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U.S. Military Strikes in Libya Coming Soon?


The Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt includes a debate preview, look at both the USA Today swing-state poll and new intriguing results in Pennsylvania from Quinnipiac, and then the busy night for news on Libya . . .

U.S. Military Strikes in Libya Coming Soon?

You’re going to hear a lot about “wag the dog” scenarios in light of this news

The White House has put special operations strike forces on standby and moved drones into the skies above Africa, ready to strike militant targets from Libya to Mali — if investigators can find the al-Qaida-linked group responsible for the death of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya.

But officials say the administration, with weeks until the presidential election, is weighing whether the short-term payoff of exacting retribution on al-Qaida is worth the risk that such strikes could elevate the group’s profile in the region, alienate governments the U.S. needs to fight it in the future and do little to slow the growing terror threat in North Africa.

Details on the administration’s position and on its search for a possible target were provided by three current and one former administration official, as well as an analyst who was approached by the White House for help. All four spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the high-level debates publicly.

But if we have an opportunity to capture or kill the folks who had a hand on the attack on our consulate and the murder of our ambassador and three other Americans — and presuming the Libyan government is unable, unwilling, or untrustworthy enough to take action against the perpetrators — shouldn’t our government be doing this?

(By the way, with three current and one former administration official, as well as an analyst talking to the Associated Press on this . . . I guess it’s not much of a sneak attack now, huh?)

As for the “untrustworthy enough” angle on the Libyan government . . .

U.S. State Department officials suspected that two Libyan guards hired by its own security contractor were behind an April incident in which a homemade bomb was hurled over the wall of the special mission in Benghazi, according to official e-mails obtained by Reuters.

But the men, who had been taken into custody the day of the attack, were released after questioning by Libyan officials because of a lack of “hard evidence” that could be used to prosecute them, the State Department emails show.

As for the “unable” angle . . .

The Pentagon and State Department are rushing to help the Libyan government create a new commando force to combat Islamic extremists like the ones who killed the American ambassador in Libya last month and to help counter the country’s fractious militias, according to internal government documents.

The Obama administration quietly won Congress’s approval last month to shift about $8 million from Pentagon operations and counterterrorism aid budgeted for Pakistan to begin building an elite Libyan force over the next year that could ultimately number about 500 troops. American Special Operations forces could conduct much of the training, as they have with counterterrorism forces in Pakistan and Yemen, American officials said.

The effort to establish the new unit was already under way before the assault that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya. But the plan has taken on new urgency since then as the new civilian government in Tripoli tries to assert control over the country’s militant factions. According to an internal State Department memo sent to Congress on Sept. 4, the plan’s goal is to enhance “Libya’s ability to combat and defend against threats from Al Qaeda and its affiliates.” A companion Pentagon document envisions that the Libyan commando force will “counter and defeat terrorist and violent extremist organizations.” Right now, Libya has no such capability, American officials said.

But is this going to be a real operation that disrupts al-Qaeda’s ability to pull off an attack like the one on September 11, or just a symbolic one to alleviate the sense that our ambassador’s murder is going unavenged? Some in Congress have their doubts:

Longtime Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra — the former chairman of the powerful House Intelligence Committee — tells Newsmax TV that the Obama administration probably lacks “the kind of intelligence that will enable us to attack” those responsible for killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other members of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya. What he fears is an empty gesture with some staged attacks on loose targets designed to give the appearance the administration is on the case.

“You’re only acting decisively if you have the clearly identified target and you take the target out,” warned Hoekstra in an exclusive interview on Monday. “I’m concerned that what we may see with this administration is they may fire a few missiles from some drones at some suspected target and will either kill the wrong people or we won’t kill anybody at all.”

Needless to say, we live in a cynical age.

Jim Pethokoukis: Strikes “on whom, the guy who made the video?”

James Poulos: “Eeny meeny miney drone.”

John Podhoretz: “Is there an aspirin factory near Benghazi?”

Heck, we haven’t bombed Libya in, like, a year.

Meanwhile . . .

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted blame for the security lapses before the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

“I take responsibility,” Clinton told CNN Monday in Lima, Peru. “I’m in charge of the State Department’s 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts.”

She added, “The president and the vice president wouldn’t be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals.”

Clinton also said that the U.S. has been aware that militants were regrouping in Libya and that there would be an effort to reestablish bases.

Is this Hillary Clinton falling on her sword to help the president to get the Benghazi debacle out of the headlines? Or is responsibility jujitsu, where she looks presidential by declaring the buck stops with her, and he looks cowardly for using her as a scapegoat?

Last night, Senators John McCain (R., Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.) released a statement on Clinton’s comments:

We have just learned that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has claimed full responsibility for any failure to secure our people and our Consulate in Benghazi prior to the attack of September 11, 2012. This is a laudable gesture, especially when the White House is trying to avoid any responsibility whatsoever.

However, we must remember that the events of September 11 were preceded by an escalating pattern of attacks this year in Benghazi, including a bomb that was thrown into our Consulate in April, another explosive device that was detonated outside of our Consulate in June, and an assassination attempt on the British Ambassador. If the President was truly not aware of this rising threat level in Benghazi, then we have lost confidence in his national security team, whose responsibility it is to keep the President informed. But if the President was aware of these earlier attacks in Benghazi prior to the events of September 11, 2012, then he bears full responsibility for any security failures that occurred. The security of Americans serving our nation everywhere in the world is ultimately the job of the Commander-in-Chief. The buck stops there.

Furthermore, there is the separate issue of the insistence by members of the Administration, including the President himself, that the attack in Benghazi was the result of a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video, long after it had become clear that the real cause was a terrorist attack. The President also bears responsibility for this portrayal of the attack, and we continue to believe that the American people deserve to know why the Administration acted as it did.

Tags: Barack Obama , Hillary Clinton , Libya


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