The House Intelligence Committee’s Benghazi Report — more than fair

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has issued its report on the Benghazi attack. You can find it here.

The Committee concludes, among things, that CIA personnel on the ground in Benghazi during the attack behaved bravely and made reasonable tactical decisions that saved lives, and that the CIA received all military support that was available.

It further concludes that after the attack, the administration’s initial public narrative (via Susan Rice) on the causes and motivations for the attack was not fully accurate. In addition, edits made to the Benghazi “talking points” were not fully accurate, and the process that produced the talking points was flawed. However, the Committee stops short of finding misconduct or bad faith on the part of Susan Rice or any other administration official.

The Committee’s findings will disappoint many of the right. However, I believe it should be commended for attempting to be fair-minded, rather than partisan, about this politically-charged matter.

This doesn’t mean, though, that all of the Committee’s conclusions are correct, or that it drew all of the conclusions that it should have. Nor is the Committee’s word necessarily final. A Select Committee on Benghazi, under the leadership of Trey Gowdy, is in the process of investigating the matter.

For what it’s worth, I find persuasive the Intelligence Committee’s conclusions about the response to the attack by the CIA and the military. As I’ve said before, it’s doubtful that the CIA and/or our armed forces missed a realistic rescue opportunity. And recent allegations that the CIA issued a “stand-down order” to Benghazi security personal strike me as weak, for reasons I’ll discuss later.

By contrast, I’m far from persuaded by the report’s unwillingness to infer bad faith on the part of Susan Rice and/or other administration officials. The Committee relies on the fact that, at the time Rice went on television, there were conflicting intelligence reports about the Benghazi attack. This is true, but does not exonerate Rice.

Rice’s line on the Sunday talk shows was that the Benghazi attack was a “direct result of a heinous and offensive video that was widely disseminated.” Rice claimed that this was “our best current assessment, based on the information we have at present.”

But it’s clear to me from the Committee’s report that when Rice spoke, it was not the “best current assessment” that the Benghazi attack was “a direct result of a. . .video.” There was some intelligence that tended to support this view, but it never had a preponderance of the evidence behind it.

Rice chose to adopt the most politically convenient explanation and to invest it with a status (“best current assessment”) that it neither had nor deserved. This smacks of bad faith.

Then, there are the famous Benghazi “talking points.” The Committee finds that they were the result of a flawed process and were not fully accurate. But it finds no bad faith. Instead, it accepts Mike Morrell’s questionable claims that there was no political pressure from the White House and that the watering down of the document mainly reflected how little was actually known about the situation.

There’s an obvious disconnect here. The talking points supposedly were edited to reflect uncertainty. But in her television appearances, Susan Rice resolved the uncertainty in favor of an explicit claim that the attacks were directly caused by the video.

It seems obvious that not everyone was operating in good faith. In declining to so find, I believe the Committee is being “more than fair” to the Obama administration, and I mean that literally. The Committee is giving the White House more benefit of the doubt than fairness requires, or warrants.

Now, as promised, let me deal with the Committee’s treatment of the allegations by certain Benghazi security personnel that they were told by the CIA to “stand down” during the early stage of the attack. They have presented this claim in a book about the attack called 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi. They also presented it in a riveting hour-long Fox News special. Fox has continued to promote the allegation on various prime time shows.

The Committee rejects the claim that there was a stand-down order. It finds instead that “there were mere tactical disagreements about the speed with which the [security] team should depart [for the State Department's facility] prior to securing additional security assets,” i.e., local militias.

The Committee also finds that the decision by the Chief of Base to wait was a reasonable one based on the information available at the time. But whatever one concludes about the merits of the decision, I see no scandal here, just a disagreement about the best way to proceed in conditions of great uncertainty.

The Committee says that “the evidence from eyewitness testimony, ISR vedeo footage, closed-circuit television recordings, and other sources provides no support for the allegation that there was any stand-down order.” It’s my understanding that the authors of 13 Hours testified before the Committee. By saying that the eyewitness testimony doesn’t support the claim of a stand-down order, the Committee is saying, I think, that the authors did not testify under oath that they were told to stand down.

Finally, let me mention one aspect of the Committee’s report that you probably won’t read about in the mainstream media or in administration talking points. The Committee states that, according to CIA security personnel, State Department security agents repeatedly said they were ill-equipped and ill-trained to contend with the threat environment in Benghazi. Indeed, they knew well before the attacks that they could not defend the State Department’s facility against an armed assault.

These State Department agents told the CIA that they had requested additional resources. Their request was still pending on September 11, 2012.

