Opinion

David Rohde

How 2013′s partisanship hurt us abroad, as well as at home

David Rohde
Jan 2, 2014 21:35 UTC

The furious partisan debate that erupted this week after a New York Times investigation questioned the central tenet of the Republican assault on the White House regarding Benghazi was a fitting end to 2013.

The lengthy article revealed that the State Department and CIA’s intense focus on al Qaeda caused officials to miss the threat posed by local militias. David Kirkpatrick’s reporting showed that Libya’s rebels appreciated the U.S. support in helping oust Muammar Gaddafi, but were strongly influenced by decades of anger at Washington’s support for dictators in the region.

Militants gained strength from Syria to the Sahel over the course of 2013. Republicans and Democrats, however, remained focused on winning their daily messaging battle in Washington.

Neither the American left nor the right has offered a serious strategy for how to respond to the emergence of new types of militant groups across the Middle East. President Barack Obama’s approach consisted of trusting unchecked CIA drone strikes and NSA eavesdropping to secure the United States. Republicans used the region’s instability as a cudgel to beat the president with.

Here are three of 2013’s most troubling developments in the Middle East — and Washington’s perfunctory responses that were a disservice to all Americans.

Washington-gate

David Rohde
May 16, 2013 21:56 UTC

President Barack Obama listens to a question in the rain in the White House Rose Garden in Washington, May 16, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Unprecedented Justice Department searches of journalists’ phone records. IRS targeting of conservative political groups. Spiraling sexual assault rates in the military. And the downplaying of the first killing of an American ambassador in 30 years.

In a matter of days, alarming accounts have emerged regarding the actions of five key federal government bureaucracies: the Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service, the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon.

The Hillary doctrine?

David Rohde
Jan 24, 2013 21:18 UTC

The partisan political theater, of course, was top-notch. Rand Paul’s declaration that he would have fired Hillary Clinton; her angry rebuttal of Ron Johnson’s insistence that the administration misled the American people about the Benghazi attack; John McCain’s continued – and legitimate – outrage at the slapdash security the State Department provided for its employees.

Amid the posturing, though, ran a separate question: what strategy, if any, does the United States have to counter the militant groups running rampant across North and West Africa? Clinton herself summed up the sad state of play during her tense exchange with McCain.

“We’ve got to get our act together,” she said.

While the attention of American politicians has rightly focused on the safety of American diplomats, the key players in battling Africa’s jihadists are local leaders and security forces. The record of the United States and its allies in training security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan is checkered at best. Africa will be yet another test.

State fixes are long overdue

David Rohde
Dec 20, 2012 20:32 UTC

This week’s scathing report on the death of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya – followed by the resignation of one department official and removal of three others – confirms that the United States has an underfunded State Department is in decay. It also gives the clearest understanding yet of where fault lies for four unnecessary deaths in Libya and how the U.S. can do the vital work of diplomacy in dangerous areas.

The goal of the attackers was to drive American diplomats and aid workers out of Libya. We must not let this happen. Washington’s most effective weapon in the post-Arab Spring is promoting economic growth, trade and technology ‑ not mounting invasions. Diplomats and aid workers are the vital heart of that effort.

Some takeaways from the independent review board’s report:

     The State Department has struggled to obtain resources for years. This long-running Washington dynamic played a role in department officials’ decisions to decline requests for additional security personnel in Benghazi:

For many years the State Department has been engaged in a struggle to obtain the resources necessary to carry out its work, with varying degrees of success. This has brought about a deep sense of the importance of husbanding resources to meet the highest priorities, laudable in the extreme in any government department. But it has also had the effect of conditioning a few State Department managers to favor restricting the use of resources as a general orientation.

A hidden cause of Benghazi tragedy

David Rohde
Nov 16, 2012 20:22 UTC

Amid the politicking, there’s an overlooked cause of the Benghazi tragedy

For conservatives, the Benghazi scandal is a Watergate-like presidential cover-up. For liberals, it a fabricated Republican witch-hunt. For me, Benghazi is a call to act on an enduring problem that both parties ignore.

One major overlooked cause of the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans is we have underfunded the State Department and other civilian agencies that play a vital role in our national security. Instead of building up cadres of skilled diplomatic security guards, we have bought them from the lowest bidder, trying to acquire capacity and expertise on the cheap. Benghazi showed how vulnerable that makes us.

Now, I’m not arguing that this use of contractors was the sole cause of the Benghazi tragedy, but I believe it was a primary one. Let me explain.

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