Investigations are underway into the killings of four Americans last night in Benghazi, Libya, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. The bizarre anti-Muslim film which apparently triggered the protests, though not necessarily the heavily-armed assault on the US consulate, is also being looked into. A number of things don’t add up.
** QUICK HITS. With his conservative challenger Mitt Romney coming under bipartisan fire for his overreaching reaction to the tragedy last night in Libya, President Barack Obama is sending a contingent of special operations Marine security personnel to Libya, securing US embassies worldwide, and ordering all non-essential personnel out of Libya in case of further attacks. Quite a few hard right Republicans are backing Romney on this, but criticism has been bipartisan. … Ironically, the Libyan government, comprised of many friends of assassinated Ambassador Chris Stevens after an election dominated by relatively secular moderates, selected its new prime minister today, longtime Gaddafi opponent Mustafa Abu-Shakour, who had been deputy prime minister in the interim government. … In my opinion, the murder of Stevens was no chance or coincidental event. His success in working with such facility in the Arab and African worlds was a threat to jihadist interests.
** NEW COLUMNS COMING UP … THE X FACTOR AND THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE and CONSIDERING THE SEMI-BONDIAN DARK KNIGHT RISES (RISEN TO $1 BILLION).
** JERRY-RIGGING: A LITTLE BIT OF MONEY. With support levels in the mid-50s, Governor Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30 revenue initiative has been in a stable zone of support for some months now. And so far, support for it is building while opposition seems to be definitely on the lacking side.
Brown had a good event late this morning in LA, signing a public pension reform law with legislative leaders on hand. It deals with a good chunk of likely future shortfalls, adding to earlier reforms from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, but even Brown acknowledges that it is only part of what he wanted. It is, as he puts it, what he could get.
Given the confused state of voter perceptions on the pension question — it’s not nearly so pressing an issue as pension reformers would like to think it is in the minds of many voters, and there is a lot of support for state and local government workers to get what is in their contracts — the bill may be enough to check off the reform box for most.
The bigger news may be that Brown reported nearly $3 million more for the Prop 30 warchest late yesterday, raising the total for the account to around $15 million. $1.5 million came from the California Hospital Association; $1 million came from the California Teachers Association.
The latter has been heavily focused on defeating Proposition 32, the latest initiative attempt to block automatic paycheck deduction of union member funds for political campaigning. CTA has given a whopping $16 million to that effort.
Labor has put together a war chest dwarfing that of the pro-Prop 32 side, so CTA may feel less pressure on that front.
As heartened as Brown may be by pro-30 developments, which include the neutrality of the California Chamber of Commerce, I suspect he is even more heartened by developments, or lack of same, on the anti-30 side.
I’ve seen the so-called issue ad run through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a veiled anti-30 move. It’s not very good. The U.S. Chamber did the same “issue” sort of advertising against Brown himself in 2010, a way to avoid revealing the actual funders. But an “issue” ad for or against a politician can still be effective because it makes advocacy clear even though it does specifically urge a vote for or against.
An “issue” ad against a proposition is on squishier ground, because if it refers to the specific measure it is no longer simply an “informational” ad. This one rails about supposed mismanagement in California government, making wildly false claims, but doesn’t connect too well to the actual matter at hand.
The official No on 30 campaign has a radio ad running statewide, which does connect to the matter at hand.
But it’s not very good, either. And perhaps even more to the point, the buy appears to be small.
** NEW SURVEY: AMERICAN SATISFACTION WITH LIFE AT THREE-YEAR HIGH. A new Gallup Poll survey shows a dramatic tripling over the past year in the number of Americans satisfied with how things are going in the US.
It’s not at a high level, just 30%, but it’s a heartening development in the country unless you are rooting for bad news to bring down President Barack Obama.
When Obama became president, the level of satisfaction was at a mere 13%.
Thirty percent of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States. Although low in an absolute sense, the current satisfaction level is the highest Gallup has measured since August 2009 (36%). A year ago, satisfaction stood at 11%. …
Shortly before Barack Obama won the election four years ago, satisfaction dipped to a record-low 7% after the September 2008 financial crisis and the unpopular bank bailout that Congress first rejected, then passed. When Obama took office in January 2009, satisfaction remained low at 13%. …
However, it steadily climbed during his first year in office, peaking at 36% in August 2009. Satisfaction began to decline thereafter, amid the debate over healthcare legislation, a continually struggling economy, and public frustration with the government’s ability to deal with the national debt and other problems.
This year, satisfaction has improved, staying at or above 20% since February. …
President Barack Obama, joined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, this morning strongly condemned the attack that killed four American diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, including Californian Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, who as the envoy to the interim Libyan National Council during the revolution last year, played a critical role in the liberation of Libya from dictator Moammar Gaddafi. Obama vowed to deliver justice to the perpetrators.