The House Intelligence Committee has spoken. The ball is in the court of Chairman Gowdy and his Select Benghazi Committee. Let’s see what it concludes.

Is There Any Hope For Our Civilization?

I am an inveterate optimist, but the more I learn about what goes on in our universities, the more I conclude that our civilization has a death wish. Heather MacDonald’s article in City Journal on “micro-aggression” at UCLA prompted this particular bout of despondency. What goes on in our universities is scarcely believable. MacDonald’s article is lengthy and should be read in its entirety, but here are a few excerpts with my comments.

In November 2013, two dozen graduate students at the University of California at Los Angeles marched into an education class and announced a protest against its “hostile and unsafe climate for Scholars of Color.”

Scholars of Color? Sadly, this is not a parody. And these are graduate students–i.e., presumably adults.

[UCLA], which trumpets its “social-justice” mission at every opportunity, is a cauldron of simmering racial tensions. Students specializing in “critical race theory”—an intellectually vacuous import from law schools—play the race card incessantly against their fellow students and their professors, leading to an atmosphere of nervous self-censorship. Foreign students are particularly shell-shocked by the school’s climate. “The Asians are just terrified,” says a recent graduate. “They walk into this hyper-racialized environment and have no idea what’s going on. Their attitude in class is: ‘I don’t want to talk. Please don’t make me talk!’”

They were silly enough to think that one goes to school to get an education.

Val Rust’s dissertation-prep class had devolved into a highly charged arena of competing victim ideologies, impenetrable to anyone outside academia. For example: Were white feminists who use “standpoint theory”—a feminist critique of allegedly male-centered epistemology—illegitimately appropriating the “testimonial” genre used by Chicana feminists to narrate their stories of oppression?

Um. Sure. Again, this is not a parody.

Other debates centered on the political implications of punctuation. Rust had changed a student’s capitalization of the word “indigenous” in her dissertation proposal to the lowercase, thus allegedly showing disrespect for the student’s ideological point of view. Tensions arose over Rust’s insistence that students use the more academic Chicago Manual of Style for citation format; some students felt that the less formal American Psychological Association conventions better reflected their political commitments.

Punctuation, I was always good at. Like spelling. On the other hand, when it came to calculus, I really wish that I could have claimed that my answers “better reflected my political commitments.” Dumb as those commitments may have been at the time.

After each of these debates, the self-professed “students of color” exchanged e-mails about their treatment by the class’s “whites.” (Asians are not considered “persons of color” on college campuses, presumably because they are academically successful.) Finally, on November 14, 2013, the class’s five “students of color,” accompanied by “students of color” from elsewhere at UCLA, as well as by reporters and photographers from the campus newspaper, made their surprise entrance into Rust’s class as a “collective statement of Resistance by Graduate Students of Color.” The protesters formed a circle around Rust and the remaining five students (one American, two Europeans, and two Asian nationals) and read aloud their “Day of Action Statement.” That statement suggests that Rust’s modest efforts to help students with their writing faced obstacles too great to overcome.

The professor was trying to teach students–graduate students!–to write properly, and they took it as an affront to their racial identity. As though there were some correlation between skin color and literacy. That is a view that used to be called “racist,” but is now apparently de rigueur among liberals.

It turns out that the professor was correct: the protesters can’t write.

The Day of Action Statement contains hardly a sentence without some awkwardness of grammar or usage. “The silence on the repeated assailment of our work by white female colleagues, our professor’s failure to acknowledge and assuage the escalating hostility directed at the only Male of Color in this cohort, as well as his own repeated questioning of this male’s intellectual and professional decisions all support a complacency in this hostile and unsafe climate for Scholars of Color,” the manifesto asserts. The Day of Action Statement denounces the class’s “racial microaggressions,” which it claims have been “directed at our epistemologies, our intellectual rigor and to a misconstruction of the methodological genealogies that we have shared with the class.” (Though it has only caught on in recent years, the “microaggression” concept was first coined in the 1970s by a black psychiatrist.) Reaching its peroration, the statement unleashes a few more linguistic head-scratchers: “It is, at its most benign, disingenuous to the next generations of Scholars of Color to not seek material and systematic changes in this department. It is a toxic, unsafe and intellectually stifling environment at its current worse.”

Understand that the morons who wrote this incoherent drivel, which wouldn’t have passed muster at my public high school in South Dakota, are PhD candidates. They are going to become teachers who will do their best to transmit their venomous ignorance to the next generation.

How did UCLA respond? The administration appointed a Race and Ethnic Relations Committee, and they cut loose the professor who tried to teach his students to write. In American universities, as best I can tell, idiocy reigns supreme.

