Thursday, May 9, 2013


At Plum Line today I talked about Benghazi, GOP laziness, and the Republican-aligned press.

Yesterday at PP I argued that House Republicans seem to care more about getting to use the debt limit for extortion than about any particular policy goal.

And I have a new column at the Prospect taking some exception with idea that all that matters in Congress is party affiliation.

Meanwhile, here at Plain Blog world headquarters, there was a very loud BOOM outside and we lost power...and then when it finally returned, it appears that some of the machinery was fried. So until everything is up and working properly, posting may be erratic. Stay tuned...


  1. I chuckle at the GOP because they have so little idea of how to use leverage and its limits. I have to admit that I learned about leverage by watching the GOP during 2011, but I obviously learned more than they did because they don't seem to have a clue about how to use the leverage they have. They want too much, and they don't seem to know how to scale down their desires to something doable. And I really mean clueless, as this episode shows.

  2. "There were no protesters at the Benghazi consulate prior to the attack, even though Obama and others repeatedly said the attackers joined an angry mob that had formed in opposition to the anti-Muslim film that had triggered protests in Egypt and elsewhere. The State Department disclosed this fact Oct. 9 — nearly a month after the attack."

    So let's be charitable and say this was a mistake. Then why did it take almost a month to correct the record? As early as September 13, before we even heard from Susan Rice, there were State Department leaks contradicting the White House story. Soon thereafter, the Libyan President verified these leaks.

    When the State Department's second-in-command in Libya heard Susan Rice's story, he was understandably appalled that Americans were being told something other than the truth. When he approached his superior, he was told not to pursue the issue. By his telling, he was actually demoted for this.

    I don't think you need to be a part of the "conservative marketplace for scandal" to think there's a big problem here.

    1. Well, one reason that it took so long to correct may be that--unless you're searching for a club with which to beat the administration--the existence or timing of a demonstration really doesn't look like an issue worth spending time on. That, after all, was what Clinton was shouting about when she said, "What does it matter?"

      There's really no reason to assume the Libyan president would know more than anyone else. He also said he thought it had been planned for months, when what little evidence there is suggests that the plan--to the extent there was a plan--was concocted that afternoon. (Even the fuel they used to burn the place down was stuff that they found lying around on the compound grounds. Now, if you wanted to complain about them leaving dangerous substances lying around, I'd understand.)

      I don't know what problems Hicks may have had with his superiors, but the State Department said he voluntarily left the Tripoli embassy outside of the normal rotation schedule, at a time when positions weren't open.

      That said, Couves, your argument is the only "conspiracy theory" I've heard that makes any sense at all. Essentially, if I understand it correctly, that there was no actual crime to cover up, but that the administration hoped to convince voters that it had ended the threat of terrorism and that the Benghazi attack undermined that claim. I'm not saying I agree, but there is a logic to the argument. I don't think the Benghazi attack really undermined any claim that the administration was making, and I'm not sure that saying it was spontaneous was going to make people think it didn't happen, but a nervous administration in an election period might fear that casually engaged voters would see it that way. Still, I think the argument falls apart back at the stage where they allegedly withdrew a 14-man rifle team in order to convince casual observers back in the United States that Libya was now peaceful and secure. Casual observers in the United States didn't know where Libya was, let alone that there had been 14 more riflemen there at one time. At any rate, the ability to make an argument that has some internal consistency isn't the same as proving the argument; and if it were true, I'm not sure that it would amount to more than another case of "spin."

      By the way, according to Jon Stewart last night (yes, now I'm bringing out the irrefutable authorities), over 50 diplomatic posts were attacked at the cost of 14 lives during the Bush years. Why didn't the Democrats think to impeach him for it?

    2. Scott, the video protest narrative was very important to the administration. When Letterman asked the President about Bengazi, Obama used most of his response to talk about the video. Of course, most of the repetition was done by the media itself -- but it was the administration that validated a story that it at least had strong reason to question.

      I think the intent was to head-off a probable GOP "We were hit again on 9/11" narrative with a "Those crazy Muslims and that crazy movie" narrative. Granted, there's no direct proof of that, but it's the only plausible explanation for the systematic obfuscation on this one point... Whatever the explanation, there's no justification for being lied to.

