Hillary Rodham Clinton has a special talent. She makes people angry without necessarily intending to. She manages to sound arrogant and incompetent at the same time and that more than anything in her politics excites all sorts of people. It could be the hijab-clad young women in Cairo who dissed her with the cries of "Monica". It could be Russia's foreign ministry officionados who relish in telling stories of her naivete. It could be Putin who in 2008 retorted to her gratuitous insult of him as a man "without a soul" that one would expect someone aspiring to be a leader of a state to have at least "brains in the head". In her superior-but-dumb view of the world a former KGB man could not have soul, and that's that. Where that leaves the first Bush who became president after serving as a director of the CIA, would be an impertinent question. Quod licet jovi non licet bovi, as they used to say in one former super-power. But does Hillary actually understand what she is saying ?
I have a lot of sympathy for the Russian view of Hillary as a self-righteous twit out of her depths, someone who just does not get it. It is not just the lack of diligence that leads her astray. In one underreported gaffe, she presented her counterpart Sergei Lavrov a button intending to say in Russian "reset" but in reality said "overload". How could that happen ? Isn't there anyone in the US State Department who speaks Russian well enough to point out such an embarrassing mistake? But it is her utter lack of finesse or ability to present a compelling argument which really jars the diplomats the most. In February, speaking in Bulgaria, she described the blocked vote on Syria in the UN Security Council as "travesty". Both Russia and China presented crisp analysis of the situation, refusing to be bullied into accepting one-sided, and in their mind simple-minded, solutioning of the Syrian crisis. The country was on the brink of civil war. The world would be ill-served if the UN, contrary to its charter, were to take up one-sided point of view, demanding the unconditional surrender of one side (ie. the one the US does not like) to the other. Whether the affected neutrality of the dissenters is real or not: the position that Russia an China have taken up demands an intelligent, reasoned response, not characterizations. One will not win friends and influence people if one cannot deal with a dissenting point of view except by denouncing it and suppressing it. The former Soviets know this better than anyone.
The Russians have been droning on about the short-sightedness of the US policies in the Near and Middle East since the air strikes of last year. It is unwise, they say to use force to topple ugly, but in the bigger picture, harmless dictatorships. Ghaddafi, for all his domestic nastiness and bizzare clowning, was long past running terrorist hotels and fitness centres. Americans knew that and kept sending him captured Libyan al-Qaeda operators. So what would be the motivations of the US State Department to have his corpse dragged through the streets by fighters led by one of the terrorists they sent to Libya just a few years earlier to be kept under lock ? A befuddling mystery ? Probably not to the Moscow analysts who note the uncanny loss of memory in American foreign policy which basically operates with a world-view that last followed the Russians at the time when Brezhnev was still somewhat lucid. Will they wake up and start operating in the century which started with a most dramatic declaration that the Islamist supremacists mean business and are determined to destroy the once proud people with the most advanced civilization on the planet ?
Tales told by the State Department in the times of Huma Abedin
The official US view is that the assault in Benghazi was the work of "a small, savage group". There is of course an eleven-year tradition at the State Department to view gross assaults on the people and territory of the United States as the work of extremists abusing the great peaceable religion of Islam. This "denial" mindset planted immediately after 9/11 is unwilling to come to practical terms with the new challenge and find an effective policy capable of controling it. Instead, it will deny radical Islam exists. It will deny it presents today the greatest peril to the traditional values of the Republic ! It will chastise as "islamophobes" all those who say it does !
But reality comes pinching, my friends. The president or the State Department do not know who is behind the Benghazi attack or wehther it was coordinated with the raising of the shehada (the black flag of jihad) over the US embassy in Cairo. They have no way of knowing what is brewing under the surface in those two countries. Yet, the tale of Lybians and Americans fighting side by side is told even as the dispatches agree that most of the Libyan security guards fled soon after the assault began. The scope of the assault on the Americans in Benghazi is reduced to a single location even though most of the major media outlets record two assaults against the Americans, the second coming at a "safe house". It does not take much brain power to figure why this piece of information is withheld by Hillary and Huma. It directly contradicts the "small" in description of the attacking groups. At minimum, the security of the diplomatic facility was compromised beforehand by the hostile fighters or their handlers.
Then there is the soap about the friendly Libyans carrying the dying ambassador to the hospital. Oh, puh....leeze ! First, the body was not carried but delivered at the facility by a vehicle. The pictures that surfaced on the Web show Mr Stevens was dragged or carried by a single person and his distress (if he indeed was still alive) the object of necrophiliac curiosity by the crowd. Certainly, the images are not consistent with a show of concern for the ambassador's well being:
A disinterested analyst would conclude that in all probability the people who abducted the ambassador and later delivered him at a hospital were the attackers. To assume friendly strangers awoke in the night, and rushed selflessly in the direction of the gunfire and flames to help the besieged Amerians seems more like a bad Hollywood script than anything resembling reality. Most likely, the captors were ordered by their command to deposit the body at the hospital and a story was concocted (perhaps via threats to the hospital personnel) that he was still alive on arrival.
Defending Free Speech and Rejecting Free Speech in one Breath
The administration initial response to the attack is a study in double-think. I am sure the media would have a heyday with a judge who would begin his sentencing speech of a rapist by saying : "this court rejects all efforts to denigrate the moral sensibilities of the pious, by women who wear short skirts and appear in public unescorted and with uncovered head. But there is no justification in this type of senseless violence....". Wolf Blitzer or Christiane Amanpour would see right away where such rhetoric contradicts itself. If there is no justification for senseless violence, why name the pretext under which this outrage is being perpetrated ? No civilized person of whatever confession would agree to an assailant's point of view in justifying sexual assault. Why then would we agree to link some obscure video and vicious mayhem ? If there is no justification (none!) for the gratuitous violence against the US (and now the West generally !), one cannot preface it with a "but". It immediately sends the wrong signals !
How then do I think Obama and Clinton should have worded their anger ? Maybe by saying something like this:
This administration and the American people condemn without reservation the unprovoked outrage against our diplomats and the symbols of our sovereignity. There is no justication for the barbarous violence we have been subjected to in Libya and Egypt yesterday. None ! We categorically reject the attempts of those who fuel hatred against the United States to justify it by pointing to some obscure video on the Internet. Those who who stir the cauldron of hate against America know full well this is not the view of the Administration or the American people. They know the great majority of us do not hate Muslims or seek to to harm them. They use this pretext in their desire to deny us the right to hear all points of view, even those with which most of us disagree, and some of us find morally reprehensible. Do not be misled ! America will never accept to be dominated by a single religious belief in place of its Constitution which separates matters of one's faith from those of the state. I beseech you do not be misled about the resolve of the American people to protect its way of life and its interests in the world !
Surely, something like this would stand a better chance to calm the hotheads, and assure those who are the true friends of the US that there are still some brains at work in the US foreign policy. But this would assume that the State Department advising the president knows what shat she is doing. And there of course is the problem, considering the current intellectual capacity of the State Department and its self-admitted confusion over the effect of policies which she herself put in place.