Civil War Breaking Out in Libya

I had planned on an update on the tensions in Ukraine, dwelling on introducing an important player there named Rinat Akmetov, the country’s richest man with sufficient holdings and manpower in eastern Ukraine to settle down that region.  However, you know what they say about the best laid plans.   Ukraine seems to be calming down some, with some noteworthy aid ftom Akmetov, while Libya has become the new hot spot and, though its international ramifications are not on the scale of Ukraine, it’s political ramifications here might prove significant. 

Benghazi has been just an endless series of investigations by Republicans in hopes of besmirching the present Obama administration and blocking a future Hillary Clinton one by proving some sort of cover up,.  Now it is the scene of an attack Friday by forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar (spelled Hifter in some other articles), a former general, on Islamist militias in that western city.   Then yesterday other militias tied to him took over the parliament building in Tripoli, blaming that parliament for backing pro-Islamist forces in the country at odds with more so-called “liberal” elements.

This is far too complex and “iffy” for me to summarize the situation other than to say that since the overthrow of Khadaffi, Libya has largely depended on various militias,  antagonistic or at least competing with each other, for the little stability that exists in the country.  The Washington Post offers much more detail in this article.

What I will be interested to see is how the Republicans play these recent events.   No doubt blaming the ineptitude of the Obama administration for starters, likely adding yet at least one more investigation to their agenda.   But  where has their interest been when it comes to stabilizing Libya?   They can’t get past the Benghazi murders.

Certainly Libya has been a mess since the end of Ghadifi, or Quadiffi, or Khadiffi (just a few of the various spellings).    As one commentator put it, what happened in parliament yesterday cannot be called a military coup, as Libya doesn’t really have a military.   Supporting Libya has seemed of no interest to Republicans.  Only finding blame within in the Obama administration for not doing enough to protect Ambassador Chris Stevens and the other three Americans killed or for covering up the real Al Queda sources of the attack,. 

At the time Chris Steven’s father said it would be “abhorrent ” to play politics with his son’s death.   Since then Republicans in Congress have specialized in abhorrent behavior.  The phoniness of their  concern for what happened at Benghazi will now likely be  coupled with a new phony concern for what should have been done in the interim to stabilize Libya.  

I truly wonder how this strategy works with those who are not already predisposed to hate  Obama and stop Hillary Clinton.   Republicans will decry Obama’s policy in Libya as it does with everywhere else in the world.   I admit there is much to criticize, but the Republican stance has nothing to do with policy.  Only politics.

 

 

 

 

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Obama Scandal: More Smoke than Fire?

A pitchfork next to a compost bin.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week feels a long time ago.  I had an image  of villagers with torches and pitchforks marching on the home of Dr. Frankenstein, a.k.a. Barack Obama.  And I was among them, right behind Jon Stewart.   Reading an article by Jonathan Chait since then has prompted me to put my pitch fork down.

“Scandal is a powerful, yet weirdly amorphous term of art in politics. Conceptually, the division between a scandal and a mere controversy or flub or policy dispute is hard to define.  It required a peculiar sequencing of events to transform what would on their own have been normal political controversies into the nebulous, all-encompassing Obama Scandals.”

Chait then breaks down the sequence of events that mixed together was like combining nitro and glycerin in terms of exploding scandals.   The chain reaction was initiated by a news report Friday, May 10 about Benghazi emails that was soon looked upon as sloppy reporting, but by then a scandalous mood had taken hold and its flames were fueled by revelations about  I. R. S. and Justice Department behavior that was questionable at the very least (*1).

Of course, Republicans immediately jumped to the conclusion of administration wrong doing to a Watergate degree with impeachment at the top of their agendas, this before their multiple Congressional investigations had really gotten underway.   Ever hear of the legal theory of  “let’s execute him first and then give him a fair trial?”

Now, besides that piece of bad reporting on Benghazi, there is reporting on the workings of the I. R. S. which sums up the source of the wrongdoing not as White House intimidation, but as “little guidance from D. C. and a flood of new non-profits…(that)…left an office overwhelmed,”   according to the L. A. Times (*2).  Of the three “scandals,”  the gathering of phone records from the Associated Press seems the most serious, but when you hear Republicans spouting out about an attack on First Amendment rights try to recall that it was Republicans who most stridently decried the leaks in the Obama administration and how they must be investigated, i. e. these rock throwers live in glass houses.

