GOP Debate: Winners and Losers on National Security

Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina debating last night

Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina debating last night

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, Sep. 17, 2015:

American voters’ concern about Islamist extremism is at the highest level since 2002, with 66% of Republicans, 56% of Independents and 48% of Democrats describing it as a “critical threat.” National security is a major issue that received significant attention at last night’s Republican presidential debate.

The following is Clarion Project National Security Analyst Ryan Mauro’s compilation of the candidates’ expressed stances on fighting Islamist extremism at the debate and his personal assessment of the contest’s winners and losers among national security voters.

Winners

Businesswoman Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina is widely considered the biggest winner of the debate overall. Her performance included details on national security policy.

She criticized rivals who oppose the nuclear deal with Iran without presenting a broader strategy. She said she’d inform Iran that the regime would be prevented from moving money through the global financial system until it agrees to anytime-anywhere inspections.

Fiorina said the U.S. should not negotiate with Russia because it is on the side of Iran. She said she’d provide intelligence to Egypt and armaments to Jordan to fight the Islamic State, in addition to arming the Kurds.

She advocated a military buildup that includes increasing the 6thFleet, military exercises in the Baltic States, installing anti-ballistic missile systems in Poland, modernizing all three legs of the nuclear triad, increasing the Navy to 300-350 ships and adding 50 Army brigades and 36 Marine battalions.

Fiorina is currently in 8th place in an average of national polls with 3 percent. She is in 6th place in Iowa (5%), 4th place in New Hampshire (8%) and 6th place in South Carolina (4%).

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham

Graham is the winner of the undercard debate that featured the bottom four candidates and virtually every answer of his related to national security. Of all the candidates, he was the most impressive on dealing with the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). He explicitly said he is running for president to “destroy radical Islam.” Graham said he would “rip the caliphate up by its roots” and “will kill every one of these [ISIS] bastards we can find.”

Graham’s standout moment was challenging every candidate to state whether they support increasing troop levels in Iraq from 3,500 to 10,000 to fight the Islamic State, asserting that anyone who refuses to do so lacks the seriousness to be commander-in-chief. Graham’s overall plan calls for increasing U.S. troop levels to 20,000, split between Iraq and Syria.

He argued that the Islamic State grew in Syria and then propelled into Iraq because the Obama Administration rejected his recommendation that the U.S. military establish a no-fly zone in Syria and support the Free Syrian Army rebel force before it became too late.

Graham said there is no one left to train inside Syria, so the only option is a U.S.-backed regional army that includes Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and others. He said the only solution to the refugee crisis is the removal of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

He pointed out that he’s the only candidate who has served in the military (he was in the Air Force for 33 years). Graham has spent 140 days on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan over the course of 35 trips to those countries.

Graham is currently in 14th place nationally (0.3%). He is in 14thplace in Iowa (0.3%); 12th place in New Hampshire (0.8%) and 7thplace in South Carolina (4%).

Florida Senator Marco Rubio

Rubio gave the most detailed and articulate answers about foreign policy during the debate. He argued for a more interventionist U.S. policy that includes supporting democratic activists, such as by meeting with opponents of Putin in Russia.

He argued that the Syrian revolution began as a popular uprising and the Islamist terrorist presence could have been minimized if the U.S. had armed moderate rebels in the beginning of the conflict.

Rubio said that the Russian military movement into Syria is part of an overall strategy to “destroy NATO,” save the Syrian dictatorship and convince countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia to ditch the U.S. for Russia.

He is currently in 5th place nationally (5%). He is in 5th place in Iowa (5%); 8th place in New Hampshire (3%) and 5th place in South Carolina (4%).

Rubio explained that he opposed giving President Obama authority to launch airstrikes on the Syrian regime after it used chemical weapons because the plan involved “pinprick” airstrikes. He said that he would only support military action that has victory as an objective.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

Christie struck a chord when he spoke about his experience on 9/11 and prosecuting terrorists after the attack when he was the U.S. Attorney for the state of New Jersey. He defended the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks when Carson’s opposition was brought up. He also pledged not to have deals with or meet with leaders like those in Iran who chant “Death to America.”

