plotted for five years to get rid of Qaddafi and sent 18 U.S. warplanes in April 1986 to eliminate the “Mad Dog of the Middle East.” Reporter Seymour Hersh actually did investigate the whys and wherefores of the ensuing bombings over Tripoli [and Benghazi]. (The bombings killed the Libyan dictator’s daughter but obviously failed to achieve their primary objective). Hersh’s piece in the February 22nd, 1987  New York Times Magazine, “Target Qaddafi,” has striking echoes in the NATO attacks of 2011. [Among other things, it] revealed:

– The creation of a pretext for the attacks. In this case, it was the April 5, 1986 bombing of the La Belle discotheque in West Berlin, a hangout of American servicemen. This bombing was blamed on Libya “based on intercepted communications,” despite the explicit rejection of this claim by Berlin’s then-chief of anti-terrorist police.

– The revelation, according to one intelligence official, that “We came out with this big terrorist threat to the U.S. government. The whole thing was a complete fabrication.”

– As for real motives, Hersh discerned from a three-month investigation that the Reagan Administration saw Qaddafi as being pro-Soviet, “relentlessly anti-Israel,” and a supporter of extreme elements in Syria as opposed to “the more moderate regimes in Jordan and Egypt.”

– Qaddafi’s “often-stated ambition to set up a new federation of Arab and Moslem states in North Africa” frightened policy makers about their access to minerals.

In this Sunday’s The Bottom Line in the Leesburg Daily Commercial, Russ Sloan (ever the sucker for corny sports analogies) concludes with the phrase, “it’s deja vu all over again,” likening Barack Obama’s alleged cover-up over the Benghazi “consulate” attack to Richard Nixon’s futile attempts to hide his plumbers. If Sloan were one tenth the journalist of Russ Baker, he would forgo the cheap political shots in favor of a much more important parallel. For what happened in 2011 looks an awful lot like 1986, and it is that similarity that should trouble those of us who value republicanism over imperialism.

Benghazi II

Pan Am Flight 103 Lockerbie WreckageAfter the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland – an event that was pinned on Libya despite flimsy circumstantial evidence – Qaddafi became an international pariah. Keen to be liberated from UN and US trade sanctions, and to have his country removed from the State Department’s list of terror sponsors, Qaddafi eventually took responsibility for the bombing (without acknowledging culpability) and agreed to set up a $2.7 billion reparations fund. Not coincidentally, this came in 2003, when the Bush Administration was demonstrating to the world its willingness to topple world leaders it didn’t like. Trade sanctions quickly evaporated, and all the western companies that had been chomping at the bit to enter Libya were off to the races. Indeed, it would not be long before BP started lobbying the British government to release Libyan prisoners to protect its commercial interests. The Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing,  Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, was released on claimed medical grounds in 2009, with BP denying any involvement in his case. Apparently, however, that wasn’t enough to placate Qaddafi. Later that same year, Qaddafi threatened the security of the big oil companies’ leases if they did not fork over approximately $1.5 billion to help him cover the Lockerbie reparations.

According to Russ Baker’s reporting, the figure demanded by Qaddafi did not just come out of thin air. In early 2008, Libya placed $1.3 billion into a complicated investment fund with Goldman Sachs. The crash soon erased 98% of that fund’s value. As the pugnacious Matt Taibbi reported, Goldman executives were so frightened by Qaddafi’s possible response to their misrepresentation and incompetence that they decided to sell their soul to the devil, offering Qaddafi a huge equity stake in Goldman itself. When that offer was spurned (and one must take a moment to ponder the deliciousness of the irony here), Goldman continued to make other proposals, including one deal that included a sweet $50 million payment to an investment firm “run by the son-in-law of the head of Libya’s state-owned oil company.” As Taibbi puts it:

This is classic modern investment banking. You pitch some kind of deal to a city, state, or country, and it may or may not be a good deal for the actual citizens/residents whose money is at stake. But you can make it objectively a great deal for the individual officials with the power to sign off on the deal by sending a big fat check either to the politician in question or to some local slimeball consulting firm of his or her choosing. Anyway, there is some reason why we journalists are not supposed to call things like Goldman’s proposed “$50m payment” bribes, but I can’t remember what it is.[…]

I’ve talked to a lot of people who got on the wrong end of a bad Goldman deal, and I never heard any hint of Goldman coming back with flowers and chocolates after the date rape. What makes the Libyans deserve such special attention? One wonders if you get better service from an American investment bank if the threat of beheading is behind your business deals.

In 2010, Qaddafi’s protocol chief, Nouri Al-Mesmari, who normally remained by Qaddafi’s side, traveled to France under the pretext of needing medical care. He commenced talks with French intelligence about Qaddafi’s potential vulnerability. Mesmari was joined by western-educated Libyan businessmen who had previously staged an unsuccessful revolt against Qaddafi. As Baker explains, things moved swiftly thereafter:

In November, a French trade delegation, including representatives of multinational corporations, traveled to Benghazi in Eastern Libya. That delegation has been characterized by Africa Intelligence’s Maghreb Confidential as having included French military officials under commercial cover, assessing the possibilities on the ground.

The New Year’s uprising in Tunisia, followed in rapid succession by those in other Arab states, created a kind of perfect storm, arguably even a smoke screen for the “popular revolt.” […]

Egypt followed quickly on Tunisia’s heels, and on February 16, just days after the dictator Hosni Mubarak was toppled in neighboring Egypt, peaceful demonstrations began in Benghazi – after calls went out on Facebook for people to take to the streets in protest over the arrest of a human rights lawyer. (The lawyer, Fethi Tarbel, was quickly released – news organizations do not appear to have scrutinized who ordered Tarbel arrested, or exactly why – though this was the seminal event that would ultimately lead to the end of Qaddafi’s regime.)

