A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
The U.S. shifts support to front-line Syrian opposition groups. Ongoing disputes over the Benghazi, Libya, attack. And Russia expands its treason law. Diane and guests discuss the week’s top international stories, what happened and why.
- David Ignatius columnist for The Washington Post and contributor to the “Post Partisan” blog on washingtonpost.com. His latest book is titled "Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage."
- Susan Glasser editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine.
- David Sanger chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times and author of "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Secretary of State Clinton calls for a new Syrian opposition coalition that could potentially lead a post Assad government. The CIA presents a timeline of events describing what happened after the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya. And Russian lawmakers vote to expand the definition of treason.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for this week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, David Ignatius of the Washington Post, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine and David Sanger of The New York Times on this final Friday News International Roundup before the election. We do invite you to participate. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And good morning to all of you.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERGood morning.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning.
MR. DAVID SANGERGood morning.
REHMDavid Ignatius, I'll start with you and The Washington Post, today. You give a CIA timeline of events after the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked. Explain to us how you got this.
IGNATIUSWell, I've been asking questions about what happened in Benghazi for weeks. The first set of questions really was about what the U.S. explanation was in the first days afterwards. Susan Rice went on television, September 16, five days after the attack and talked about it being a spontaneous attack. So there's a whole wave of questions about that. What I learned was that she was speaking almost verbatim from a set of CI talking points that had been prepared initially for the House Intelligence Committee on September 15, the day before she appeared on all those TV shows that used the same language.
IGNATIUSI think the word spontaneous they regret, but it's actually the case that it's very hard for intelligence analysts, even now, to be sure how all the factors came together in front of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that night. They had monitoring of people who were watching live television from Cairo of the protestors protesting the famous anti-Islamic video. They were watching it live and then they have surveillance of them talking about it together. And then it goes dark and then they end up in front of the Consulate. Did they go to the Consulate because of they were inspired by the events -- they still don't know.
IGNATIUSI mean, probably until people are arrested and interrogated, you won't have a definitive answer about motivation. What I wrote about this morning is really, finally, a timeline of these really anguishing events. It's a tragic story of two CIA contractors dying under mortar fire on the roof of a building, trying to protect their colleagues who were down below and hiding as this Libyan militia, which appears to have had some links with al-Qaeda, was attacking our people.
IGNATIUSAnd the tragic part of it is, this -- the details of the story finally came out yesterday, is that the CIA was pleading with almost anybody it could find in Libya with the main Libyan militia on which it depended, known as the February 17 Brigade on other Libyan militias on the new Libyan Intelligence Service saying, please give us heavy weapons, give us 50 caliber machine guns so that we can go and relieve the Consulate before more people die.
IGNATIUSAnd everybody said no. And that was the reason for brief 24 minute delay in setting off from the annex where the CIA officers were based to the Consulate, was the CIA base chief was on the phone, just pleading for these weapons. So those men ended up dying on the roof, in part, because they never got the heavy weapons. Another final point, Diane, that's emerged in this, amazing, there were no heavy armed drones or gunships of the sort that we use in most battlefields available, near enough to be useful. It now seems that they scrambled special operations forces to signal air base in Sicily. They didn’t get there until the next morning, long after the attack had ended.
IGNATIUSSo this is one of those stories where we just didn't have enough force to protect Americans in time.
REHMI think what an awful lot of people want to know, did the White House or the CIA deliberately delay or in any way hinder rescue efforts?
IGNATIUSI've been looking at this, FOX News, presented some reporting a week ago, last Friday, that was very, very disturbing, making these allegations. And I thought the allegations were serious enough that we should look carefully. Although there is some evidence of delay and there certainly is evidence of misjudgment in depending on militias that couldn't deliver, I do not find an effort to seriously impede or the phrase that the FOX story used was stand down. In other words, you know, don't go to the rescue.
IGNATIUSThose guys did go to the rescue, they went 24 minutes after the call came in. You can say it was 24 minutes too long, maybe, but it wasn't, I mean, it wasn't that they were told you're not going to go help. They were told to help and other helpers came from the CIA station in Tripoli. They scrambled, they had a charter, a plane on the fly if you can believe that. To be able to get from Tripoli to Benghazi, but they rushed in and so, you know, I think, the idea that there was a deliberate effort to make people stop the rescue efforts (unintelligible).