      Regarding Hicks, he seems to have good reason to believe that his devotion to the truth caused him to be retaliated against:

    3. On the video, an alternative explanation could have been unrelated to Benghazi, or I should say unrelated to Benghazi as a domestic political issue. Muslims in many countries had attacked US facilities because of that video and the administration wanted to distance the United States from it before it became another permanent thorn in relations in a sizable part of the world. You focus on your particular explanation because you happen to be focused already on domestic politics and see it through that lens.

    4. Scott, there are many instances in which the administration was clearly connecting the movie to the Benghazi attack specifically.

    5. Couves, the video WAS part of the Benghazi attack and of all the other attacks that happened that day. I don't understand why people think it's so important to assert that it wasn't. Apart from that, the administration, apparently unlike the opposition, has concerns beyond bashing the other party, including trying to maintain peace with Muslim countries.

    6. Scott, the attack wasn't a video protest gone bad -- the State Department knew that from the very beginning. To conflate the Benghazi attack with the protests that occurred at the other embassies is to fundamentally misrepresent what happened there. But that's exactly what the administration did and what you continue to do.

      As for winning friends in the Muslim world -- the President of Libya was so offended by the lie, that he refused to grant the FBI access to the crime scene for weeks.

    7. I didn't say it was a protest gone bad. It was a planned attack. But people jump to the conclusion that if it was planned, then it must have been planned long before and that the video had nothing to do with it, and therefore anyone who mentions the video must be denying that it was a planned attack. That does not appear to be true. And even if it were planned before and even if the video originally hadn't had anything to do with it, then the people who spontaneously joined in after it started may have been inspired by the video. There are witnesses who say the attackers complained about the video, so I find it difficult to believe that it played no role. (No witness, by the way, says anyone talked about it being the anniversary of 9/11.) Plus there were other attacks in other countries (which could have "gone bad" but didn't, perhaps in part because Clinton was on the phone demanding that their governments intervene) in which the video undoubtedly played a role. So the video was an issue that had to be addressed, quite apart from any desire to "win friends." Yes, even if the video had poor production qualities, which some in Congress seem to think is a relevant point.

      If the Libyan president was mad, it's probably because the US had just told him (via his ambassador) that Ansar al-Shariah was behind the attack when his government thought it had been Qadhafi supporters. I guess they should have pointed out that the specific name of the suspected group wasn't for public distribution yet. Is that a problem? Could be. Is it evidence of conspiracy? I'm not sure how.

    8. Also, we shouldn't be so sure of what people "knew from the beginning." There were reports that a demonstration preceded the attack. The original "unedited" version of the talking points from the CIA says the attack was "spontaneously inspired" by the attacks in Cairo and involved "a mix of individuals from across many sectors of Libyan society" including "Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qa'ida." Reports that demonstrations came first turned out to be wrong. Just because someone early on said something that was right does not mean that everyone else knew that was the right version from the beginning.

    9. The original talking points also mention Ansar al-Sharia but attribute that link solely to "initial press reporting." They also mention that the "wide availability of weapons and experienced fighters" contributed to the attack. (The NRA would be proud.) So it seems that the points deleted from the final version also include points arguing for the spontaneity of the event. As we already knew, the names of the specific groups al-Qa'ida and Ansar al-Sharia were cut out, but now that the original is available for the first time, it's interesting to see that it never actually said that they were responsible for it.

    10. Scott, that's not what the administration said and you know it. They said there was a protest in Benghazi, just like at the other embassies. They eventually had to admit what they knew all along -- that there was no protest in Benghazi.

      As for the Libyan President -- there are plenty of media reports to verify that he was specifically incensed by Susan Rice's statements about the attack.

    11. Scott, I didn't see your two followups when I responded above.

      "Just because someone early on said something that was right does not mean that everyone else knew that was the right version from the beginning."

      Then how do you account for the fact that Hicks was told by Hillary's staff to shut up when he tried to correct the official lie?

    12. I don't know. I do know that they told Hicks not to talk to the House Republicans and that if he did talk to House Republicans he'd have to do it with a State Department lawyer present. The upshot: he talked to House Republicans without a State Department lawyer present. I also know that all the e-mails that the House Republicans selectively read from and demand that the White House publish are things that the administration gave them. Overall, it's a pretty unimpressive coverup.

