U.S. diplomat recounts Benghazi attack

A U.S. diplomat gave the first public account of the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi by a U.S. official who was on the ground in Libya. Former Deputy Chief of Mission Gregory Hicks, second in command to Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was among four Americans who died in the attack, ...

AFP/Getty Images/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI
AFP/Getty Images/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI
AFP/Getty Images/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI

A U.S. diplomat gave the first public account of the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi by a U.S. official who was on the ground in Libya. Former Deputy Chief of Mission Gregory Hicks, second in command to Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was among four Americans who died in the attack, testified on Wednesday in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The committee also heard testimony from Mark Thompson, the State Department's Bureau of Counterterrorism's deputy coordinator for operations, and Eric Nordstrom, who was formerly in charge of U.S. security in Libya. Hicks said he was "stunned" by the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice's comments after the attack that it had been a spontaneous act that came out of an anti-American demonstration. Hicks also said a team of special operations forces was preparing to go from Tripoli to Benghazi, but it was told to stand down. The accounts, however, did not shed much light on whether there was anything more the U.S. military could have done to prevent the attack. Democrats have accused Republicans of politicizing the events and making false accusations about the Obama administration. Conversely, Republicans say the administration has intentionally misled the America people.

Syria

A U.S. diplomat gave the first public account of the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi by a U.S. official who was on the ground in Libya. Former Deputy Chief of Mission Gregory Hicks, second in command to Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was among four Americans who died in the attack, testified on Wednesday in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The committee also heard testimony from Mark Thompson, the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism’s deputy coordinator for operations, and Eric Nordstrom, who was formerly in charge of U.S. security in Libya. Hicks said he was "stunned" by the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice’s comments after the attack that it had been a spontaneous act that came out of an anti-American demonstration. Hicks also said a team of special operations forces was preparing to go from Tripoli to Benghazi, but it was told to stand down. The accounts, however, did not shed much light on whether there was anything more the U.S. military could have done to prevent the attack. Democrats have accused Republicans of politicizing the events and making false accusations about the Obama administration. Conversely, Republicans say the administration has intentionally misled the America people.

Syria

The United States expressed concerns Wednesday that Russia is planning to sell Syria a sophisticated ground-to-air missile defense system. Russia has been a major arms supplier for the Syrian government, but the delivery of the Russian S-300 missile batteries would be a significant advancement. Israel warned the United States of the deal, saying Syria had already begun making payments toward the $900 million purchase. An Israeli official said, "We have raised objections to this with the Russians, and the Americans have too." The information has come less than a day after the United States and Russia announced new joint efforts to bring about a political solution to the Syrian conflict. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced on Tuesday plans to convene an international conference, a step which was lauded by U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi. Brahimi said, "This is the first hopeful news concerning that unhappy country in a very long time," but he cautioned that it is merely a first step.

Headlines

  • The United States has introduced legislation that would deny the Iranian government access to about $100 billion, mostly in euros, in increased sanctions aimed at pressuring the Iranian government into negotiations on its nuclear development program.
  • A day after PKK fighters began withdrawing to Iraq in part of a peace deal with Turkey, the Iraqi government announced that it "does not accept" sheltering such armed groups which could threaten Iraqi security.
  • Israel has given preliminary approval for the construction of 296 new West Bank homes near Ramallah, likely complicating U.S. efforts at rekindling peace talks. 

Arguments and Analysis

U.S. credibility is not on the line in Syria (Fareed Zakaria, The Washington Post)

"Political scientists have studied the subject of credibility extensively. In "Calculating Credibility," Daryl Press looks at the 1930s and the Cold War, periods when leaders felt the need to follow through on tough rhetoric for fear of losing face. Press concluded that "The evidence in this book suggests that the blood and wealth spent to maintain a country’s record for keeping commitments are wasted: when push comes to shove, credibility is assessed on the basis of the current interests at stake and the balance of power, not on the basis of past sacrifices. .?.?. Leaders understand that no two crises are sufficiently alike to be confident that past actions are a reliable guide to the future." Another comprehensive study on "reputation," by Jonathan Mercer of the University of Washington, reached similar conclusions. 

Obama may have spoken too loosely about a "red line" in Syria. But the most damaging thing he could do now would be to take action simply to follow through. One does not correct for careless language through careless military action.

Syria is a humanitarian nightmare, which the United States should do more to address. Washington should help create and sustain more havens – in Jordan and elsewhere – for refugees and should coordinate with other countries to get aid in faster and more effectively to those in need. It is trying to bring the various rebel groups into a more coherent opposition movement, though that is a daunting challenge.

But we must understand that the Syrian conflict is fundamentally a civil war between a minority elite and the long-oppressed majority – similar to those in Lebanon and Iraq. People fight to the end because they know that losers in such wars get killed or "ethnically cleansed." The only path to peace in such circumstances is through a political accord among the parties. Otherwise, intervention that helps the rebels win will end only the first phase of the war. The ruling Alawite minority would be toppled, but because they know they stand to be massacred, they would continue to fight ferociously as insurgents. The next phase of conflict could be even bloodier – with the United States in the middle. Remember that the first phase of the Iraq war – the overthrow of the minority regime – was tame compared with phase two, when the minority fought back as insurgents."

New Spotlight On Egyptian Jews (Maha El-Kady, The Cairo Review of Global Affairs)

"In December 2012, Essam El-Erian, vice chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), s
tirred controversy in Egypt by calling on Egyptian Jews to return to Egypt and for Palestinians to be allowed to return to their homeland as well. He stated that Egyptian Jews were unjustly expelled, deprived of their homes, had their properties confiscated, and thus should be compensated. President Mohammed Morsi’s office distanced itself from El-Erian’s statements; the furor is believed to be a reason that El-Erian later resigned his position as presidential advisor.

The fate of Egyptian Jews is a subject of hot debate among rights activists and intellectuals, not so much the question of providing them justice but how Egypt became an intolerant society. Could such a tragedy, some Egyptians are asking, be repeated with the community of Coptic Christians. To some, the answer is yes.

…Can post-revolution Egypt restore the diverse, cosmopolitan society of the early twentieth century?  The new leader of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, says that he’s optimistic about Egypt’s future and believes that moderation is the only way to build the Egyptian society. "The Nile passes exactly in the middle of the Egyptian territory, and that teaches us to be moderate," he said."

 –By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.