GLASSERWell, you know, I mean, David has just outlined, obviously, you know, both a new facts that emerging, astonishingly enough, just a few days before the election. And remember, we're talking about an event that occurred on September 11th. So I think there are real questions, certainly, not only about how the administration handled it in the moment of crisis but why is it that it's taken so long for a very starkly different narrative to emerge. And perhaps it's as straight forward as only because journalists like David have been out there pushing and asking questions. But it's still, this is very unusual and I think that's number one.
GLASSERNumber two, the tragedy, you know, in a bigger picture sense, right, that probably hasn't yet been fully aired is this question of, were we so wrong in our assessment and our judgments about what was going on in Libya? Why was the Ambassador in Eastern Libya, in Benghazi? Questions about the kind of -- both the kind of protection but more importantly the judgment that lead to him being in that kind of security situation. We clearly understood this was a sort of wild west type of situation with competing militias. We were dependent for our security on groups that did not prove to be dependable.
GLASSERWe just published, on Foreign Policy, site yesterday an account by two journalists we've worked with. They visited the Consulate on October 26th, just last week. And they found numerous sensitive documents still there, despite the FBI's visit and investigation. The FBI clearly had been there, they've labeled the different rooms.
GLASSERTwo of the documents they found, I think, are particularly relevant to this conversation. They appear to be drafts of letters that were written on September 11th, complaining to the high Libyan authorities, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and to the Benghazi police force, that the security that they had asked for, for the Ambassadors visit...
GLASSERExactly, from the Libyan's, from the Libyan police force, had not been provided, first of all. Second of all, they described a quote-unquote "Troubling incident," the morning of September 11th, in which they appeared to be under surveillance by what appeared to be a member of their own Libyan police guard but clearly they weren't sure if they could trust the people that they had been assigned.
GLASSERAnd this, by the way, this document comports with what one of the men who later died posted that day in an online gaming forum. This came out right away but hasn't really been focused on. He posted and he said, we've been surveiled by one of our own Libyan police. And that was what was in this document that, again, two reporters walked into the compound and found just a week ago.
SANGERI think they -- it has been fascinated to watch the CIA, just days before an election, come out and turn out this timeline, which even if it is completely and totally accurate, obviously, has significant political implications, just given the timing.
SANGERWell, we're in the midst of an argument between the White House and Governor Romney's camp about whether or not this was handled correctly. And while I can understand why the CIA would want to come in with what I think they would regard as just sort of a factual timeline, it has as big an effect as when the CIA came in and contradicted President Bush back in 2003 about the 16 words and what, you know, how they got into the State of the Union speech.
SANGERSo there's -- they may have had a non-political impotence but it doesn't have a non-political effect. I think the bigger question, which comes up out of David's great reporting on this and what's been elsewhere, is this, even if the Consulate itself was not under a specific threat, there was clearly a lot of threat reporting about what was going on in -- generally in Libya.
SANGERAnd that then raises the question, is the fact that we had forces so far away, is the fact that we were not able to get planes in there. Does that all indicate that, in fact, the light footprint approach that the Obama Administration took for understandable reasons to keep from appearing to occupy Libya, actually had blowback when they got in trouble.
GLASSERWell, I think this is a very important point that David is raising. See, I can say that with either David, today. The bigger picture, question right, is was the Obama Administration and it's surrogates busy touting on the campaign trail, Libya at this time really as a model of success, remember in the convention and the line that Senator Kerry and others use.
GLASSERWhich is that, Libya only cost a billion dollars to throw out this tyrant compared with a trillion dollars for the unsettled situation that we have still today in Iraq. They were touting this as a model of a new, kind of, light footprint American intervention at the very time when arguably whole ungoverned spaces have cropped up in Libya.
IGNATIUSI think this has been a discussion that's been needed. The questions that were raised about what happened in Benghazi weren't going away and they shouldn't because they're important questions. I think that the CIA in particular but to some extent the Pentagon have felt like, in this very political season, the phrase I keep hearing is, thrown under the bus. People have said it, we're being thrown under the bus. And I think that what especially hurt for people at the agency was, they lost two of their own people. And they felt it was important to say, what happened and how courageously these people died.