That is not to say there is nothing in the “trifecta of trouble” that merits investigation.  We just don’t know where it all will lead.   But for now it seems there might be a lot less fire and more smoke than appeared last week.   Smoke dissipates and when it does you often see the sun.   Way to early to tell, but the summer might not be as overcast for Democrats as it seemed.

Read Chait’s  The Strange Case of the Obama Scandals  and the pieces referenced below and decide for yourselves.

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(*1)  The May 10 news report on Benghazi emails that initiated the aroma of scandal soon to become a stench was made by ABC’s Jonathan Karl.  As one media critic put it:  “At best it is extremely sloppy” reporting.    Here’s an analysis from Media Matters.

(*2)  The L A Times article was on the front page last Sunday.   Today in the Washington Post Richard Cohen sheds further light on an overwhelmed I. R. S. bureaucracy in Cincinatti who wound up questioning more conservative applications because most of the applications overwhelming them were from conservative groups.

As Wendy Goes so Goes the Nation?

Instead of watching the presidential debate last night, I opted to watch the Giants clobber the Cardinals in baseball (for my foreign readers) and the Bears win a defensive battle over the Lions (in American “football”).   I like sports when the games feel meaningful, i. e. they have high stakes, which is why I don’t get interested in pro-baseball or pro-basketball until the playoffs.   Two many games, each with too little meaning.  As far as I’m concerned the regular seasons are just a very long sorting process to see who really counts.   I’d rather watch curling if the two teams are battling for a gold medal.

I’m drawn to the competition of the presidential race even though I deplore its nature.  Unlike sports, though, while  watching this game, it is not clear who is winning overall, or  even in the case of the debate last night.

English: Seal of the President of the United S...

Seal of the President of the United States  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Political pundits and pollsters have analyzed the campaigns to death, but nobody knows for sure who will win.   Nate Silver, who seems the most sophisticated of the poll watchers (he is linked in my Blogroll to the left),  gives Obama a 70% winning chance  today, so I’m glad my money is on the president.  But I don’t feel completely confident.

This morning cable pundits and columnists have post mortemed the debate aplenty, with all sorts of analyses as to who won and by how much.   The predominant reaction seems to be that Obama won the debate, though most Romney backers seem to think otherwise.  The consensus there was Romney did what he needed to do to maintain the momentum that began by winning the first debate.  Rather than appearing unreasonably pugnacious on topics like the Benghazi tragedy, he spent more time saying “me too, but better” to Obama’s policies.    To his defenders, he “looked presidential” and that “he can handle the role.”

To Ron Reagan on MSNBC, Romney’s comments were so “banal” that if “he wore a sash and a tiara he could run for Miss America.”   However valid Reagan’s points may have been, that sarcastically over the top characterization detracts from his criticisms.   At least for me and I think there are many like me. Obama was sarcastically dismissive a time or two as well.

In recent posts I have dwelt on the “undecided’s, those swing voters who seem to go back and forth like a pendulum.  If enough of them swing the same way in the right states on election day, Romney might surprise Nate Silver and me by winning.   It is with them in mind, that I’m not so sure Obama won the debate.   At least he didn’t win over Wendy,  a previous undecided who now leans towards Romney.

Wendy has been used as an example “undecided” on FOX.  She is an articulate, likeable woman with four children, seeming to me in her 30s.  In announcing her post-debate swing towards Romney she said:    “He just has an idea of what the economy needs…. nothing has gotten better.  Everything’s gotten worse.”  Catching my attention even more was her saying:   “Obama came across as a bully.”

I would not say “bully” but to me Obama was too often dismissive to the point of condescentional overkill.   In response to a Romney criticism, the president said:   “You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916,” Obama said. “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed.”

That comment has gone viral and zealous Obama backers probably love it, but they aren’t the much coveted swing voters, one of whom has just swung towards Romney.   While Obama had a big lead in the polls  with women voters, the gap has narrowed significantly in recent weeks. Perhaps this is an expression that even more than reproductive rights, equal pay and the like, many women are concerned with the sluggish economy and how a candidate comports himself.   Handling the economy is the one issue in which Romney regularly rates higher in the polls.   Handling oneself as a gentleman (or as a good father) counts especially with women as far as I can tell.

If many undecided’s  cast their ballots while imagining a sarcastic, bullying Obama and a laughing hyena running mate, especially women but men, too………?    Well, I don’t like to think about it.

