Tuesday, November 27, 2012

2012 Benghazi Press Release Versus 2002 Yemen Bombing Betrayal

In November 2002, to boost Republican chances in the midterm elections, according to Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen, the Bush administration blew the  cover story on a bombing in Yemen,  badly embarrassing the Yemeni President and hurting the US position there.  (See Johnsen interview below)

Did you hear anyone complaining about this use of confidential information and souring US long term interests in the Middle East to affect the November 2002 election?  Me neither.  And I can't find anything on McCain's website listing his press releases for November 2002 and December 2002  that mentions this serious breach of national security.  But he has three press releases on Benghazi for November 2012.

From what I can tell so far, the Obama administration's announcements on Benghazi were a mix of lack of information during a crisis, an attempt to reassure the public, and a possible spin just before an election.  But I haven't seen any evidence that what was done jeopardized US policy, strategy, or lives. There is evidence that the administration had asked Congress for more money for embassy and consulate security, and been turned down.  We'll see.

But Senators John McCain's and Lyndsey Graham's attacks on Susan Rice look like the Republicans are going to continue their rabid attacks on the Obama administration over anything.  There's no 'we'll see' in their language.  There's lots of judgment and condemnation.  And what are they claiming?  That she should have said "I don't know" instead of reading the information she was given.  Did they tell Colin Powell that after he told the United Nations Iraq had weapons of mass destruction which led us to war?

Whether their bullying is simply a tactic to distract the administration into wasting time defending itself against trumped up charges, or it's Republicans still living in their own fact-free and/or fact-distorted ideological bubble, I can't say.  Maybe they're sure Obama had Rice do this because it's exactly what they would have done and can't believe he would have acted better than they.  But it's disturbing.  I suspect it's a mix of all those.  Create a crisis that doesn't exist to weaken the president.  If they had the country's interest in mind, shouldn't they be working on a bill to avoid sequestration and the automatic end of the Bush era tax cuts? 

Below is the account of how Wolfowitz claimed Bush administration credit for killing an al-Qaida leader in Yemen just before the US election and after Yemen's President had repeated to various international media outlets the agreed-on cover story that the terrorists had detonated the bomb themselves by accident.  The cover story was intended to protect the US and the Yemeni governments and keep the loyalty of most Yemeni people.

We can argue the ethics of the government lying to cover up the US participation in the raid for strategic benefit and to protect a local leader cooperating with the US.  But we often hide our strategy during war.   But what the Bush administration did at that time to help win seats in Congress is far more egregious than what I've heard Rice and Obama did in the days after the Benghazi attack.

Can we trust Johnsen's account?  There are other accounts of this. Time magazine mentions it in 2010, for example.  Read key parts of the Fresh Air transcript yourself: 

GROSS:  . . . You write about how during the Bush administration, the administration got the cooperation of then Yemeni President Saleh to cooperate with, you know, airstrikes against terrorists and presumed terrorists. And got the Yemeni government to cover-up the U.S. role in those strikes, so the U.S. wouldn't look like it was actually behind those airstrikes. And so there was like some airstrikes and the Yemeni government told the BBC and the Associated Press that the bomb was actually the bomb that militants were transporting and had accidentally exploded killing them all.
JOHNSEN: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: OK. So cover story in tact.
JOHNSEN: Correct.
GROSS: But then the Bush administration wants to take credit for that attack because it's right before the 2002 midterm election...
JOHNSEN: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...and people in the Bush administration think it'll be good for the party if the administration can take credit for this. You know, good work in the war on terror. So Paul Wolfowitz, who was then deputy secretary of Defense, goes on CNN and takes credit for those attacks, saying that the Hellfire missile strike was a very successful tactical operation from the U.S. So what kind of position did that put the Yemeni government in after the Yemeni government had, you know, went along with this cover story?
JOHNSEN: Right. I remember this very well. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Jordan at the time that this happened in November 2002. In fact, this is really the moment when I first had the idea for the book, almost a decade ago. And you're exactly right. There was a cover story in place. There was a U.S. drone strike that took out the head of al-Qaida in Yemen at the time. A Yemen spokesperson told the BBC, the Associated Press, all of the news and wire services that a bomb the militants had been transporting had exploded. And then what we have is a situation where the Yemenis really felt as though they were sold out for domestic U.S. political concerns. So this happens right before the midterm elections. The Bush administration wants to use this to give its congressional allies sort of a leg up to show that the Bush administration is really serious, this is an early victory in the war on terror. And essentially what happens is - I mean, there's a scene in the book in where this Yemeni political official is just screaming at the United States, and he's saying, you know, this is why people really hate to work with you. This is why it's so difficult to work with the United States, is because you take one victory and you attempt to exploit it. And you can't give the enemy; you can't tell the enemy what's going on. And this is really the moment where that initial period of goodwill between President Saleh and then President George Bush came to an end. It's after this that you see President Saleh being much more cagey about his interactions with members of al-Qaida and assisting the United States. So this is one of those old things that our mothers and our grandmothers used to tell us, sort of penny wise but pound foolish.

You can read the whole transcript from the whole Terry Gross' Fresh Air interview today.  Or you can listen to it.


  1. Rachel nailed this last night, in my opinion. The GOP wants John Kerry in a Cabinet position so Scott Brown can run in the special election to take his Senate seat. Period. They have drummed up this "Susan Rice lied" crap just so Kerry is chosen. As simple and as evil as that. Not to mention political. Period. McCain should be ashamed, but then, the GOP never apologizes for anytbhing, do they? John Kerry, stay put! Do not allow the voters of MA to be manipulated in this way, nor allow the GOP to get a Senate seat back they did not earn.

  2. It makes sense. We'll see. For all we know there's another outstanding Massachusetts Dem who could jump in and beat Brown. It's a pretty blue state.

  3. I am so f***king sick of the Republican crap, I couldn't read past the first part of your post. Sorry. It just never ends and will never end. Now that religion and politics are so intertwined in the GOP, they believe they are not -- and can not be -- wrong. God and the GOP are now inerrant.

    You cannot reason with them, so Obama needs to stop trying -- damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!


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