REHMDavid Ignatius, he's a columnist for The Washington Post and contributor to the "Post Partisan" blog on washingtonpost.com.
REHMAnd I'm sure throughout the hour we'll get more questions about Benghazi but let's move on to Syria where the U.S. wants to have a shakeup in the Syrian opposition leadership. David Sanger, tell us why.
SANGERWell, they haven't found a Syrian opposition leadership so far that they think they can work with much less arm. We reported about three weeks ago that the light arms that were being sent to the Syrian opposition were overwhelmingly going into the hands of Jihadists. Not into the more secular part of the opposition. And that's because the opposition here we talk about, you know, in one phrase but it's really many, many different groups who don't work together very well together and who clearly don't have a concept of how to go take over the government should Assad finally leave.
SANGERAnd Assad has brilliantly exploited the fact that the opposition is so divided it's part of the reason that he's remained in power to this day. We had heard a few weeks ago that David Petraeus, the director of the CIA was out trying to sort of shape what an ideal opposition would look like. But no one in the U.S. government was talking about that until Secretary Clinton this week said that in fact they would like to put together an opposition that could actually take over in Syria.
SANGERBut, you know, a wish is one thing and formulating it is another. And our track record over say 50 years of putting together opposition groups that can take over governments in ways that we would consider to be favorable, Particularly in the Middle East, it's not a terrific record.
GLASSERWell, I think that is an important point. You know, it's interesting timing that they've decided to start speaking about this again right before the election. What's going to happen next is a meeting immediately after the U.S. election in Doha, Qatar at which they are going to in effect put together a new opposition because they didn't like the old one. And despite the public optics, this is very much a sort of brought-to-you-by-the-U.S.A. kind of opposition that they're putting together.
GLASSERMy understanding is that the U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Ambassador Ford has been, you know, literally negotiating over how many people are going to be on the council and which groups are going to be represented. Clearly there's been a real rift between the U.S. and the SNC, the main opposition group so far. There's been a sense that those who are inside the country fighting need to be represented in a way that they haven't so far. There's been a search of course for those almost mythic proverbial western-oriented liberal Democrats somehow that we can recruit for this opposition.
GLASSERIt's not proven to be the case but this has been going on for months. The administration has not been talking about it. They even had sort of a hush, hush meeting in New York in September during the UN General Assembly. They managed to smuggle out just one underground operative from Syria to take part in that meeting, along with other opposition figures from other countries. They met with Secretary of State Clinton and others.
GLASSERBut I think David's caution is really well founded here that the idea that the U.S. is just going to snap its fingers and say, okay now we've got a sort of (word?) government in waiting that we can install. Remember the government in a box that we were going to be putting in Helmand Province in Afghanistan? It just doesn't work like that.
SANGEROr in Iraq.
REHMBut indeed, from the U.S. citizenry's perspective, doesn't this indicate our greater involvement in what's happening there, David Ignatius?
IGNATIUSI think the U.S. is getting slowly slightly more involved. And, as we know, this is a slippery slope. Once you get a little bit involved in efforts like this you tend to get a lot more involved. What I found when I was in Syria for a couple of days a month ago was that this Syrian rebellion, this revolution has the vices of its virtues. It really is bottom up. So every town, every neighborhood, every rural village has raised its own battalion to fight against the regime. They're desperate. It's been very hard to mold them into a coherent commanding control structure.
IGNATIUSThe U.S. has been working with other interested parties to try to figure out some way to pull people together under military council for Aleppo, military council for Hama, military council for Idlib. I met the colonel -- former Syrian army colonels were the head of each of those -- for those councils. And then to give them money, get all the money coming into Syria in some centralized pot.
IGNATIUSThe French in particular have said to the U.S., look it -- you won't get anywhere until you have a more coherent political opposition that could provide the sinews of government if Assad should ever fall. That really is job one. So what you're seeing now I think is not simply U.S. projects. U.S., France, there are other countries involved. And the effort does make some sense to try to fuse this bottom-up revolt and the people from it with an exile movement that's basically just been a talk shop and has gotten nowhere and try to get something more coherent.