He is currently in 11th place nationally (2%). He is in 11th place in Iowa (2%), 9th place in New Hampshire (3%) and 12th place in South Carolina (2%).

Losers

Businessman Donald Trump

Trump failed to show any grasp on foreign policy or to outline a strategy towards Islamist extremists when pressed. When he was asked about an embarrassing interview where he appeared not to know what the Iran-linked Al-Quds Force are and the names of prominent terrorist leaders, he simply stated that he’d hire a strong team that would keep him informed on national security.

He boasted of opposing the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. He said the U.S. should stay out of the Syrian civil war and criticized President Obama for declaring that the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons would be an intolerable “red line.” Trump said that Rubio, Paul and Cruz should have supported President Obama’s request for authority to militarily enforce the “red line.”

Trump also expressed confidence that he could work well with Russian President Putin. Fiorina, on the other hand, said the U.S. should not negotiate with Russia.

He is currently in 1st place nationally (31%). He is in 1st place in Iowa (28%), 1st place in New Hampshire (30%) and 1st place in South Carolina (34%).

Read more

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The Five Worst Foreign Policy Statements at Last Night’s GOP Debates

AP_153485696464-640x427Breitbart, by Frances Martel, Aug. 7, 2015:

As Republicans wake up from their first taste of a crowded and extremely accomplished field of 2016 candidates, many will praise the candidates for what will likely be remembered as one of the more substantive and combative debates in recent memory.

As foreign policy tends to be one of the issues on which Republicans agree the most– Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) notwithstanding– it serves as one of the best metrics for which to judge aspiring presidential candidates. After all, they will mostly be saying the same thing, so judging them on how they say it results much easier. While the candidates were much more eager to discuss immigration and the economy last night, viewers did get a taste of the urgency of the Republican Party to tackle radical Islamist terrorism. Some, like former Hewlett Packard executive Carly Fiorina, excelled by virtue of proposing real initiatives to combat both conventional and cyber-terrorism. Others, mostly thanks to a frustrating lack of specificity, floundered.

Below, the five most disappointing comments in both of Fox News’ Republican debates last night.

5. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX):

What we need is a commander in chief that makes — clear, if you join ISIS, if you wage jihad on America, then you are signing your death warrant… We need a president that shows the courage that Egypt’s President al-Sisi, a Muslim, when he called out the radical Islamic terrorists who are threatening the world.

Left to its own devices, this is a great soundbite for the campaign trail. We will kill the terrorists! We will be like Egyptian military strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who ousted his Muslim Brotherhood predecessor before his country became another Libya! But what does any of this mean? Sen. Cruz did offer one bit of concrete policy: he would revoke the citizenship of any Americans fighting with the Islamic State. This is a necessary move and a welcome suggestion from Cruz but, the truth is, most ISIS terrorists aren’t American citizens, and the ones who attempt acts of terror on American soil have mostly been killedbefore revoking their citizenship would make a difference.

Calling radical Islamist terror what it is is a necessary first step that the White House has routinely refused to take, and it is reassuring that Sen. Cruz has no qualms about it. But then what?

4. Sen. Rand Paul:

I’ve been fighting amidst a lot of opposition from both Hillary Clinton, as well as some Republicans who wanted to send arms to the allies of ISIS. ISIS rides around in a billion dollars worth of U.S. Humvees. It’s a disgrace. We’ve got to stop — we shouldn’t fund our enemies, for goodness sakes.

This was, bafflingly, a major applause line at last night’s primetime debate, likely because the situation in which ISIS was born is so complicated many in the audience believed the American military was simply buying the Islamic State Humvees on the taxpayers’ dime.