      Also, "demonstration gone bad" is the GOP spin on what she said. She told Bob Schieffer, ". . . But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that--in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya postrevolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent. . . .

      Bob Shieffer: Do you agree with him [the Libyan president] that this was something that had been plotted out several months ago?

      Susan Rice: We do not--we do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.

      Bob Shieffer: Do you agree or disagree with him that al Qaeda had some part in this?

      Susan Rice: Well, we'll have to find out that out [sic]. I mean I think it was clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence. Whether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself I think is one of the things we'll have to determine."

      She said there was a demonstration first. That was wrong. She did not say that the demonstration simply got out of hand. She said "extremists elements" carried out the violence and allowed that they might be local, al-Qa'ida-affiliated, or al-Qa'ida itself. Frankly, it's still not determined, as much as some people would like to believe that it is.

      The Libyan president (actually, president of the National Congress) was probably mad that she contradicted him when he thought he was repeating the US position. That's a diplomatic problem, it's a screw-up, but she was sticking to the talking points she had been given, and so far only the only point that has been revoked is the existence of a preceding demonstration. According to one news leak last fall, intelligence intercepts said that participants in the attack called AQIM in Mali after the fact, bragged about what they had done, and said it was in response to the Cairo demonstrations. That may or may not be accurate.

    13. Scott, I'm not sure what you're trying to say about Hicks. He didn't speak with the lawyer present because the lawyer didn't have security clearance. Hicks said it was highly unusual that the request was even made. It strikes me as suspicious that the same State Department that rebuffed Hicks' attempts to correct a significant mistake in the official story would also tell him to not speak to Republican Congressmen without the presence of an attorney. This unusual treatment of Hicks certainly seems to point to a conspiracy against the truth.

      You're right, the Administration was generally careful to say that the terrorists and the fictitious protestors were not the same people (how they determined that, when there wasn't an actual protest to begin with, I have no idea). In any case, when someone brings guns and grenades to a protest, fictional or otherwise, I think it's fair to say that it's gone out of control, and that was exactly the impression left in the public's mind.

      Asserting that there was a protest at the embassy was an important part of the official misdirection because it piggybacked on a media narrative that already existed regarding the movie. It would have been difficult to sell the attack as another "movie backlash" story if they had told the truth, which was that the consulate in Benghazi was attacked out of nowhere, catching the Ambassador completely by surprise. It would have been even harder, had they had not removed "Al-Qaeda" from the intelligence information that was released to the public.

      The Obama Administration manipulated the facts, with willful disregard for the actual truth, to tell us a fictitious story that also happened to be politically convenient.

    14. Couves, on Hicks, I'm saying that he talked to the Republicans and no one stopped him. Your coverup conspiracy is reduced to people complaining that he was doing something that they were doing nothing to stop, and that which they were not bothering to do was merely sending along one of their lawyers while he did it. (And I'll wager they could have found a lawyer with clearance if they'd really wanted to.) If grumbling behind the scenes constitutes a conspiracy, then you and I probably the biggest conspirators around.

      On protesters vs. terrorists, you now seem to be saying that the administration said that there were terrorists but that they distinguished the terrorists from the protesters to convince people that there weren't terrorists. That's pretty clever.

      It has not been established that it was not a "movie backlash." The CIA merely reclassified the attack from "spontaneous" to "opportunistic," with the video and/or the Cairo attacks providing the opportunity. If it was, then it was a "movie backlash" by terrorists. Why is it so difficult to believe that Islamist extremists might get upset about blasphemy?

    15. Hicks and other unnamed State Department officials were prevented from correcting the White House. That's more than just "grumbling."

      As for the terrorists being motivated by the movie -- it's certainly plausible, but the evidence is far from conclusive. But even if it turns out to be true, that doesn't justify lying to the American people to make us believe it.

  3. Oh no! Blog posts being written on legal pads?

    1. Actually, I imagined a Goldbergian backup system involving a hamster in a treadmill.

    2. No worries, JB is going to call me from a payphone at a Texaco gas station and read me tomorrow's blog posts, and I will then send them via coded mores code transmissions to Greg Sargent. Or via the Pony Express. Or smoke signals. Or something.

    3. If Greg has a little cracked corn, I think this might work:


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