Monday, December 29, 2014

Two Conspiracies: Benghazi and Britain

Two non-fiction novelizations of conspiracies wound up in my "Need to Read" list this year. These two conspiracies, widely separated in time, share a common theme: The conspirators, utterly convinced of the right of their actions, would see their conspiracies deliver the exact opposite result from what they intended.

One account was easier to read than the other, but it had little to do with the quality of the writing. I had to abandon and restart 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi several times. The account of events at the American consular compound in Benghazi, Libya, written by Mitchell Zuckoff "with the Annex Security Team", was just a little too close in time to enjoy in the conventional sense.

The Annex Security Team were a group of six CIA operatives located in an annex building of the US State Department Special Mission compound in Benghazi. These men were the sole responders to the attack on the compound on September 11, 2012, that ended in the brutal death of the ambassador, Christopher Stevens. A second team of eight responders from Tripoli attempted to rescue the survivors who had been evacuated to a safe house.

Stevens had notified the State Department just before the attack of his fears that the security of the compound had been compromised, and the local security team was threatening to withdraw. The attack by Libyan Al-Queda on the night of 9-11 showed that his fears were justified: the general security setup of the compound and the locations of safe houses were known to the attackers. In the subsequent military-style attack on the safe house, two ex-Navy SEALs on the second rescue team were killed.

The truth that needed to be told was why Stevens' report of compromised security was apparently ignored; why there were not additional American security forces added to the compound defenses in the days leading up to 9-11, when an attack might be expected even without the compromised security; and why no military response was made to the attack until after the ambassador's death. Most important: Why did the Obama Administration find it necessary to present the attack as a protest against an anti-Muslim video posted online?

The conspiracy involved people in the Obama White House and Hillary Clinton's State Department dismissing the Benghazi attackers as protesters, not terrorists. This claim eventually led to the jailing of the video-maker, but could not long survive publication of details of the event. For one thing, the "Muslim protesters" brought RPGs and machine guns, and knew exactly where defensive emplacements were most vulnerable. 

Mitchell Zuckoff makes an extreme effort in this account to balance the direct knowledge of the Annex Security Team, the initial false statements from Obama Administration officials, and other documentation, and ends by diluting the impact of the event he is chronicling. I was left with the feeling that more remains to be told.

Although this is certainly an inside account of the events in Benghazi, it fails to tell the wider truth. I wanted to know what happened in Libya, yes, but also what went wrong in Washington, DC, that made the Benghazi event more than a terrorist attack. If you are looking for clues to the conspiracy, you will not find them here.

To contrast, Winston's War by Michael Dobbs was enjoyable from start to finish. The sense of injustice, done by the conspirators to a well-loved icon of history, was equally invoked as with the Benghazi account, but because the participants in the conspiracy have been fully exposed as failures, the reader can revel in the knowledge that history has judged them.

The conspiracy here is the effort of the Chamberlain Ministry to exclude the "war-monger" Winston Churchill from the councils of government in the events between Neville Chamberlain's Munich Pact with Adolf Hitler for "peace in our time" and the German invasion of Poland less than a year later.

In reading this account, one gets the sense of discovering enjoyable details: Churchill's uneasy finances and the advantage taken by the conspirators of his need for a loan, his encounter with Guy Burgess that opens the story; the eventual defection of Burgess to the Soviet Union; the growing knowledge in the Ministry that appeasement is failing, and their efforts to keep that knowledge from the British populace. 

Because I read Winston's War at the same time as reading 13 Hours, the similarities of the two conspiracies were borne in on me: in both cases, one realizes public officials deciding to be less than honest or less than forthcoming is perhaps the result of a belief that a greater purpose is served by the conspiracy. For Chamberlain and the proponents of appeasement, the lack of readiness in Britain for war made peace at all costs the only choice.

Fortunately for us all, Chamberlain's policy was destroyed when Germany abrogated the pact, and it was Winston Churchill's leadership that guided Britain through its involvement in WWII.

History has yet to reveal the conclusion, fortunate or otherwise, to the conspiracy involving the US State Department, the Obama Administration, and the events of 9-11, 2012, Beghazi. 

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