Yes, the United States gave arms to Syrian rebels opposing President Bashar al-Assad, and destabilizing Syria further allowed for the expansion of the Islamic State. But much of the bulk of U.S. weaponry that has fallen into their hands has been captured from the Shiite Iraqi army operating out of Baghdad– that’s where the Humvees came from. The Shiites are not ISIS’s allies; they are “rafidi infidels.” The Iraqi army is largely a failure, yet, largely out of a desire to see the state of Iraq continue existing, America continues to fund Baghdad.

Solving the ISIS problem would be much easier if all we had to do was stop giving ISIS money.

3. Gov. Mike Huckabee:

The purpose of the military is kill people and break things.

This comment, especially provocative when out of context, was an attempt to reject the idea of allowing servicemen and women to receive sex change treatments on the taxpayers’ dime while in active service. Not spending more money on sex changes may resonate with Republican voters, but reducing the vital and extremely complex services our troops provide the world over to killing people and breaking things?

The Army Corps of Engineers employs 37,000 servicemen dedicated to constructing facilities for both military and emergency purposes, to protect from natural disasters and protecting the nation’s nature areas. Military medical professionals specialize in a wide variety of fields and work to keep our troops healthy as they serve. American soldiers have been pivotal in aiding those harmed by the southeast Asian tsunami in 2004, fighting the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, and cleaning up after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Our troops are not the hordes of Genghis Khan. They do much more than kill people and break things.

2. Gov. Bobby Jindal:

We’re going to take the political handcuffs off the military. We will arm and train the Kurds. We will work with our Sunni allies. They know we will be committed to victory.

“Arming the Kurds” has become a popular shorthand for many conservatives who want to show they are serious about fighting ISIS, despite the fact that Kurdish groups have not had much success outside of Kurdish areas, and the odds of a successful mission in an Arab Sunni territory is very low. Kurdish forces have been without a doubt the most successful ground troops in fighting the Islamic State, particularly given that the most the Iraqi army has done to fight them is run away and hand them our Humvees. The problem with Gov. Jindal’s statement, particularly in light of the NATO member Turkey’s air campaign against multiple Kurdish factions, is that it is too vague. Which Kurds?

There’s the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a US-designated terrorist group of Marxist stripes that Turkey considers its arch nemesis. There are the People’s Protection Units of Syria– the YPG and YPJ– which have been among the most successful troops against ISIS. And there are the Peshmerga of Iraq, which have also conducted successful operations and made of Erbil the largest Iraqi city safe for Christians and Yazidis.

The YPG/YPJ wear the red star proudly and support the PPK; the Peshmerga under President Masoud Barzani do not.

Without specifying, Jindal may have just committed to arming a group whose propaganda looks like this:

 1. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC):

According to the generals that I know and trust, this air campaign will not destroy ISIL. We need a ground force in Iraq and Syria, and America has to be part of that ground force. According to the FBI and the director of national intelligence, Syria’s becoming a perfect platform to strike our nation. I’ve got a very simple strategy as your president against ISIL. Whatever it takes, as long as it takes, to defeat them.

It is perhaps the greatest failure of last night’s debate moderators that this comment went unchallenged. Graham got away with casually proposing a ground invasion of Syria using American troops that would last “as long as it takes.”

When the United States began its military actions in Iraq, there was a clear villain in power: Saddam Hussein. That nation’s leader was our enemy and an ally of our enemies, and we went in to take him out. Syria has a nominal leader, Bashar al-Assad, who is a mortal enemy of the Islamic State and is embroiled in a bitter, years-long civil war. Many of Syria’s religious minorities, the Christian Assyrians and Alawites, view Assad as the last line of defense against ISIS. An American ground invasion of Syria may very well force us into an alliance with Assad, a mass murderer who has used chemical weapons against civilians– and, by proxy, an alliance with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei. How does Sen. Graham square his opposition to the Iran deal with a plan to keep the Ayatollah’s favorite puppet dictator in power?

And if he wants to take down ISIS and Assad simultaneously– how, specifically, would we do that? And what is going to fill the resulting power vacuum? For all we know, Sen. Graham may have a strong answer to this; unfortunately, no one at Fox News cared to ask.