** NEW COLUMNS COMING UP … THE X FACTOR AND THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE and CONSIDERING THE SEMI-BONDIAN DARK KNIGHT RISES (RISEN TO $1 BILLION).
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington, Nevada, and Colorado.
Obama received the daily intelligence and economic briefings in the Oval Office.
He then delivered a statement in the Rose Garden on the killing of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans late yesterday in Benghazi, Libya.
Following that, Obama visited the State Department to commemorate this worst loss of life among State Department personnel in decades.
At 11:05 AM Pacific, Obama departs the White House on Marine One en route Joint Base Andrews, where he boards Air Force One.
At 11:20 AM Pacific, Obama departs Joint Base Andrews en route Las Vegas, Nevada.
At 3:50 PM Pacific, Obama arrives Las Vegas, Nevada.
At 6:10 PM Pacific, Obama delivers remarks at a campaign event at the Cashman Center in Las Vegas.
At 7:25 PM Pacific, Obama departs Las Vegas, Nevada on Air Force One en route Aurora, Colorado.
At 8:55 PM Pacific, Obama arrives in Aurora, Colorado.
Obama spends the rest of the evening in Denver, Colorado.
Yesterday it was reported that Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu demanded and was denied a private meeting with President Barack Obama during the annual gathering of heads of government during the UN General Assembly meeting in two weeks in New York City. Netanyahu is said to be insisting on the US laying out a specific deadline for Iran to back away from its nuclear program.
The White House denied it and other Israeli leaders, including coalition ally Defense Minister Ehud Barak, urged Netanyahu to avoid sharp criticism of Obama.
Obama and Netanyahu then spoke for an hour last night, with seeming comity afterwards.
Today it emerged that the US and allies have succeeded in convincing Russia and China to agree to a UN Security Council resolution demanding that Iran stop activities which can lead to development of a nuclear bomb.
But this major news is overshadowed by stunning and tragic developments in Libya, and to a lesser extent, Egypt. And by conservative Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s response.
In a bizarre development, small but vociferous crowds of fundamentalist Islamic protesters stormed the US embassy in Cairo and US consulates in Libya over a film apparently produced in the US, a film I’d never heard of before. One US diplomat, as I reported late yesterday was reportedly killed in Benghazi.
Ironically, this came after secular moderates won the recent Libyan elections.
The irony was only increased, and the tragedy greatly deepened, when it emerged early today that not one but four Americans were killed.
And that one of the dead is U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, an Arabic-speaking UC Berkeley alum and former Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco who worked throughout last year’s Libyan revolution with the rebel council in Benghazi, entering the city on a Greek freighter in the early days of the rebellion and staying after Gaddafi threatened to destroy it. That was the threat that triggered the UN Security Council resolution authorizing intervention.
Libyan government condemnation of the killings has been swift and heartfelt. Libyan security forces did attempt to protect the US consulate in Benghazi, but were apparently overwhelmed when a crowd of protesters turned out to be a cover for a sophisticated military assault.
Machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades were heavily utilized in the assault. The details of the deaths of Stevens, Hart for President campaign volunteer in the ’80s, and the other three Americans are still unclear, with conflicting narratives.
Around the same time, the US embassy in Cairo was stormed by protesters. But no military-style assault occurred there, though the American flag was defaced.
There were only a few other protests, which makes the Benghazi assault stand out all the more.
Prior to the protests, the US embassy criticized a mysterious film called Innocence of Muslims, which I’d never heard of but which was suddenly well-publicized in the Islamic world.
There is something very odd about this. Details are not checking out here.
The supposed auteur of this film, someone who calls himself Sam Becelli, told a wire service that he is an Israeli-American real estate developer in California on a mission to expose the perversions of the Prophet Muhammad. Which is done in a preposterous manner in his film.
But with regard to the purported filmmaker it is not clear that anyone by that name and description actually exists.
More to follow.
The crashingly bad official 14-minute “trailer” for Innocence of Muslims, a movie deeply offensive to Muslims unknown until the “trailer” was placed on YouTube, promoted by a far right Florida pastor, Terry Jones, who last year sparked deadly protests in Afghanistan and elsewhere by publicly burning the Quran. The film is clearly intended to provoke Muslims, and it succeeded.
Mitt Romney, forgetting his pledge not to politicize the anniversary of 9/11, jumped on the embassy statement with both feet, claiming that it represented Obama apologizing for American values rather than condemning the assaults on diplomatic missions.
But the statement came before any such assaults.