IGNATIUSThen comes the question, what kind of weapons should you give them and what should the U.S. role be? That's a whole other set of questions that goes to your point, how deeply should the United States get involved?
REHMAnd what about China? What's China proposing here?
IGNATIUSChina has come forward with a kind of loose peace plan, talks about a political transition. Doesn't say how -- isn't clear on whether Bashar al-Assad could stand for the reelection in effect as president. But I think the important part about the Chinese document is that it gets China in a group of people saying, we do need to think about a political transition in Syria now. And you're hearing this increasingly from Egypt, from Iran. You're not hearing it yet sufficiently from Russia, which has got more cards than anybody else.
IGNATIUSBut I think the sense is people look at the situation serious. This will only get worse from everybody's standpoint. I think that feeling's growing.
SANGERYou know, it's fascinating the Chinese are involved in this at all because ten years ago you never would have seen Beijing get within 5,000 miles of this problem. So even if their solution is flawed -- and I think for all the reasons David's laid out, it's no place close to something that I think would be workable. What's it tell you that the Chinese have gotten involved at all?
SANGERWhat it tells you is that their biggest fear is that whatever's happening in Syria will spill well outside of Syria, toward Iran, toward Iraq, toward all the other oil producers The Chinese in the end couldn't really care less about the fate of the Syrians or Assad, I would suspect. But they care a lot about what happens in the region as their oil flows. And I think they believe that if Syria turns into significant chaos and the next confrontation is Iran, they've got a big problem.
REHMAll right. There are a number of emails and Tweets about Benghazi. So David Ignatius, here's a Tweet. "I have heard there is evidence of a stand down order. Glenn Beck," whom a number of our emailers have cited, "claims to know of it and that it's being withheld until after the election."
IGNATIUSWell, the stand down order has been a staple of Fox News' reporting. It was initially reported last Friday by Jennifer Griffin who is a -- has worked hard in the reporting on this. And so I think it's a serious issue and I've tried my best to get to the bottom of this. Here's what I can tell your listener. In the moment the call came in at 9:40 pm on September 11, the call from the consulate to the annex, people in the annex, the ex-special forces who were there to protect CI personnel and facilities and by extension the consulate, wanted to move, bam, right now.
IGNATIUSAnd they suited up and they got their weapons and they were in the vehicles. There were six of them and they were in two vehicles ready to go. It took from the time of the call at 9:40, by my count, 24 minutes before those two vehicles left. So what happened in those 24 minutes? It's entirely possible, I was told, the guys in the vehicles are screaming, we got to go, we got to go. And they're told, shut up, stand down. But it's for 24 minutes. They do take off after 24 minutes.
IGNATIUSSo I think your caller has to think -- Glenn Beck should think, does that constitute a stand down order or does that constitute -- what they were trying to get was the very thing that turned out to be critically missing, which was heavy weapons. That's what the base chief was doing on the phone for most of the 24 minutes was calling everybody he could trying to get some 50 cal machine guns mounted on trucks to go with these guys so they'd have a better chance. If they'd had those heavy weapons, maybe the story would've been different.
IGNATIUSSo was it crazy to try to get them and hold up for 24 minutes? You know, you can say it was probably a reasonable idea. They didn't get them so they went anyway.
REHMAnd who might that stand down order have come from?
IGNATIUSIn the heat of the moment it's clear that, you know, people concede to me it's very likely that people in the vehicles saying we got to go and they were told, you know, by the team leader, who was a career CI officer who went with them and by the base chief, also a career CI officer, not yet. The idea that President Obama's sitting in the White House or David Petraeus said stand down, I have been looking. I don't find any evidence of that.
REHMAll right. And Elaine from Cleveland, Ohio says she'd like to remind the panel that Chris Stevens the ambassador did decline additional security. Shouldn't that have an impact on accountability accusations, David Sanger?