Also see:

Senators: Obama Counter-IS Strategy Failing

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., joined by the committee's ranking member Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., right, and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., speaks during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 7, 2015, about Counter-ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) Strategy. Defense Secretary Ash Carter defends President Barack Obama's strategy to defeat Islamic State group militants amid blistering criticism from Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., joined by the committee’s ranking member Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., right, and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., speaks during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 7, 2015, about Counter-ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) Strategy. Defense Secretary Ash Carter defends President Barack Obama’s strategy to defeat Islamic State group militants amid blistering criticism from Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Washington Free Beacon, by Bill Gertz, July 8, 2015:

President Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State terror group came under harsh criticism from senators on Tuesday who said the United States is losing the war by not doing more to attack the group.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) said the president was guilty of “self-delusion” in claiming progress is being made against the ultra-violent al Qaeda offshoot, also known as ISIL or ISIS.

During a committee hearing with Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, McCain said 5,000 allied air strikes on IS targets have so far done little to stop IS advances.

“Since U.S. and coalition airstrikes began last year, ISIL has continued to enjoy battlefield successes, including taking Ramadi and other key terrain in Iraq, holding over half the territory in Syria and controlling every border post between Iraq and Syria,” McCain said.

“Our means and our current level of effort are not aligned with our ends,” he said. “That suggests we are not winning, and when you’re not winning in war, you are losing.”

Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs chairman, said restoring Iraqi sovereignty over IS-held territory in Iraq will take at least three years, and defeating the terror group could take up to 20 years.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) also said the president’s strategy against IS is failing.

“And I am deeply disappointed,” Sessions told Carter. “I don’t see the confidence in your testimony or Gen. Dempsey’s testimony. I believe we’re actively carrying out a strategy that the president has, and I don’t believe it has sufficient respect for the use of military force necessary to be successful.”

Additionally, Republican senators criticized the Pentagon leaders for adopting a counter-IS strategy that excludes a concerted military effort to oust Syria’s Bashir Assad from power.

McCain said the failure to deal with the Syrian civil war, where Iran, pro-Iran Hezbollah forces, and Russia are supporting Assad, is the greatest accelerant for Islamic State gains in both gaining recruits and on the battlefield.

“None of our efforts against ISIL in Iraq can succeed while the conflict in Syria continues, and with it, the conditions for ISIL’s continued growth, recruitment, and radicalization of Muslims around the world,” McCain said.

A U.S.-backed program to train Syrian rebels has been restricted to training fighters solely to battle IS militants and not the Assad regime. Fewer than 100 fighters have been trained so far, the Senate testimony disclosed.

The administration launched a Syrian rebel training program just three months ago that plans to produce a force of 7,000 volunteer anti-IS rebels.

“As of July 3rd, we are currently training about 60 fighters,” Carter, the defense secretary, said. “This number is much smaller than we’d hoped for at this point.”

The Pentagon currently has some 3,500 troops involved in training Iraqi forces and has conducted over 5,000 airstrikes on IS targets in Iraq and Syria.

McCain, however, said a large number of the aircraft sorties returned to their bases without dropping bombs because of a lack of ground spotters.

Dempsey testified that IS terrorism is one of several global threats that include Russian revanchism in Eastern Europe, Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, Iranian terrorist activities in the Middle East, and new technical advancements by North Korea, as well as a growing cyber threat.

“While our potential adversaries grow stronger, many of our allies are becoming increasingly dependent on the United States and on our assistance, and some of our comparative military advantages have begun to erode,” Dempsey said.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) said the Islamic State is expanding its operations to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

“There have been a series of spectacular terrorist attacks in the Sinai peninsula,” he said. “The Islamic State takes credit for those attacks. We still have the multinational force and observers in the Sinai peninsula, almost 1,800 soldiers, 1,200 of which are American personnel.”

Dempsey said the Joint Staff conducted a vulnerability assessment of the Sinai and added some new weapons and communications to U.S. and Egyptian forces there.