Does this mean that our civilization is doomed? It may. Our best hope seems to be that everyone realizes that academia is hopeless, and should just be ignored.

Funniest Paragraph of the Day, Courtesy of the NY Times

The New York Times has a longish story today about an internal fight going on at the Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, CA, where Unitarian Universalists apparently go for advanced theological instruction.  Yes, that would seem like a short curriculum to me, too; either that or it’s one of those mail order diploma mills where you send in 25 cents and two cereal boxtops, and you’ll be given a diploma to ply your trade at the nearest congregation of the Church of What’s Happening Now.

But apparently there’s been a bitter fight about selecting a new president for this important institution, and some students who got in the fray are having their emails scrutinized, etc.  The punch line, though, comes in the very last paragraph, with a quote from one of students whose diploma is being withheld:

“Unitarian Universalism is not a theologically grounded religion,” Ms. Brock said. “If we mess up our principles and values, we don’t have a theology to fall back on. We’re not Catholic — we can’t just keep giving communion until we figure it out. If we don’t have our values figured out, our institutions become pointless bureaucracies.”

Evelyn Waugh or Peter DeVries could hardly write better satire than this.

Another al-Shabab Massacre In Kenya

Twenty terrorists from al-Shabab, the Somali Islamic group, ambushed a bus near Mandera, Kenya, with 60 passengers on board. They segregated those who didn’t look Somali and–since al-Shabab has nothing to do with Islam, as President Obama likes to assure us–demanded that they recite the Shahada. The 28 who couldn’t do so were lined up on the ground and shot. Warning: graphic photo.

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The dead included nine women and 17 teachers. Apparently none of the terrorists was wearing a shirt with pretty girls on it, so American feminists haven’t commented.

Kenya is a relatively advanced country, but its authorities seem unprepared to deal with brutal terrorists:

A shortage of personnel and lack of equipment led to a slow response by police when the information was received, said two police officers who insisted on anonymity because they were ordered not to speak to the press. They said the attackers have more sophisticated weaponry than the police who waited for military reinforcements before responding.

Kenya has strict gun laws, a policy it might want to re-think. When police don’t even dare pursue terrorists, the first line of defense is the only line of defense.

They’ve got a secret

The latest report from the nuclear negotiations with Iran indicates that they are likely to be extended. The deadline is Monday and “big gaps” remain, despite the Western powers’ strenuous efforts to surrender. Omri Ceren emails a status update suggesting that the negotiations have descended into a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham. Omri’s message expands on this Reuters report from earlier this afternoon:

Reuters broke this about 90 minutes ago: the P5+1 “will likely stop short of demanding full disclosure of any secret weapon work by Tehran.”

The concession – which involves letting Iran slide on its obligation to come clean over the possible military dimensions (PMDs) of its atomic program – is likely to prove enormously controversial both politically and substantively. I’ve pasted the whole article below if you want to read the whole thing. It includes flabbergasted quotes from Western officials like “I believe the PMD issue is not a deal-breaker even though it probably should be.”

Politically, the demand has been a cornerstone of Western diplomacy and a key way the Obama administration reassured skeptics of its diplomacy:

* The demand was a hard-fought part of United Nations Security Council 1929, which demands that “Iran shall cooperate fully with the IAEA on all outstanding issues, particularly those which give rise to concerns about the possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear programme, including by providing access without delay to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the IAEA” (http://www.refworld.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/rwmain?docid=4c1f2eb32)

* The Obama administration has since the very beginning told its that it would force full Iranian disclosure. Sept 2009 President Obama declared that “Iran is on notice that… they are going to have to come clean.” (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB125391458570742099). In January 2013 Kerry doubled down on the position, declaring that “the president has made it definitive” that Iran needs to answer all “questions surrounding Iran’s nuclear program.” (http://edition.cnn.com/2013/01/24/politics/kerry-nomination/)

There will be people who advocate letting Iran slide, and they’ll tell lawmakers and journalists that it would be humiliating for the Iranians to admit they played around with nuke experiments. What’s the point of embarrassing the Iranians just to embarrass the Iranians? Why force a “mea culpa”?

That very, very badly misunderstands the PMD issue. The reason PMDs matter so much politically is because they matter so much sbstantively. Full disclosure has long been recognized a critical prerequisite to any verification regime. It’s how inspectors were going to benchmark the Iranian program. They’re not (just) interested in the Iranian military’s full-blown weapons work. Instead they need to know all of the atomic work that the Iranian military has conducted. That includes uranium mining, centrifuge construction, enrichment, etc. The goal is to get a full picture of everything the Iranians are doing and have done, so that inspectors can verify they’ve stopped them. It’s not a “mea culpa” issue. It’s about benchmarking a deal.