SANGERWell, Chris Stevens, from everything that we've heard about him, and I only met him once and did not know him well at all, was among a group of ambassadors who felt very strongly that you needed to get out among the people who you were trying to communicate with. And that having a phalanx of guards around at all times and traveling in these huge motorcades, which frequently American ambassadors have to go do, puts a separation in there that he didn't want to see.
SANGEROn top of which he was very much considered to be sort of the savior of Benghazi back during Gadhafi's time and the moment...
REHM...and quite well liked.
SANGER...and very well liked, had a lot of support as you saw later on from the groups that went out to drive out some of these more violent insurgents. And so I think he felt safer than he really was there and believed that, you know, those same guys who didn't show up with the machine guns would probably be around to help him out if he had a problem.
GLASSERWell, I want to hear what David has to say but I think though one question is in the narrow situation surrounding this trip, how safe did he really feel? And I don't know that we know the answer to that yet. I think these new documents and just--you know, this was a savvy guy who understood the precariousness probably of the situation -- the security situation in Benghazi better than we did back here in Washington.
GLASSERSo I wouldn't be so sanguine that he thought, you know, this is just going to be fine.
IGNATIUSThe one point I wanted to add was that in this very feverish campaign motivated debate, people have been talking as if, well, what the United States should want is a kind of zero risk situation for our diplomats and intelligence personnel overseas. And that's just not true. These are dangerous places. They're courageous people. They know what they're doing. They're doing it because they believe in their mission. And the idea that they should never take risks anywhere is wrong.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Afghanistan, Susan. Where is the U.S. now in its strategy to wind down Afghanistan?
GLASSERWell, that's one thing where you can say there has been a certain amount of consensus on the campaign trail and that regardless of who wins next week, Obama or Romney, there clearly is a sense that that 2014 timetable for withdrawal is one that both parties are sticking to. And if anything, you know, they would love to find a way to get to the exit more quickly.
GLASSERThat being said, one piece of news this week suggests some of the challenges that either party would face in navigating that withdrawal. They set the date for the Afghan presidential election in 2014. And the truth is that's been the missing piece throughout this long-running war in Afghanistan, is now America's longest war. Why are we keep there and keep there? Because there hasn't been a political process.
GLASSERAnd now you're looking at the forced exit. Hamid Karzai cannot run for another term as president. And you're looking at potentially more political instability rather than less, no real prospects. Negotiations with the Taliban have not produced the fruit that the Obama Administration had hoped that they would. And, in fact, now you no longer hear them even mentioning that as one of the criteria for this troop withdrawal, whereas a year ago in fact that was seen as a key piece. We're going to move into a political mode. We're going to move into a negotiation mode.
GLASSERNow they're saying, well maybe we'll get to the point by 2014 where we can be talking. So, you know, the political bar keeps getting lowered and lowered and they still can't meet that.
SANGERWell, Susan's exactly right. The bar has moved down and down and down again. And we now are in a position where the candidates are pretty close to each other. It was only in January that Mitt Romney was saying he wouldn't negotiate with the Taliban. He would kill all the Taliban and stay until the job was done. I think many of his advisors came to him and explained that, you know, that's what the U.S. has been trying for 11 years and we've got the results that we have.
SANGERThat said, I'd say I found the debate on Afghanistan during the campaign to be not only a little bit disappointing I thought, but strangely removed from the decisions that the next president is going to have to go make, no matter who wins on Tuesday. For example, during the vice-president debate, if you listened to Vice-President Biden, you got the sense that all Americans are out at the end of 2014. That's very nice but that's not the American plan as described by the Obama Administration.
SANGERThe American plan is to keep what they call an enduring presence. People can argue about whether that's 5, 10 or 15,000 people behind high walls but able to conduct special operations, not only in Afghanistan but into Pakistan and have a ready response team should Pakistan's nuclear weapons somehow spring free. There was never a discussion about whether or not we want to have such an enduring presence.
REHMAnd in the meantime, you've got two more British soldiers killed in Afghanistan, what might have been another green on blue attack, David.
IGNATIUSYes. Two Gurkha soldiers in the British contingent of Isaf were killed on Tuesday in Helmand Province. They were killed by someone in an Afghan police uniform, so it does look like this so called green on blue situation. These incidents tell you what's obvious, which is the Afghans after decades of war -- because their war predated our arrival in 2001 -- they are just sick of foreign fighters in their midst. I think that is a central strand of this.