Even after it was apparent that Obama’s ambassador, whom the president designated as his point man in Libya during the Obama-ordered mission to help overthrow Gaddafi, had in fact been killed, Romney doubled down on his canard today.
He undoubtedly, with his political situation looking increasingly desperate, is trying to capitalize on an “x factor” in the race. But it may well backfire badly for him.
Obama is monitoring several geopolitical crises involving the Arab Awakening, Iran and Israel, Syria, Iraq, AfPak, and the South China Sea.
Military Crisis Zone Times: The Persian/Arabian Gulf is ten hours ahead of Pacific time and Afghanistan is eleven and a half hours ahead of Pacific time. The time in Manila, on the South China Sea, is fifteen hours ahead of Pacific time.
** FROM THE JERRY FILES. Governor Jerry Brown is in Southern California and Northern California.
Brown signs public pension reform legislation this morning at the Ronald Reagan State Building in Los Angeles. He is is joined by state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez. Brown says the legislation doesn’t do as much as he wants, but it is estimated to save $50 to $70 billion.
There are a number of other developments — big and mostly positive concerning Prop 30 — which I’ll cover in an upcoming “Jerry-rigging.”
** WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED SINCE 9/11? What have we learned in the 11 years since 9/11? And how well have we learned it?
** There is a big difference between assertive geopolitics and reckless geopolitics.
Invading Iraq? A disastrous idea, one of the ultimate non sequiturs in geopolitical history, something George W. Bush and Dick Cheney will never live down. We are attacked by transnational stateless religious fundamentalist terrorists, ascetics who want to establish a caliphate across the Islamic world. So we topple a mostly secular dictator who had nothing to do with 9/11, nor had any weapons of mass destruction. And who acted as a powerful check on the ambitions of Iran.
Ironically, Iran is looking like it will end up with more influence in Iraq than we have, thanks to our helpful invasion and backfiring occupation. Naturally, in the way of these things, many of the same people who were eager for war with Iraq are eager for war with Iran, which was greatly empowered by the very war they advocated with Iraq.
Escalating in Afghanistan? A formula for a quagmire, another horrible distraction, and Barack Obama’s folly. Taking down the Taliban regime and disrupting and destroying al Qaeda’s bases in Afghanistan was a logical response to 9/11. But trying to rationalize and manage the entire country, a place which essentially ended the Soviet empire and led to one of the British empire’s greatest defeats was preposterous. Especially since all we really need is the ability to stop al Qaeda from gathering there in one place as it had before. We don’t have to run the country in order to do that.
** There are sharp limits to power, even for the “hyperpower.”
I could simply elaborate by saying, read the item above. But with America spending more money on our armed forces than the next 14 nations in the world combined and one of the two major presidential candidates insisting that more spending is necessary, this is a point that can’t be made too often.
Beyond a certain point, power becomes too tempting to use. And leads to backfires.
** Distraction and The Pivot (from America’s over-engagement with the Islamic world of the Middle East and Central Asia to increased engagement with Asia and the Pacific.)
I suspect that historians will look back on the post-9/11 period and find much of it to have been a fundamental distraction from America’s deeper interests, which lie in the emergence of the sprawling Asia Pacific region. You can see the People’s Republic of China — caught up in what may be a messy power transfer, though its regime is so opaque that it requires a revived form of Kremlinology, and internal disarray over human rights and widespread censorship — moving to take advantage of America being embroiled in the latest crisis in the Persian Gulf by ignoring its neighbors’ wishes and accelerating its breathtakingly expansive claims to nearly all the South China Sea.
Incidentally, my archive of articles relating to the geopolitical pivot can be found here.
** We are not good at “nation-building” and counter-insurgency — as distinguished from counter-terrorism — is still deeply flawed as it was in the Vietnam War.
Consider the tremendous effort we have put into Iraq, then look at what is happening there now. The country’s vice president sentenced to death in absentia for supposed terrorism, waves of attacks across the country, a government drawing ever closer to Iran just months after our withdrawal.
Consider the tremendous effort we have put into Afghanistan, then look at what is happening there now.
We bought into an updated doctrine of counter-insurgency, something very familiar from the Vietnam War, where it also did not work. Counter-insurgency means winning hearts and minds, building physical, social, and political infrastructure, all carried out by large forces of troops spread across the country.
In Vietnam, it worked best when a big unit went into an area, displacing enemy forces which fled elsewhere. But the insurgents knew the big unit wouldn’t be there forever. Which makes counter-insurgency like pushing in on a balloon. The volume you displace in one place shows up in another, and returns when you stop pushing in that spot.
** Effective counter-terrorism can go too far.
Getting after al Qaeda — and figuring out how to avoid turning the aftermath of 9/11 into a war against an entire religion — was an appropriate response. That meant a small-scale war based largely on intelligence and special operations. But at some point it becomes counter-productive, resulting in an angry reaction that is worse than the benefit of eliminating enemies.