Otherwise the entire deal might end up being just for show. The Iranians can commit to keeping only X amount of uranium in country, but that’s meaningless without knowing how much total uranium they actually have. Ditto for centrifuges they commit to putting offline. Ditto for R&D they commit to forgoing. We’ll have a situation where we can’t be sure that 100% of the Iranian program is being monitored under an agreement. It could be 75%. It could be 50%. Without full disclosure there’s no way to know.

If there’s really been a collapse, it will supercharge skepticism of the deal.

UPDATE: This Jerusalem Post story includes several administration quotes defending the merits of the proposal, while Omri Ceren emails additional citations to his commentary on the Reuters article:

( ) Singh: without full insight into PMD issues, monitoring and inspections are irrelevant
Michael Singh, Managing Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Times Dispatch, “Singh: Go beyond ‘first-step’ deal with Iran,” 2013, http://m.timesdispatch.com/opinion/their-opinion/columnists-blogs/guest-columnists/singh-go-beyond-first-step-deal-with-iran/article_3f1d917a-80c1-58c7-8dd9-4ea23ea78645.html?mode=jqm
Without insight into the full extent of Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities, no amount of monitoring and inspection can provide true confidence that Iran lacks a parallel program beyond inspectors’ view. A final agreement must sharply curtail the nuclear capacity left in place by this first diplomatic step and require Iran to come clean on the full range of past and present nuclear work by all Iranian entities.

( ) Heinonen: huge risks associated with not establishing PMD timeline
David E. Sanger, NYT, “Long Absent, Nuclear Expert Still Has Hold on Iran Talks,” 6/24/14, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/25/world/middleeast/top-scientist-from-iran-hinders-talks-with-absence.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0
You don’t need to see every nut and bolt…But you are taking a heck of a risk if you don’t establish a baseline of how far they went,” because it would be far more difficult to understand Iran’s timelines to a weapon.

( ) Eisenstadt: the PMD issue is key — failure to acknowledge military dimensions emboldens Iranian leaders and makes sustainable monitoring agreements impossible to negotiate
Michael Eisenstadt, Kahn Fellow and director of The Washington Institute’s Military and Security Studies Program, “Building on the Joint Plan of Action: Toward a Sustainable Nuclear Deal with Iran,” 12/6/13, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/building-on-the-joint-plan-of-action-toward-a-sustainable-nuclear-deal-with
…the White House fact sheet on the “first-step understandings” with Tehran mentions the regime’s “acknowledgement” that it must resolve “questions concerning the possible military dimensions of [its] nuclear program,” including “activities at Parchin,” …Clarifying this issue is crucial because Iran’s leaders hold that the moral and psychological dimensions of statecraft and strategy trump the technological and material…Believing that perception is reality, Tehran tends to focus on spin and image management, investing great effort in imposing its narrative in order to cultivate support at home and a more conducive environment abroad for its foreign policy objectives. In the past decade, the nuclear issue has become the lynchpin of this narrative. Tehran’s most important goal in negotiating with the P5+1, then, is to win the war of the narratives. From the regime’s perspective, this means emphasizing that Iran…has not sought to develop nuclear weapons and will not in the future; that allegations about a nuclear weapons program are part of an American-Zionist conspiracy to unjustly smear the Islamic Republic, keep it weak and isolated, and impede the scientific development of the Muslim world; and that demands for intrusive inspections and restrictions on its nuclear program reflect a discriminatory double standard. Washington has done little so far to publicly counter this narrative. Getting Tehran to acknowledge that it had a nuclear weapons program would dramatically alter the negotiating dynamic by puncturing this carefully constructed narrative and proving that international concerns are justified. Specifically, such an admission would strengthen the P5+1′s case for protracted special monitoring arrangements and restrictions while making it very hard for Tehran to credibly claim that these measures are discriminatory. It might also keep Tehran from leaving the negotiating table, since many Iranians would otherwise blame their leaders for failing to obtain sanctions relief. In fact, this is probably the main reason why Tehran has rebuffed all efforts to investigate the program’s possible military dimensions thus far.