Libya: A Political Moment that Shouldn’t Be

The general consensus of media pundits is that Obama won Tuesday’s debate, albeit narrowly.   Again we are  talking about rhetoric and style with only a tangential relationship to substance, i. e. Obama is judged to have thrust and parried a bit better than Romney, and much better than in the first debate where he barely lifted his sword.

English: map of Libya with Shabiat Banghazi hi...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a sports fan, I have to say I’m a little excited about the rubber match to be fought this Monday over the issues of foreign policy.  But as a citizen, when I regain my sanity and see clearly the chasm between the pretense and reality, I think I belong in a rubber room.   All of us do who find the race exciting, like playing fantasy football.  Except it is more our version of the Hunger Games.

The problem with making the Monday debate really interesting is that by most accounts, Romney’s foreign policy is not much different than Obama’s.  The primary difference is his asserting he will just handle it all better.  And in the process his strategy will be to show how Obama has come up short.

As the patron saint of Wisconsin, Vince Lombardi, put it decades ago:  “Winning is not everything; it’s the only thing.”  True of football back then in Green Bay;  even more true of this presidential election.  This morning I heard Chuck Todd, an MSNBC analyst, articulate what we all know.  “This campaign is ugly and over the next 18 days it will become uglier.”

It is against this backdrop that the issue of the four American deaths in Libya has become a powerful campaign tool for the Republicans, probably viewed by some fundamentalists as a gift from God.    I flicked to FOX news several times yesterday and almost every time they were talking about Libya and what the Obama administration  knew when and what they did about it and what they covered up.

Ambassador Chris Stevens father said several days ago that it would be “horrendous” if the death of his son and three other Americans would become politicized.   Sorry Mr. Stevens, but this presidential campaign is being fought as if it were to the death, and the death of your son is like blood in the water to Republican sharks.   For them, he and the three others make wonderful symbols to contradict the Obama claim that al Queda has been steadily weakened and to show that the Obama team has not done enough to aid the development of democracies in Egypt and Libya (never mind that some other Republicans argue we should have strongly backed Mubarak our long time ally, and a few argue that it was even wrong to help topple Gaddafi as well, who had been our ally of sorts for awhile).

Granted the Obama administration hasn’t handled the news about the Benghazi killings well and their earlier stances about a spontaneous demonstration  seem wishful thinking, some cherry picking between different reports.   But let’s remember the situation in Benghazi is chaotic (it took three weeks for the FBI to feel it was safe enough to go investigate the consulate) while both campaigns have war rooms looking for every weakness in the “enemy” that they can turn to strategic advantage.   The Obama administration was not eager to reveal anything the Republicans could use.  Do you think it would have gone down any differently if the roles had been reversed?

Let’s also remember that Republicans like  Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz, who feigned outrage at the lack of security have voted several times to reduce the state department’s budget over the years, especially in the area of foreign security.   They remind me of the police prefect in that ancient movie Casablanca who was” shocked” to discover gambling taking place at Rick’s casino while someone discreetly hands him his winnings for the day.  Though in this case the hypocrisy is not humorous but galling.

What happened and why regarding those deaths in Libya is complex and will take time to sort out, but in the meantime Republicans will make it very simple for all of us:  the Obama administration has its head in the sand regarding al Queda and should have protected those Americans, an example of Obama policy failure writ large.  (FOX is more than willing to “help” in the sorting with a special investigative report this evening).

Kathleen Parker, somewhat right of center and one of my favorite columnists,  offers a much more balanced picture in a recent Washington Post editorial in which she gets to the heart of the real story in Libya:  “Stevens went to Benghazi knowing the risks and died in the service of his country, the people of Libya and the greater good. It is tragic, but it is war.”  

For now that’s the important point, not to rush to judgement on blame, but how brave our foreign service people can be  in chaotic, dangerous situations.  They see interacting with the local populace as vital to their work.   As such, to be so well protected as is our embassy in Iraq makes the foreign service people feel “incarcerated” as characterized by Daniel Server, a former diplomat.  In regards to Ambassador Stevens he has said:  “For our diplomats to do things right, it requires taking risks.  And Chris Stevens did things right.”

The bravery and commitment of Ambassador Chris Stevens,  computer expert Sean Smith and security contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods is what should be focused upon, but don’t expect to see the tragedy play out that way Monday night.  If you are going to bother to watch.  I’m not.

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Those who want to delve more deeply into the complexity of the Benghazi attack should find interest in an article by Dan Murphy in the Christian Science Monitor Getting in on the Benghazi Blame Game.