“I’m confident that [American forces] are adequately protected today, but I fully expect that threat to increase,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey, under questioning from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) agreed that currently more terrorist organizations are operating in more safe havens, and with more weapons and people capable of striking U.S. homeland than at any time since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The four-star general also said IS is expanding to other countries outside Syria and Iraq.

Graham said IS is “recruiting more foreign fighters than we’re training [for the] Free Syrian Army.”

“The math doesn’t work. This is never going to result in Assad or ISIL being degraded or destroyed. The only way I see ISIL to be degraded or destroyed is for a ground force, regional in nature, to go into Syria,” Graham said.

The defense secretary said the U.S. objective in Syria is to force Assad to step down through political and not military means.

Carter and Dempsey said in their testimony that the U.S. ground forces in the region are limited to being used as trainers for Iraqi forces.

Four divisions of U.S.-trained Iraqi military forces deserted during the IS incursion from Syria into Iraq last year, providing both military equipment and a propaganda edge for the group.

“The lack of coherent strategy has resulted in the spread of ISIL around the world to Libya, Egypt, Nigeria, and even to Afghanistan,” McCain said.

“We have seen this movie before, and if we make the same mistakes, we should expect similarly tragic results,” he said. “I do not want to attend another hearing like this with your successors, trying to figure out a strategy to clean up after avoidable mistakes.”

Under questioning from Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) Carter said IS exercises “mixed” command and control over affiliate terror groups and individual jihadists in the Middle East and North Africa, and in Europe and the Western Hemisphere.

“ISIL is more resilient because it is more decentralized and informal in that sense,” Carter said.

Carter and Dempsey met Monday with Obama at the Pentagon to discuss the administration’s counter-IS strategy that includes nine “lines of effort.”

They include military, diplomatic, and intelligence programs, along with sanctions and efforts to counter IS propaganda and recruitment.

Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, a former senior CIA counterterrorism leader, said in an interview that the administration’s Syrian training program is a waste of time.

Clarridge said the Pentagon should fund and organize a regional military force of Egyptians, Saudis, Jordanians, and Persian Gulf militaries based on the Sunni Arab National Front for the Salvation of Iraq, also known as the Awakening Movement, that was developed in Iraq from 2008 to bring stability to the country.

“Then you’d have a real force that could whack ISIS to the ground,” he said.

Additionally, Clarridge said the Pentagon needs to stop sending all arms and aid through Baghdad and should follow Germany’s lead in sending weaponry directly to Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq.

Clarridge also said that the Obama administration is doing nothing to counter IS propaganda and recruitment efforts, he said.

“Everyone says you can’t win this war militarily. But where is the psychological warfare effort? I have people monitoring this day in, day out, and there is none, zero,” Clarridge said, adding that the current efforts is limited to a few people at Fort Bragg, N.C.

“There are people standing by with large capabilities, Muslims, ready to put their capabilities to work, if someone would organize it,” Clarridge said.

Additionally, no radio broadcasting is being carried out in Iraq and Syria, he said.

Carter said the key Iraqi city of Ramadi that was overrun by IS forces on May 17 needs to be retaken but not until Iraqi forces are better prepared for the counter offensive.

“This will be a test of the competence of the Iraqi security forces, and it’s a test that they must pass,” Carter said. “Our and the coalition’s involvement is to try to train and equip and support them to be successful.”

Dempsey said a counter attack against Ramadi was called off about a month ago because Iraqi troops were not ready.

According to a detailed situation report from Iraq by the contractor Falcon Group, coalition forces conducted 11 airstrikes on July 6, near Sinjar, the Makhmour district, Kirkuk province, Baiji, Haditha, Ramadi, and Fallujah. The strikes hit an IS tactical unit and destroyed a heavy machine gun and a building.

Reports from the region indicated that IS forces near Baiji, where a major oil refinery is located, carried out a major counter offensive against Iraqi forces, the Falcon Group said.