( ) Albright: a final deal that doesn’t address PMD concerns decks administration credibility, emboldens Iranians to resist IAEA monitoring and undermines the overall verifiability of the deal
David Albright, President, ISIS,“Parchin: Resolution Urgent,” 5/12/14, http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/Parchin_May_12_2014__FINAL.pdf
A deal that does not include Iran addressing the IAEA’s concerns about the past and possibly on-going military dimensions of its nuclear program would undermine the verifiability of the deal, and thus the credibility of a comprehensive deal, in addition to the credibility of the Obama administration… Iran would feel emboldened to resist future IAEA efforts, despite any future implementation of the Additional Protocol…

( ) Albright and Tertrais: Iranian failure to come clean undermines the IAEA, makes a verifiable final deal impossible and creates a model for other clandestinely proliferating states to follow
David Albright, Bruno Tertrais, The Wall Street Journal, “Making Iran Come Clean About Its Nukes,” 5/14/14, http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304081804579559630836775474
A prerequisite for any final agreement is for Iran to address nuclear-weapons questions raised by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. If Iran is able to successfully evade questions about a weapons program…why would it address them later when these sanctions are lifted? What use will an agreement be if Iran can hide a capacity to secretly build nuclear bombs?…To be credible, a final agreement must ensure that any effort by Tehran to construct a bomb would be sufficiently time-consuming and detectable that the international community could act decisively to prevent Iran from succeeding. It is critical to know whether the Islamic Republic had a nuclear-weapons program in the past, how far the work on warheads advanced and whether it continues. Without clear answers to these questions, outsiders will be unable to determine how fast the Iranian regime could construct either a crude nuclear-test device or a deliverable weapon if it chose to renege on an agreement… Unless Iran takes seriously its obligations to the IAEA to address concerns about past military-nuclear efforts, Tehran will have established a powerful precedent of no-go zones for inspectors. Tehran could declare a suspect site a military base and thus off-limits. What better place to conduct clandestine, prohibited activities, such as uranium enrichment and weaponization? Tehran would have also defeated a central tenet of IAEA inspections: the need to determine both the accuracy and completeness of a state’s nuclear declaration. Other countries contemplating the clandestine development of nuclear weapons will certainly watch Tehran closely…If the West fails to demand that Iran verifiably fess up to the military dimensions of its nuclear program, the odds are good that Ayatollah Khamenei would be able to build the bomb without fear of discovery.

( ) Fitzpatrick: coming clean about EBWs necessary, “gets to the heart” of PMD issues
Frederik Dahl, Reuters, “U.N. nuclear agency seeks detonator clarification from Iran – sources,” 5/9/14, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/05/09/uk-iran-nuclear-iaea-idUKKBN0DP18R20140509
“Answering questions about EBW is significant – assuming the answers are substantive and sincere – because it gets to the heart of one of the sticky issues involving allegations of past nuclear work of a possible military dimension,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the non-proliferation programme at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think-tank.
Attachments area

The Power Line Show: Episode 2, With Tom Cotton and Bill Voegeli

Last night we got the whole PL crew together for Episode 2 of the Power Line Show. We were joined by Senator-elect Tom Cotton and Bill Voegeli, author of The Pity Party. The president’s amnesty order and multiple email mysteries were the main topics of the day.

You can join Power Line VIP for only $4 per month or $40 per year. Click here to join. Not only will you get the soon-to-be exclusive Power Line show, you can view the site ad-free–a real luxury in today’s era of ever more intrusive internet advertising. We will never charge for this site or limit access to a certain number of articles per month, as so many others have done. But by joining Power Line VIP you can help support our work. We appreciate it!

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The Week in Pictures: Gobbling Gruber Edition

Some time next week President Obama will perform the annual ritual of pardoning a giant Thanksgiving turkey, which will then be sent to live out its days on a farm somewhere.  My guess is next week he’ll want to pardon the biggest gobbler of all, Jonathan Gruber.  More to the point: someone on Capitol Hill ought revive and reinvent Sen. Proxmire’s famous “Golden Fleece” award for ridiculous spending, but this time make it for a self-serving idea-monger.  We could call it the “Golden Gruber,” or the “Gobbling Gruber.”  Both convey how much they rip off taxpayers.

Stupid Voters copy Obama Flim Flam copy Obama Runs Over copy Obama Outreach copy Obama Flops copy Obama Amnesty copy Con Opinions copy Green Dems copy Keystone Rxtremis, copy Landreiu Dumped copy

Cable Guy copy

Dumb and Dumber copy Border Crossers copy Elections Have Consequences copy

Govt Poverty programs copy

1790s copy

Breadlines copy

Condemn Speech copy

Feminist copy

Settled Science copy

Cold Outside copy Buffalo Ice Bucket copy

This is definitely the right way for Buffalo to cope.

This is definitely the right way for Buffalo to cope.

Pumpkin Van copy

Asteroids copy Hot Sauce copy

Turkey Chill copy

Guys Guns 7 copy

And finally. . .

Hot 204 copy