Hillary Clinton’s last hurrah at the State Department – her appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Benghazi – was outrageous in many respects, although the partisan fury of her Republican interrogators did more to obscure the facts than reveal them. However, perhaps their partisan zeal provoked her into the kind of response that hinted there was more to the attack than she could publicly admit. Under questioning by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), she threw up her hands and declared:
"With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?"
It makes a great deal of difference to the families and friends of the dead, including the much-eulogized Ambassador Chris Stevens – not to mention the significance of this incident as indicative of a larger problem. While most of the GOP table-bangers focused on the lack of security at the "consulate" that was not really a consulate, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) asked a question that appeared to throw Hillary off her stride, but only momentarily;
"Is the U.S. involved with any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling, anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya?"
"CLINTON: To Turkey? I will have to take that question for the record. Nobody has ever raised that with me.
"PAUL: It’s been in news reports that ships have been leaving from Libya and that they may have weapons and what I’d like to know is the annex that was close by, were they involved with procuring, buying, selling, obtaining weapons and were any of these weapons being transferred to other countries, any countries, Turkey included?"
Clinton added that such a question was within the purview of "the agency running the annex," i.e. the CIA. The trademark Clinton smirk, and the raised eyebrows, added up to an Academy Award-level performance: her disdain was palpable, and the Obamaite media was quick to pile on Paul. Over at ThinkProgress, they snarked that "Paul’s inquiry about Turkey seems less odd if you’re familiar with Glenn Beck-inspired conspiracy theories that have been circulating among right-wing websites since the attacks in Libya."
Rachel Maddow went into one of her eye-rolling fits at Those Crazy Republicans, declaring that the whole thing was a case of wingnuts-running-wild. There’s "no evidence," she snorted: the whole thing is just another example of how the GOP lives in a fact-free ideological bubble. After all, she ranted, Sen. Paul gave an interview on the subject to Worldnet Daily, the "birther" headquarters and a "conspiracy" web site that specializes in over-the-top attacks on the President. Move along, folks, there’s nothing to see here.
But wait a minute: in spite of the sly references to Glenn Beck and WND – is it really necessary to point out that the argument ad hominem is a logical fallacy? – there is plenty to see here. Perhaps Sen. Paul’s vague reference to "news reports" – and his choice of internet venues for pushing this story – opened him up to this kind of attack, but he might have directly referenced a Sept. 14 Times of London news report which did indeed reveal detailed evidence of gun-running out of Benghazi:
"A Libyan ship carrying the largest consignment of weapons for Syria since the uprising began has docked in Turkey and most of its cargo is making its way to rebels on the front lines, The Times has learnt.
"Among more than 400 tons of cargo the vessel was carrying were SAM 7 surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), which Syrian sources said could be a game-changer for the rebels."
The ship, captained by one Omar Mousaeeb – a resident of Benghazi and an official of the "Libyan National Council for Relief and Support" – was the Intisaar ("Victory"), which docked in the Turkish port of Iskenderum on Sept. 6. The goal of the National Council is providing "relief and support" to the rebels fighting to overthrow the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. The Times cited a member of the Free Syrian Army, involved in transporting the arms across the Turkish-Syrian border, who described the shipment as "the largest single delivery of assistance to the rebel fighting units we have received. These are things that could change the tide."
But there were problems. By September 16, when the Times piece was published, some 80 percent of the arms had already been distributed to the intended recipients – but there was some question about who the rightful recipients were:
"Rebel commanders interviewed by the Times said that organizers of the ship conferred with their Libyan counterparts to ensure that the cargo would be split evenly within various Free Syrian Army (FSA) units. But when the ship arrived, the consignment was registered to individuals from the Turkish IHH group, a charity with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood."
The shipment became an issue of contention between the various factions of the Syrian rebel movement, and here is where the Benghazi connection comes into play. In the hours before the attack on the Benghazi compound, Ambassador Stevens had a meeting with the Turkish consul, Ali Sait Akin. Earlier that fateful day, he met with a representative of Al Marfa Shipping and Maritime Services.
Much of the work of the CIA "Annex" was concerned with tracking down and destroying weapons, such as shoulder-carried surface-to-air missile launchers, which had been looted from Qaddafi’s arsenals: thousands of such weapons, you’ll recall, recently turned up in Mali, in the hands of Islamist rebels. Did they also find their way to Turkey, and thence into the hands of radical Islamists fighting Assad in Syria?
You’ll also recall that Clinton’s State Department was at this point trying to marshal Syrian rebels behind a US-approved "coalition," setting up "committees" with very little influence – or military heft – inside the country. We were – and no doubt still are – "coordinating" arms supplies to the rebels via Qatar and the Saudis, who were nonetheless a bit less selective in who they were arming.
Sen. Paul’s suspicions that the Benghazi incident had something to do with this arms pipeline was just that, a suspicion supported by largely circumstantial evidence. However, a new piece of the puzzle has emerged that begins to throw some real light onto this dark corner of America’s machinations in the Middle East.
A February 2 valedictory piece in the New York Times otherwise concerned with celebrating Ms. Clinton’s tenure at the State Department reveals her involvement in an effort to convince the President that we ought to arm the Syrian rebels:
"The plan that Mr. Petraeus developed and Mrs. Clinton supported called for vetting rebels and establishing and arming a group of fighters with the assistance of some neighboring states. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta was said by some officials to be sympathetic to the idea. Mr. Petraeus and a spokesman for Mr. Panetta declined to comment.
"Wary of becoming entangled in the Syria crisis, the White House pushed back, and Mrs. Clinton backed off. Some administration officials expected the issue to be joined again after the election. But when Mr. Petraeus resigned because of an extramarital affair and Mrs. Clinton suffered a concussion, missing weeks of work, the issue was shelved."
Several possibilities present themselves: did Clinton and Petraeus lay the groundwork for the Libyan-Turkish arms pipeline, only to see it blow up in their faces on September 11, 2012? Were they trying to stanch the flow of weapons to the Syrian Islamists in order to prevent their favored rebel faction from becoming militarily irrelevant – thus provoking the Islamist militia attack on the Annex?
The US has all along denied arming the rebels, despite news reports to the contrary, averring that we are sending only "non-lethal" aid. Yet Clinton and Petraeus were pushing the White House to reverse that policy, and could very well have set up the pipeline – doing an end run around the White House – as part of that effort.
In spite of the catcalls from MSNBC and ThinkProgress, Rand Paul is on to something here. While it may qualify as a "conspiracy theory," those who uncovered the Iran-Contra affair could also have been similarly dismissed.
The US is deeply involved in "regime change" operations directed not only at Syria, but also aimed at Iran. Our "civil society" agitators, working with "pro-democracy activists" in Egypt, were detained last year, their offices raided, and were later expelled from the country. The Russians have also wised up to Washington’s international program of subversion, outlawing foreign-financed political initiatives (as does the US, by the way). In the Middle East, the US State Department under Hillary Clinton’s reign has been involved in an effort to co-opt the so-called Arab Spring and harness it in the service of US interests. Yet with the rise of a radical Islamist government in Egypt, runaway militias in Libya, and the preeminence of al Qaeda-like groups in the Syrian "revolution," this effort is backfiring big-time.
As Rand Paul’s father, former presidential candidate Ron Paul, has often said: America’s foreign policy of global intervention invariably leads to deadly "blowback" that endangers the lives of American citizens and helps rather than hinders our enemies abroad. The evidence is growing that the terrorist attack in Benghazi is a prime example in more ways than anyone knew.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I’m on Twitter quite a bit these days: you can follow me here.
Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Forward by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).