Take the night raids in Afghanistan and elsewhere. I fear that too many of the folks being raided are not so much hard-core jihadists eager to strike across the world against modernity as they are dispossessed young people cut out of the spoils available in their society. If that’s the case, bad reactions are inevitable.
Then there are the drone strikes. These strikes by most accounts have been effective at getting jihadist cadres. But there are quite a few people who don’t fall in that category who have died, too. At a certain point, drone strikes create more opponents than they destroy. Are we at that point now? I don’t know, and suspect not. But we may be getting uncomfortably close to it.
** Destroying the attackers of 9/11 does not mean the end of jihadism.
There are few viruses more powerful and replicable than an idea. Jihadism is an idea, an idea which can spread more easily than ever in a wired/wireless society. Ultimately it is the idea, and the things that give rise to the idea — poverty, despair, oppression, ignorance, hatred — that must be addressed, tamped down, re-channeled.
** Our fossil fuel dependency makes us weak.
It’s ironic that the oil industry and its attendant modes of transportation are draped in the iconography of power. For our dependence on fossil fuels — very roughly speaking, the same as it was before the first Arab oil embargo in 1973, spurred by our intervention on Israel’s side in the Yom Kippur War — makes us vulnerable and weak.
Prices went up and basically stayed up. And since oil is a global market, you can “drill baby drill” all you want and the price will stay high.
The threat of war keeps oil prices up, too, and we have been very deeply engaged, at war or on the verge of war, in Islamic oil producing regions for going on 40 years.
Fossil fuel dependency has aligned us with dictators — resource-extractive economies generally create very conservative politics — and one thing we know about dictators is that they always, in the end, breed revolution. Which means that America, that historic beacon of freedom and democracy for the world, founded on the principles of the Enlightenment, ends up looking like anything but to the folks eager to get rid of the dictators.
And let’s not forget that the frozen Arctic Sea has turned into the slushy at the top of the world this summer, a very ominous development for the climate and the future. Not that many are noticing.
** Our political and media cultures have learned very little since 9/11.
But for all the evident lessons to be drawn, it’s still Groundhog Day in our political and media cultures. Insularity and ADD tend to cause that. …
** PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE ELEPHANT: THE CONVENTIONS AND THE CLIMATE. … From my September 8th essay.
** WHILE ONE CLINTON WOWS AT THE OBAMARAMA, ANOTHER PIVOTS TO THE LONG GAME. … From my September 6th essay.
** SO WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED WITH CLINT EASTWOOD? (AND THE PERILS OF ARGUING WITH IMAGINARY OBAMAS). … From my September 4th essay.
** AFTER THE ROMNEYRAMA, AND MORE SERIOUS MATTERS. … From my August 30th essay.
** SPACE, JERRY BROWN’S PLACE, AND A RACE. … From my August 27th essay.
** AN INSULAR ROMNEY STRUGGLES WITH HIS SURPRISINGLY HEARTFELT VEEP PICK AFTER STRIKING OUT INTERNATIONALLY. … From my August 23rd essay.
** RECALLING TOTAL RECALL: INTRIGUE, ULTRA-VIOLENCE, HUMOR AND WHAT ELSE THAT IS MISSING FROM THE SCHWARZENEGGER REMAKES. … From my August 17th essay.
** LONDON’S GRAND OLYMPICS, ON AND OFF THE TRACK. … From my August 13th essay.
** FROM GOVERNATOR TO MOONBEAM. … From my January 3rd, 2011 feature.
** OBAMA: RIDING WITH HISTORY. (NOTE: As Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States, this column was the featured column on the top of the front page of the Huffington Post.) … From my January 19th, 2009 Huffington Post column.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM AL JAZEERA. With the US entangled in major military operations in the region, and the Arab awakening underway, it’s valuable to keep up with news and perspectives from the leading Middle Eastern-based TV news network. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer. The NWN live link to AJ does not constitute an endorsement of the channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM RUSSIA TODAY. Russia has re-emerged as one of the world’s great powers. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer from the Russia Today channel. The NWN live link to RT does not constitute an endorsement of the state-run channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** TRACK GLOBAL AND NATIONAL ENERGY PRICES IN NEAR REAL TIME VIA BLOOMBERG ENERGY MARKET WATCH. Having crashed over $147 for yet another record on July 11th, 2008, crude oil is trading around $97 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This is up about $63 from the low of $34 per barrel prior to enactment of the Obama economic recovery program, reflecting a low point in global economic activity, and down about $17 per barrel from the price at the time of the Osama bin Laden raid.
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