IGNATIUSAnd you could argue that's one of the things that you're going to need to build an effort to have Afghan political dialogue around. And I think that -- I think David made a very good point, we have not talked about what the United States is going to do over the next two years to prevent that country from blowing up again.
REHMDavid Ignatius, Susan Glasser, David Sanger. They're here to answer your questions after we take just a short break. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back, it's time to open the phones 800-433-8850. First to Tampa, Fla., Coleman, you're on the air.
COLEMANThank you. I just have one concern, Diane. There are obviously a number of agencies within the U.S. government concerned with the security to the nation and its outlying representation and I cannot recall a single instance in the history of the U.S. where there's practically been a holy date created by entities hostile to the U.S. such as has occurred with 9/11.
COLEMANAnd obviously, I haven't listened to all of the newscasts since the event, but I haven't heard a single one mention more than coincidence that the attack in Benghazi coincided with the attack on the twin towers on 9/11. Since agencies responsible for our safety and security are bipartisan by nature, both Republicans and Democrats, this is not a political issue. It just amazes me that no one seemed to think that we needed additional security on that date and particularly in the various overseas representative agencies that we have.
DAVID IGNATIUSWell, we don't know specifically what directives were sent out prior to the 9/11 anniversary. I think often there is guidance people should be aware of, heightened threat status, et cetera. But we are getting the sense, and Susan earlier described some of the evidence that's emerging that there were warnings that the security situation in Libya was deteriorating sharply.
DAVID IGNATIUSAs I've asked people who are looking at the intelligence analysis of what happened on September 11th, it's clear that the group that did this had links to al-Qaida, some of the people. It was a sort of hodgepodge of different groups out in front of the consulate.
DAVID IGNATIUSIt is not clear that this was pre-planned. They came with a lot of firepower, but there isn't yet intelligence about pre-planning. They're a terrorist group. They conducted a terrorist operation. This was not a political demonstration, but was it pre-planned? They don't know. They don't -- they've looked specifically because the leader of al-Qaida, the day before, called for revenge attacks against Americans. As to whether there's any link directly to the leader of al-Qaida, they didn't find it.
REHMHere we've had several emails and a tweet about this, David Sanger, saying let's talk about the Republican Congress cutting embassy security by $400 million.
SANGERWell, the proposal put afoot in Congress was an overall cut in the diplomatic budget and that includes, of course, embassy security. Whether or not that would have actually happened, you know, in the end, we don't know, but it is an inconvenient fact for those who are arguing that the administration acted improperly here.
SANGERNow the fact of the matter is that the consulate in Benghazi was not really a real embassy facility. What we're learning is that Benghazi was much more the center of CIA operations, you know, in Benghazi and this annex.
REHMSo you're saying it was not even a State Department consulate?
SANGERIt was a State Department consulate, but it was something of a rapidly, and David knows this better than I do so I will defer to him, but a rapidly-put-together building that did not have the standard Marine guards, the usual protections you'd see if you went into a normal American consulate.
REHMAnd why would Chris Stevens have gone there?
SANGERWell, for absence of any place else, I imagine, that seemed any safer. But David, do you want to add to that?
REHMWhat about Tripoli?
IGNATIUSHe had a specific reason for being there. There was the opening of a project, a development project that he thought was important that the United States should show the flags as it were and so he went. He also did feel that he was a well-known and popular figure in Benghazi. I think that was perhaps part of his hubris that makes this so tragic.
IGNATIUSThere are all kinds of crazy theories spinning around the internet about why did he meet with the Turkish ambassador there and what was this connected to. You know, one other point I would make because this is true and it's out there and people should know it. One thing that the CIA base in Benghazi was doing that was important was trying to round up as many of the shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles that Gaddafi had bought and that were then loose and could be sold.
IGNATIUSIt was a dangerous, obviously terrorist weapon to shoot down a civilian airliner, for example. So some of the people at the CIA base, including at least one of the people who died, was involved directly in that.
REHMTo Dallas, Tx., good morning, Anna.