“IS elements also attacked in the oil refinery and now control 60 percent of the refinery,” the report said.

The Iraqi government denied the reports and said most of the refinery remains under Iraqi security forces’ control.

***

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Leading Republican wants Senate to join House probe of Benghazi attack

Sept. 11, 2012: A protester reacts as the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames. (Reuters)

Sept. 11, 2012: A protester reacts as the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames. (Reuters)

By Catherine Herridge, Pamela Browne:

A leading Republican wants to expand the House investigation into the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack by adding a Senate probe, as a new House Intelligence Committee report Friday concluded that the initial CIA assessment found no demonstrations prior to the assault and a primary purpose of the CIA operation in eastern Libya was to track the movement of weapons to Syria.

The report described the attack as “complex” with the attackers affiliated with Al Qaeda. It also said the initial CIA assessment concluded there were no demonstrations outside the State Department Consulate in Eastern Libya.

Referring to the House Select committee Chairman, and the Democratic ranking member, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, said the current House investigation should be expanded.

“(Republican) Trey Gowdy and (Democrat) Elijah Cummings have done a good job,” he said. “I can’t imagine the U.S. Senate not wanting to be a part of a joint select committee. We’ll bootstrap to what you’ve done, but we want to be part of discussion,” Graham told Fox News. “What I would suggest to (incoming Senate majority leader) Mitch McConnell is to call up Speaker Boehner and say ‘Listen, we want to be part of this’.”

Graham, along with his two Republican colleagues, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, have been outspoken advocates of a special investigation, because they say then-acting director of the CIA Mike Morell misled them about his role in crafting the so-called media talking points that blamed an opportunistic protest gone awry for the assault.

“Number one, Mike Morrell misled three senators,” Graham said of their November 2012 meeting on Capitol Hill, where Morell accompanied then UN Ambassador Susan Rice to explain her flawed explanation on national television five days after the attack.

“I think it’s important that for future CIA personnel to understand, that if you come to Congress and you’re asked a question and you give a deceptive answer, you tell half the story, not the entire story, you play word games, it will follow you and will be unacceptable,” Graham said.

On Friday, with little fanfare, the House Intelligence Committee released the findings of its two year, bi-partisan investigation into the terrorist attack. The 37 page report found that the first, internal CIA assessment was accurate — that no protests were involved — but then-CIA Director David Petraeus, Morell and the administration latched onto information that supported the flawed demonstration scenario.

Fox News was first to report on September 17, 2012, one day after Rice’s controversial Sunday talk show appearances, that there were no protests when the attack unfolded.

“One day after the assault, on 9/12/12, the first CIA assessment about the attacks, a September 12th Executive update, said ‘the presence of armed assailants from the incident’s outset suggests this was an intentional assault and not the escalation of a peaceful protest,” investigators found.  And while intelligence gaps remain, “No witness has reported believing at any point that the attacks were anything but terrorist acts,” the report added.

On Saturday September 14, 2012, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes wrote in an email titled “PREP CALL with Susan,” that one of the goals for the administration’s public statements should be “To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”  The House report says these conclusions were “incorrect.”

Judicial Watch, not Congress, obtained the Rhodes email as the result of a federal lawsuit.

The Obama White House did not move away from the protest explanation for the attack that killed four Americans – Ambassador Chris Stevens, State Department Foreign Service officer Sean Smith, and former Navy Seals and CIA contractors Ty Woods and Glenn Doherty – until September 20, when then White House Spokesman Jay Carney told reporters ‘It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack,” and the State Department did the same much later.

The report found the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs made three “substantive” changes to the talking points that included the removal of references to Al Qaeda and swapping the word “attacks” with “demonstrations.”  It is not clear from the publicly available, and heavily redacted emails exactly who made the changes and who directed them, since the CIA public affairs office would be unlikely to make these changes unilaterally.

