Obama, Clinton duck blame in Benghazi report

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The State Department’s report on the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi describes a series of strategy and management failures, but does not assign responsibility to any individual Americans — not even to the secretary of state or the president of the United States.

“Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place,” says the report, which was written by the “Accountability Review Board for Benghazi.”

“The Board did not find reasonable cause to determine that any individual U.S. government employee breached his or her duty,” state the report’s authors, all picked by the administration.

However, the report dismisses claims that the attack emerged from protests over a little-known anti-Muslim YouTube video. (View the report)

That theory was strongly pushed by Obama and Secretary of State Clinton immediately after the attack, which came only eight weeks before the 2012 election.

“The Board concluded that there was no protest prior to the attacks,” the report says.

Clinton was slated to testify to Congress this week, but has instead called in sick for the week. In her place, deputies will answer questions about the administration’s reaction to the report.

Clinton’s absence partly shields her from any public criticism that might damage a possible run for the presidency in 2016. (RELATED: Clinton calls in sick for third time over Benghazi)

Instead, the report tries to blame Congress for not funding Obama’s strategy in Libya, even though the president ignored Congress when developing and implementing the strategy in 2009 and his Libyan intervention in 2011.

“The solution requires a more serious and sustained commitment from Congress to support State Department needs,” insists the report.

The successful jihadi attack on Sept. 11 killed four Americans, seriously wounded two other Americans, destroyed the two known U.S. government facilities in eastern Libya and gave jihadi groups more time and space to expand.

So far, Obama has not launched a counter-attack or even retaliated against jihadi groups.

Instead, he has asked the FBI to investigate the attack as a crime.

The FBI does not have the legal authority or practical ability to investigate a crime in Libya without approval from the weak central government, which is already under periodic attack from the jihadi groups.

In 2009, Obama developed and announced his region-wide strategy, dubbed “A New Beginning,” which gambled that the region’s popular Islamist movements would suppress allied jihadi groups if they were allowed to gain power.

However, the new or established Islamist governments in Turkey, Qatar, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia have been unable or unwilling to suppress their ideological allies in various jihad groups, such as al-Qaida.

In 2011, Obama used airpower to attack Libya’s secular authoritarian government, headed by Muammar Qaddafi.

Amid the fighting, various jihadi groups looted a large amount of weapons from Libya’s armories, partly because Obama did not deploy any U.S. or foreign troops to secure the armories or bolster a new central government.

The decision to withhold ground forces clashed with some of the lessons from the successful 2003 toppling of Iraq’s dictator.

In 2003 and especially before the 2004 election, President George W. Bush was slammed by numerous media outlets for not securing the vastly large stockpiles of weapons in Iraq. For example, in late October 2004, the New York Times ran front-page articles about weapons stolen from the Al Qaqaa armory, creating a mini media-scandal.

In contrast, the established U.S. media — especially CNN and CBS — downplayed the Libyan failures during the 2012 election.

Moreover, in 2011 and 2012, U.S. officials were reluctant to recognize or describe the shortcoming in Obama’s strategy, which left Libya’s civil government weak, divided and vulnerable to attacks from the heavily armed jihadi groups.

The new report repeatedly acknowledges the problem, but doesn’t assign blame.

“The Board found the Libyan government’s response to be profoundly lacking on the night of the attacks, reflecting both weak capacity and near absence of central government influence and control in Benghazi,” said the 39-page report, whose unclassified chapters were released late Dec. 18.

“The security vacuum left by Qaddafi’s departure, the continued presence of pro-Qaddafi supporters, the prevalence of and easy access to weapons, the inability of the interim government to reestablish a strong security apparatus … led to a volatile situation,” it adds.

Despite the chaos, top-level officials refused to recognize the dangers, say critics, partly because such recognition would highlight flaws in Obama’s strategy.

Among senior officials, “there seemed to be no attempt, however, to link formally the many anti-Western incidents in Benghazi, the general declarations of threat in U.S. assessments and a proliferation of violence-prone and little understood militias, the lack of any central authority” to any formal consideration of an attack, the report says.

Instead, there was a “pervasive realization among personnel who served in Benghazi that [the State Department’s facility] was not a high priority for Washington when it came to security-related requests, especially those relating to staffing.”

The Benghazi facility was not labeled as a recognized diplomatic facility, but instead served as a villa for the ambassador activities in Benghazi, says the report.

“Another key driver behind the weak security platform in Benghazi was the decision to treat Benghazi as a temporary, residential facility, not officially notified to the host government,” the report says.

In lieu of sending more U.S. security forces to Benghazi, or beefing up defenses, State Department officials relied on local jihadi groups for defense, especially the so-called “Martyrs of 17 February Brigade.”

The group was named for several Benghazi Islamists who were killed by Gadhafi’s security forces in 2006. They were killed when attacking the Italian consulate in Benghazi after an Italian government minister had defended the right of Europeans to speak freely about Islam.

The February 17 group is “a local umbrella organization of militias dominant in Benghazi (some of which were Islamist),” according to the report.

When the jihadis attacked on Sept. 11, “the Board’s inquiry found little evidence that the armed February 17 guards offered any meaningful defense … or succeeded in summoning a February 17 militia presence to assist expeditiously.”

“Over the course of its inquiry, the Board also learned of troubling indicators of February 17’s loyalties and its readiness to assist U.S. personnel,” it adds.

However, the board declined to identify the motives of the February 17 group, or of the various jihadi groups. Instead, it merely gives local jihadi groups the vague label of “anti-American” in the report.

Throughout the region, “al Qaeda (AQ) is fragmenting and increasingly devolving to local affiliates and other actors who share many of AQ’s aims, including violent anti-Americanism, without necessarily being organized or operated under direct AQ command and control.”

That’s a match for the administration’s global strategy for reacting to Islamic terrorists, such as al-Qaida.

Under that global strategy, Obama’s deputies ignore the Islamic motivations of Islamic terrorism.

In response, critics argue that White House officials can’t fight something — or even defend against it — unless they recognize what it wants and fears.

2012-Dec-18 Benghazi Report UNCLASSIFIED

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