ANNAGood morning. I guess one of your panelists already kind of stole my thunder so to speak. But I've heard a current and former State Department view and personnel in an interview since the attack stating that the Benghazi location was not an official consulate, wasn't designated as an official consulate and I was just curious as to why we keep hearing that. And I guess your panelist has stated that. I guess it is so I just was curious about that and obviously that would affect the type of security that would be posted there.
REHMAll right, thanks for your call. And David Sanger, thanks for that elucidation. To Raleigh, N.C., good morning, Gloria.
GLORIAGood morning, yes. This is a, actually a statement for David Sanger regarding Libya. Why are we intervening into all these countries and for what purpose? I'd like to get a definitive answer. What is our American goal to go into country after country after country and specifically, why are we doing it? Are we doing it to help the people or are we doing it basically for interests?
REHMI think there are a lot of people asking that very question, David.
SANGERIt's a very good question and if you go back to the debate that took place in the Obama administration in the situation room as Muammar Gaddafi was trying to put down this rebellion right after Egypt -- and of course before that Tunisia had gone through similar upheavals, there was a huge debate about what the American interests were.
SANGERAnd you had Robert Gates who was in his last months as the defense secretary at the time saying, look, we have no major American interests in Libya. We shouldn't be there. Then you had an interesting coalition that included Secretary Clinton, Susan Rice, the American Ambassador to the United Nations and one person frequently mentioned as a possible successor to Hillary Clinton should President Obama win on Tuesday and some others, Samantha Power among those whose memory of Rwanda was very, very strong from the Clinton years.
SANGERAnd said, look, we have a humanitarian obligation called the responsibility to protect in order to protect people who are about to be slaughtered by their own leader. And this brought a reluctant President Obama around and so he came up with this sort of interesting half way in, half way out approach which was to support in the air, but as he said explicitly in the speech, not to send in ground forces.
SANGERAnd that's what the U.S. ended up doing and, you know, in the end, Gaddafi fell so I think that President Obama was feeling pretty good about this until Benghazi.
GLASSERWell I think, I'm glad the caller raised this because I do think that's at the backdrop of a lot of this conversation. There's a profound ambivalence in, certainly across the American political spectrum right now about what sort of a role we should play in the world after a decade of war, post 9/11.
GLASSERAt the same time in the campaign, we've seen this very rhetorical debate over American exceptionalism. Romney has repeatedly at various points accused Obama of being a declinist and therefore ruled out any conversation in which America is not playing the role of the indispensable power.
GLASSERHe's sort of driven Obama back into this very aggressive rhetoric about, you know, we're the one nation, the one super power in the world. And look at this conversation about Benghazi where, in fact, the criticism implies that we should never cut back our presence, that we should have overwhelming force available anywhere in the world, at any moment at which we need it.
GLASSERHow come there aren't heavily-armed drones and helicopters and Special Forces available to swoop in and rescue our guys whenever they need it? And so I think these things are profoundly in conflict. On the one hand you have an American public that says, enough, you know, these are not our problems and we only want to be in places where we absolutely have to be.
GLASSEROn the other hand, we're not comfortable being anything less than a dominant overwhelming super power.
REHMAnd here's an email from someone describing himself as a former State Department, Foreign Service officer who says: "Marines do not serve at consulates. They are posted at embassies to guard U.S. documents. Sadly, the ambassador should have recognized the dangers he went into especially on 9/11."
REHMAnd following up on that, Pat in York, Pa., has a comment. Good morning to you.
PATGood morning, thank you for taking my call. This is a wonderful discussion, all three of you, David, David and Susan, and Diane, of course. I read and I'm not sure if it's accurate that Ambassador Stevens refused the security detail because it would have been subcontractors a la Blackwater and companies of that ilk who basically are just storm-troopers to the populus and therefore he didn't want to have that kind of group protecting him. He did want to be among the populus. I'll just leave it to your comments.
REHMAll right, thanks.
IGNATIUSI've read the same thing. I don't have independent reporting on that. It's a fact that when things went bad in Benghazi at this non-consulate consulate the only immediate recourse was to turn to the CIA annex which had been there a lot longer than the State Department facility.