When Morell retired from the CIA last year, he told The Wall Street Journal he hoped to advise a presidential campaign, with anonymous sources telling the paper Morell was close to HillaryClinton. Morell now works as a counselor at Beacon Global Strategies, a Washington D.C. firm closely aligned with the former secretary of State. He is also a national security analyst for CBS News. The President of CBS News is David Rhodes, the brother of Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.

An appendix filed by Democrats did not find evidence of “political motivations,” and Morell is praised for testifying “freely and openly” about the process.  Four Republicans, including chairman Mike Rogers, concluded “Mr. Morell operated beyond his role as CIA Deputy Director and inserted himself into a policy making and public affairs role….It is simply unfathomable that the White House’s policy preferences, or the concerns of the State Department senior officials, did not factor into his calculation about what was fair.  For these reasons, we believe that Mr. Morell’s testimony was at time inconsistent and incomplete.”

The House report leaves no doubt that the attack drew heavily on “those affiliated with al-Qai’da,”  including AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb), AAS (Ansar al-sharia), AQAP (Al Qaeda in Yemen), AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) as well as the Egypt based Jamal Network.  As Fox News was first to report, and the committee investigation affirms, at least two long time Al Qaeda operatives, Faraj al-Chalabi, and former Guantanamo detainee Sufian bin Qumu, were significant players in the assault.

Read more at Fox News

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Senators: Kerry Suggested Arming Syrian Rebels

Benghazi anniversary hurts White House push to win Syria support

ben1aaFox News:

The Obama administration’s effort Sunday to win support for a punitive military strike on Syria is facing opposition and criticism in part because of its handling of the fatal Benghazi terror attacks, which occurred one year ago Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors last month filed the first criminal charges related to the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed.

The sealed charges are against Libyan militia leader Ahmed Abu Khattalah. Though he has given interviews with several major news outlets, Khattalah has not been taken into custody. And others seen with Khattalah in videos from the outpost’s security cameras also have not been found by authorities.

“We’ve been very clear that we will hold those people who carried out this dastardly, heinous attack against our people to account,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told “Fox News Sunday.” “You know what the United States does? We track every lead until we …can accomplish what we say we will do.”

Other issues related to the 2012 attack in which U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed included whether the administration was up-front with Americans about intelligence reports. Officials said at first that the attacks appeared to be in response to an anti-Islamic video, then acknowledged they were terror related.

“When it happened, [President Obama] promised to hunt down the wrong-doers,” Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Yet a few months later, the issue has disappeared. You don’t hear the president mention Benghazi. Now it’s a phony scandal. We ought to be defending U.S. national security and going after radical Islamic terrorists.”

Now administration officials are trying to convince Americans and Capitol Hill lawmakers that Syrian President Bashar Assad ordered an Aug. 21 attack on his own people and his forces used the deadly nerve gas sarin. Nearly 1,500 of Assad’s own people were killed in the attack.

World leaders are also skeptical enough about the administration’s claims about the attack to wait for the findings of a United Nations’ investigation before backing a military strike.

In July, Capitol Hill Republicans sent a letter to new FBI Director James Comey urging him to take action.

“It has been more than 10 months since the attacks,” states the letter, spearheaded by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz. “We appear to be no closer to knowing who was responsible today than we were in the early weeks following the attack. This is simply unacceptable.”

Obama’s ‘Goldilocks’ strike on Syria

3380069081Center for Security Policy, By Frank Gaffney:

President Obama surprised friends and foes alike with his announcement in the middle of Labor Day weekend that he would attack Syria, but ask Congress for approval first.  Even more surprising is the idea that anyone – friends, foes or Congress – would take seriously his Goldilocks-like strike plan, with its promise of “not too much, not too little, just right” amounts of death and destruction somehow calibrated to punish Hafez Assad for using chemical weapons, but not defeat him.

Fairy tales are not a sound basis for American strategy, especially in as volatile a part of the world as today’s Middle East.  The coming debate on Capitol Hill must establish whether the President actually has a credible, coherent and reasonably promising plan, one that looks beyond his initial missile lay-down to shaping a positive outcome in Syria and minimizing the real dangers of retaliation from one or more quarters.