On February 27, a National Transitional Council, made up of politicians, ex-military officers, tribal leaders, businessmen and academics, announced its launching in Benghazi as the rebel leadership. Not surprisingly, no mention was made of the French back story.

The Italian intelligence services, intent on preserving that country’s advantageously close relationship with Qaddafi, began trying to leak what was going on.[…] When it proved unable to stop the operation, the Italian government seemingly decided to switch and try to head this particular parade, lest the spoils go to the others.

The United States was late to this affair, but determined to get its share of the picnic. The US has been as nervous about Qaddafi’s relationship with Russia’s Putin as France was about his ties to Italy.

CIA was ready with its own man and plan.[…]  Khalifa Hifter, a former Libyan army officer, had spent the past two decades living just down the road from CIA headquarters, with no apparent source of income.  In 1996, while a resident of Vienna, Virginia, he organized a Benghazi-based revolt that failed. When the current uprising was sputtering in March, CIA sent Hifter in to take command.

When the rebels were being routed, the United Nations Security Council approved a no-fly order for Qaddafi. The NATO bombing began almost immediately, under the “humanitarian” label.

Thus, while America’s propagandists distract the ever-gullible and under-informed public with yet another sideshow, the real Benghazi story is one of imperial powers taking care of business:

In hindsight, the Libyan “revolution” may be viewed as a clever effort to harness genuine domestic discontent to a global competition for the resources necessary to sustain the industrial West as well as newly emerging industrial countries like China, India and Brazil. Refracted this way, the whole NATO involvement in Libya appears to be, at root, business as usual. As they say in law enforcement, follow the money. In the midst of a severe fiscal crisis, Pentagon spending alone on Libya through the end of July was $896 million. Will everyone who believes that the Western military establishment is spending such vast sums to further the “aspirations of the Libyan people,” please raise their hands?

Benghazi III

Attentive readers may have noticed that our references to the American “consulate” in Benghazi have all been placed in quotation marks. Part of the modern myth of Benghazi is that Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues were peaceable diplomats serving the American people. Carefully elided from this touching little narrative is what else the Americans were doing in Benghazi. The recent congressional hearings have, for some reason, failed to focus on the fact that Benghazi was the locus of a major CIA operation in North Africa.

As Business Insider explained, there is good reason for all the confusion about Benghazi:

“The U.S. effort in Benghazi was at its heart a CIA operation,” officials briefed on intelligence told the Wall Street Journal, and there’s evidence that U.S. agents—particularly murdered U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens—were at least aware of heavy weapons moving from Libya to Syrian rebels.

CIA Mediterranean Cruise ShipWSJ reports that the State Department presence in Benghazi “provided diplomatic cover” for the previously hidden CIA mission, which involved finding and repurchasing heavy weaponry looted from Libyan government arsenals. These weapons are presumably from Muammar Gaddafi’s stock of about 20,000 portable heat-seeking missiles, the bulk of which were SA-7 surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles.

What’s odd is that a Libyan ship—which reportedly weighed 400 tons and included SA-7s—docked in southern Turkey on Sept. 6 and its cargo ended up in the hands of Syrian rebels. The man who organized that shipment, Tripoli Military Council head Abdelhakim Belhadj, worked directly with Stevens during the Libyan revolution.[…]

If President Obama’s position is to refrain from arming rebels with heavy weapons, but regime change in Syria is advantageous, then a covert CIA operation with plausible deniability seems to be the only answer.

The picture above came from Fox News, a source to which we rarely link. In this case, they deserve a certain amount of credit for probing the issue, but throw most of it away by attempting to scare everyone with the prospect of Muslim terrorists running around the world with formerly Libyan weapons. This is, for them, Fast and Furious Part II, a partisan cudgel rather than an indictment of American imperialism itself. A slightly different slant, returning the focus to the arrogance of empire, is offered by Horace Campbell:

This confusion took attention away from the reality that elements in the military/intelligence hierarchy had formulated a policy to align with certain militia groups in Eastern Libya and that these militias (sometimes called jihadists) had in the past been linked to groups that the U.S. called ‘terrorist organizations.’ France, the CIA, and the U.S. Africa Command had aligned with these jihadists to destabilize Libya, freeze billions of dollars of assets, execute Gaddafi, and use Libya as a rear base in the drive for regime change in Syria.

Appreciating the Art of Deception

By now it should be painfully obvious that the Republicans’ professed interest in protecting the American people from deception is laughably insincere. How much of the foregoing has been openly queried by our would-be guardians of the common weal? How much of this did you hear from Cal Thomas or his local epigone, Russ Sloan? Even the Associated Press, with a major feature article in Sunday’s Daily Commercial, has been caught up in the Washington whirlwind, delivering the kind of news product that our corporate media demand. But beyond this fundamental and widespread dearth of candor is a level of hypocrisy that simply takes one’s breath away. In the annals of presidential deception, it has been but a few short years since a certain George W. Bush lied not just to the American people but to the entire international community about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, manufacturing a pretext to invade and destroy a country that posed no threat to the United States. The human, economic, and environmental costs of that particular deception have been enormous.

For sheer hubris, the willingness of the Republican Party to ignore its own recent, shameful history may exceed the attempt by Goldman Sachs to sell part of itself to a bilked Muammar Qaddafi. But the ultimate tragedy here is the fact that they can actually put on such a show without being laughed off the stage. If the American people do not care whether or not they are being told the truth, why should anyone care whether they are being deceived? Truly, we get the government (and media) we deserve.

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