IGNATIUSAnd these people scrambled. They are themselves ex-special forces. Two people were killed Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, both were in the Special Forces and they scrambled. I think one thing that is worth noting about this is that, although there's an awful lot of heat coming down, it's good to see that the different agencies of the government actually did move to help each other.
IGNATIUSCIA, you know, dashed over to a burning consulate compound, under fire from rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. The Pentagon immediately scrambled a predator drone that was flying a mission over Derna, which is a city south of Benghazi. It flew in under the estimated flight time so it could get over the compound. It arrived over the compound at 11:11.
IGNATIUSThe CIA scrambled a team in Tripoli and they jumped on this airplane. They even had to charter a plane, if you could imagine that, at 11:00 at night and fly. So the impression you have is that on the ground people were actually trying to help each other.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Susan, Russia expanding its definition of treason, why is this so controversial?
GLASSERWell, let's just say that if you were an activist in Russia today, they're looking to make it even more difficult for you to have any dealings with any groups that the Kremlin doesn't like. And what we're really seeing here is, what is the final years of Vladimir Putin's reign, which could go on for some time, what is it going to look like?
GLASSERAnd you know, to the extent that there was a brief thaw under the sort of puppet presidency of Dmitry Medvedev, it's pretty clear that that's over now, that Putin has officially returned to the presidency and to the Kremlin. And really on some level, it doesn’t make a huge difference because the Kremlin already had the power, more or less, to do whatever it wanted.
GLASSERYou know, Russia today, 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, 99 percent conviction rate so, you know, the government can do whatever it wants. And if the government wants to accuse you of being a spy because you dealt with a Western NGO, they were already going to do that.
REHMAnd why are they doing it now? What is it that's prompted this?
GLASSERWell, I think, you know, there's no question that the uprisings of the Arab Spring, what's happening in Syria are of great concern to Putin and his colleagues in the Kremlin. There is a project here that is all about the long-term maintenance of power for this group of people. It is not about anything much more complicated than that and remember that there is an ongoing guerilla insurgency in the north Caucasus, Russia's sort of southern underbelly if you will.
GLASSERAnd while the war itself in Chechnya has been repressed at great cost in life and treasure by the Russians, that doesn't mean that this insurgency is over so you have that threat to the government's stability and you have of course the increasing middle class dissatisfaction with Putin's heavy-handed authoritarianism.
GLASSERProtests that have broken out in Moscow and St. Petersburg with great intensity over the last year, they haven't disappeared although without an election to focus them it's not clear what's going to happen, so, you know, this is about a regime that is very determined to use the levers that it controls to very aggressively lock down power. And remember also there's the Sochi Olympics coming up and this is meant to be Vladimir Putin's big show to the world and he doesn't want anything to interfere with that.
SANGERYou know, Diane, in addition to what Susan has described, there's another fascinating move that we have seen President Putin take that I find equally disturbing. For 20 years, since the fall of the Soviet Union, you've seen the United States and Russia work very closely together on dismantling old, loose, used nuclear weapons, the fuel for them in a program called Nunn-Lugar that was promoted through Democratic and Republican administrations.
SANGERAnd now the Russians have just sort of announced it's over. It's done. We're getting out of this business, which is somewhat remarkable because U.S. taxpayers were paying a lot more for this in many ways than Russians were and it led to some great talking points including that when you flipped on your electric switches here, you know, some good portion of your energy in the United States was coming from blended-down, old Soviet weapons that had once been pointed at the United States. It had a nice feel about it. That nice feel has gone.
REHMDavid Ignatius, last word?
IGNATIUSOn this new Russian treason law that passed both houses of their parliament this last week, I found it Orwellian. This idea that essentially passing information with NGOs, the things that...
REHMYou can't even talk to them.
IGNATIUS...citizens in a free society do as a matter of course is now to be termed treasonous. It just shows you how fast Putin is going down the wrong road.
REHMDavid Ignatius, Susan Glasser, David Sanger, thank you all so much for coming in on what I know has been a very busy week before the election. My last comment, don't forget to vote. Thanks for being here.
REHMAnd thanks all for listening, have a great weekend. I'm Diane Rehm.
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