The following are among the issues Congress must be address:

  • If the object of the exercise is not only to penalize the Assad regime for killing large numbers of civilians with Sarin nerve gas and perhaps other chemical agents but to prevent his stocks of such weapons from being used in the future, will the U.S. attack serve that purpose?  It is hard to see how, unless it involves a concerted effort to destroy Assad’s chemical stockpiles.

Otherwise, there is a distinct possibility that either the regime’s own troops or allies (notably Iran and its proxy, the designated terrorist organization Hezbollah) or its enemies (notably, the Muslim Brotherhood and its partner in Syria, the designated terrorist organization al Qaeda) will get their hands on these weapons.  Either way, the prospect is for more chemical weapons use, not less, if Assad’s chemical arsenal is not eliminated.

Unfortunately, no one can promise that an effort to use force to neutralize Assad’s chemical stockpiles would be surgical and antiseptic – two attributes upon which Mr. Obama seems fixated.  Even if we actually know where all of them are (including those Saddam Hussein is believed to have covertly transferred to Syria before we liberated Iraq), blowing up the caches will almost certainly result in some of their deadly contents being released downwind.  So, what’s the plan?

  • Those like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who insist the United States must help overthrow Bashir Assad, contend that there is an alternative in the Free Syrian Army (FSA).  They assert that the FSA is “moderate,” pro-Western and has a realistic possibility – with our assistance – of keeping Syria together and out of the hands of the Islamists who appear to dominate the opposition’s political and military operations.

There are a number of problems with this proposition, which President Obama may have to endorse more or less explicitly to secure the support he acutely needs in the coming debate from the Senate’s Dynamic Duo, Batman McCain and his sidekick, Robin Graham.  For one thing, it is far from clear that the Free Syrian Army is, as advertised, the secular great-white-hope for Syria.  As Daniel Greenfield points out at FrontPage Magazine, “The Wall Street Journal’s Misleading Report on the “Moderate” Syrian Opposition”, even Elizabeth O’Bagy – who waxed enthusiastic about the FSA in a Wall Street Journal op.ed. last Saturday – told the New York Times in April, “My sense is that there are no seculars [in the Syrian rebel leadership].”

Then, there is the natty problem that, if the Free Syria Army somehow does prevail over Assad’s forces and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah units now augmenting them, the FSA will also have to triumph over the avowedly Islamist units – including al Qaeda – with whom it is now aligned.  If President Obama is unable to offer a way to accomplish this hat-trick, the best that can be hoped for is that Syria remains chaotically riven between our enemies: Assad and Company on the one hand and the Sunni Islamists and their FSA partners on the other.  The unhappy alternative is that the worst in one or the other of these factions will emerge victorious, with dire consequences for Syria, the region and us.

Among those most at risk from a bad outcome in Syria is Israel.  To be sure, an Assad victory would strengthen and embolden Iran.  Conversely, an Assad defeat, particularly at American hands, would be a strategic blow to the mullahs in Tehran – a prospect that is inducing some Israelis and many of their champions here to fall into line behind President Obama’s proposed attack.

These stakes suggest, however, that Iran will do everything possible to make a U.S. intervention in Syria very costly.  Its threats to retaliate against Israel if Obama pulls the trigger cannot be discounted.  Neither should the possibility that Hezbollah cells known to be in this country will be ordered to carry out attacks here.

For those who believe the United States must defeat the Iranian regime before it obtains nuclear weapons, there are other, more direct and certainly more effective means of doing so than by engaging in a bank-shot – particularly a Goldilocks-style one – by attacking Syria.  We should help the people of Iran free themselves from their Islamist oppressors.  Our success there would do more than any single other thing to assist the Syrian people.

A congressional debate on Obama’s Mideast policies is long-overdue.  If the impending one fails satisfactorily to address these critical topics, among many others, President Obama’s proposed attack on Syria will probably have – like some other fairy tales – an unhappy ending.