Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Benghazi: The high price of rampant knowingness

A couple weeks ago I posted this:

How we live now: The rule of the inept experts

The distinctive feature of coercive “experts” like Joe Biden or Joe Salazar is that they are credentialed, not proficient. They assume the right to make decisions for others, but that assumption is based on “media consensus” and insider back-scratching. It is not, demonstrably in the case of Biden and Salazar, based on proven expertise or knowledge.

Ours is an age of Knowingness Rampant.
I suspect that this is one of the reasons for the Benghazi disaster. Three clews for consideration by your inner Sherlock:

Benjamin Rhodes. Failed novelist. Key national security advisor.

ABC’s reporting revealed that Ben Rhodes, who has a masters in fiction from NYU, called a meeting to discuss the talking points at the White House on September 15, 2012….

Ben Rhodes, a 35-year old New York City native and former Giuliani staffer who has worked for Obama since the president’s tenure in the U.S. Senate, has established himself as a hawkish force on the Obama foreign policy team, advocating for military intervention in Libya during the president’s first term and reportedly advocating for intervention in Syria, as well.

But despite his hawkish views, Rhodes identifies himself first and foremost as a strategist and mouthpiece for the president’s agenda.
Tommy Vietor. Bus driver. NSC spokesman. Decision-maker?

The Counterterrorism Security Group: Not convened

Under presidential directive, an interagency task force called the Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) is to be convened when emergency terrorist events are suspected. According to a public military document, it's part of a plan to "synchronize the efforts of all the government agencies that have a role to play in the Global War on Terrorism." But on Sept. 11, 2012, the Obama administration did not convene this body of terrorism expert advisers.

One official associated with the State Department now acknowledges that the CSG would probably have advised decision makers that FEST "was not just backup generator and radios." Said the official: "the CSG could have made the argument, they were upset that they weren't heard." Another former Defense Department official says he finds no merit to using the CSG. "I'd like to hear them say what they could have done."

Last October, National Security Council (NSC) Spokesman Tommy Vietor told CBS News that the CSG wasn't needed because consultations were quickly underway at the highest levels. He indicated that, under the Obama administration, the function of the CSG has become a "lower level group" that "does different tasks" than under the Bush administration. "From the moment [President Obama] was briefed on the Benghazi attack, the response effort was handled by the most senior national security officials in government. Members of the CSG were of course involved in these meetings and discussions to support their bosses," said Vietor.

However, absent the CSG's collective advice, there's evidence that some high-level decision makers were unaware of all available resources. In October, on a phone call that included then-Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough (now White House Chief of Staff), Vietor initially told CBS News: "I don't know what [FEST] is... it sounds antiquated."
Bryan Preston (a one man Woodward and Bernstein on this story):

By the way, this National Security Council spokesman, Tommy Vietor, does not hail from the military or any intel agency or even the State Department. He’s a lifelong Obama loyalist who started out as Barry’s bus driver.

We’re in the very best of hands, indeed.
The man in the Oval Office:

American Narcissus

But Obama’s faith in his abilities extends beyond mere vote-getting. Buried in a 2008 New Yorker piece by Ryan Lizza about the Obama campaign was this gob-smacking passage:

Obama said that he liked being surrounded by people who expressed strong opinions, but he also said, “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.” After Obama’s first debate with McCain, on September 26th, [campaign political director Patrick] Gaspard sent him an e-mail. “You are more clutch than Michael Jordan,” he wrote. Obama replied, “Just give me the ball.”

In fairness to Obama, maybe he is a better speechwriter than his speechwriters. After all, his speechwriter was a 27-year-old, and the most affecting part of Obama’s big 2008 stump speech was recycled from Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, with whom he shared a campaign strategist. But it’s instructive that Obama thinks he knows “more about policies on any particular issue” than his policy directors. The rate of growth of the mohair subsidy? The replacement schedule for servers at the NORAD command center? The relationship between annual rainfall in northeast Nevada and water prices in Las Vegas?

How Barack Obama’s ‘Tone’ Left Americans Defenseless and Abandoned in Benghazi

Barack Obama and many of his supporters believed that his election to the presidency would essentially end the war on terrorism. That belief rears its head here. What other tasks besides counterterrorism and security should the Counterterrorism Security Group be doing? Why was it pushed down the food chain? What are its current tasks? If they’re not counterterrorism and security, why does it still exist?

Tommy Vietor keeps turning up conspicuously in the Benghazi scandal, in part because the president sets the tone. Obama’s loyalist bus driver was heavily involved in the talking points discussion, playing the pivotal role of looping the State Department into what started as a vetting of intelligence-based talking points and quickly became a political discussion. The eventual outcome of that was a product that was useless on the facts, misleading to the public, but helpful to Obama and his tone on terrorism….

Here we’re seeing the effect that even just setting the tone is having. Barack Obama really believes that his election was so transformative that it would end the war. It hasn’t, but this president consistently downplays terrorism and demotes its importance in his government to convince Americans that it has. His government plays games with words and organizational charts to wish the war away.

When crisis struck and one of his ambassadors may have become a hostage to jihadists, the choices that flowed naturally from the tone Obama had set had serious consequences. Four Americans including that ambassador were murdered.

Is it possible that David Brooks was wrong?

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