Saturday, May 11, 2013

Final book in World War II trilogy grim, depressing — and a terrific read


The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe 1944-1945. Rick Atkinson. holt. 896 pages.$40.
The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe 1944-1945. Rick Atkinson. holt. 896 pages.$40.
I’ve never felt such an overwhelming compulsion to plagiarize. But there’s no better way to describe The Guns at Last Light — the final volume of Rick Atkinson’s epic World War II trilogy — than to steal his own summary of the Battle of the Bulge: “War is never linear, but rather a chaotic, desultory enterprise of reversal and advance, blunder and élan, despair and elation. Valor, cowardice, courage — each had been displayed in this spectacle of a marching world.”

For 14 years (and almost 2,400 pages), Atkinson has chronicled the blood, sweat and tears shed as the Allies confronted Hitler’s armies in the Mediterranean and Western Europe. And The Guns at Last Light, an account of the final 11 months of the war that began with the D-Day invasion of France, is the bloodiest, sweatiest and most tearful book yet.

That may strike some readers as unexpected and even counterintuitive. The series’ first two works, An Army at Dawn and The Day of Battle, covered the early days of the war in North Africa and Italy, when the British were reeling from an unbroken string of defeats at the hands of Germany and Japan, and the Americans were untested rookies learning the trade of war one blunder at a time.

The final phase of the war, in a collective American consciousness shaped increasingly by such movies as Saving Private Ryan rather than the memories of the dwindling few who were there, is thought to have been much different: a bloody day on the beach at Normandy followed by a lightning sweep into Germany as Hitler’s military imploded.
Atkinson’s book is an agonized, eloquent corrective to the record. It’s a counter-cliché narrative in which a nurse in one military field hospital surveys a ward littered with broken corpses and severed limbs and declares, “Maybe it’s a good thing their mothers can’t see them when they die,” while another ends a letter home with the forlorn question, “God, where are you?”

Most soldiers in those hospitals were probably victims of the Germans. But many weren’t. Bombs and bullets almost never hit their targets. During the massive bombing of Normandy during the hours before D-Day, 98 percent of the shells missed the assault zone completely. Allied ships lobbed 1,200 artillery rounds at a single German battery overlooking one of the beachheads and hit it only once.

Allied generals cold-bloodedly accepted the error rate and the damage it inflicted on their own men. After ordering a tight-quarters bombing raid which, he was warned, would result in 1,800 pounds of explosives hitting his own troops, Gen. Omar Bradley chillingly referred to his men as “tools” and added: “War has neither the time nor heart to concern itself with the individual and the dignity of man.”

Atkinson, happily, does. Like war-correspondent-turned-historian Cornelius Ryan, whose books on World War II peppered strategic analysis with grunt’s-eye anecdotes from the battlefield, Atkinson never loses track of the men who fought the war. Mining their diaries and letters, he has produced an account that is achingly human:
A paratrooper’s frantic prayer, as he flies to his drop zone: “Give me guts. Give me guts.” A Canadian pilot, radioing home as his shot-to-pieces bomber plunged into the Atlantic: “Order me a late tea.” A badly wounded GI lying on a stretcher next to a bleeding German prisoner, murmuring aloud: “I’d kill him if I could move.”

There are tales of appalling atrocities and tales of breathtaking heroism, and it is not always easy to tell them apart. When one of Sgt. Audie Murphy’s men was shot dead by a German pretending to surrender, Murphy — who won a Medal of Honor for his deeds that day — raged through German lines hurling grenades and firing a machine gun from his hip, slaughtering everyone in his path. With no one left to kill, he sat down and cried.
The Guns at Last Light also contains comic moments, as when the American expatriate writer Alice B. Toklas presented the American unit that liberated her town in the south of France with a fruitcake. (Atkinson is discreetly silent on whether it contained the magic ingredient of the famed Toklas brownies.) Or when surrendering German troops ran out of white flags and began, so aptly, waving chickens. Even at its grimmest, it’s a terrific read.

The book’s greatest service may be the demolition of the myth of Good War, a conflict of moral certainties and military competence. Though Atkinson never says it, his account makes World War II sound a lot more like Vietnam or Iraq than we may care to acknowledge.

Military intelligence was haunted by paranoid fears about weapons of mass destruction. Doctors were told to promptly report any mysteriously fogged X-ray film, which might suggest the Germans were using radioactive “dirty bombs.”

As the war dragged on, many soldiers grew to mistrust their officers. Gen. Hap Arnold, chief of the Army Air Force, brooded about his men’s “lack of respect (amounting to near hatred) for certain senior generals . . . lack of desire to kill Germans; lack of understanding of political necessity for fighting the war; general personal lassitude.” Some troops went to fearful lengths to escape: During its first two months in France, the First Army Group alone reported more than 500 self-inflicted gunshot wounds by men who decided that a ticket home was worth the loss of a foot.

Others took out their rage on the enemy, killing unarmed prisoners (Gen. George Patton’s diary records his worry that word of the frequent executions would leak into the press) and collecting bags of their broken teeth and severed ears. Some simply went crazy: The army alone hospitalized 929,000 men for “neuropsychiatric” reasons. “Sound mental health requires a satisfactory life-purpose and faith in a friendly universe,” one army chaplain noted. Says Atkinson: “On the battlefields of Europe in 1944, no such cosmology seemed likely.”

Allied generals proclaimed victories based on cockeyed body counts. (Patton simply multiplied the number of prisoners he took by 10 to come up with a figure for German dead.) And they dropped napalm on civilians with horrifying regularity, lied about it insouciantly and censored any reporter who found out. The Pentagon even hired Hollywood set designers to create mock neighborhoods in the Nevada desert to discover which bombing tricks most quickly set a city ablaze.

Even with the military practicing Draconian censorship on dispatches from the front, doubts crept into news reporting. “Perhaps more men should know the expense of war,” wrote a Life reporter, “for it is neither a fit way to live nor to die.” Atkinson has added up those expenses with meticulous and riveting accuracy.

Glenn Garvin is The Miami Herald’s television critic.

Read more here:

Book review: ‘The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945’ by Rick Atkinson

By Gerard DeGroot

May 10, 2013

Lt. Gen. Alexander Patch’s exploits as commander of the Seventh Army in France were celebrated across America. “This temporary notoriety will soon die out,” he assured his wife in September 1944. “God protect me from being spoiled by it.” Those words proved too prophetic.
Two months later, glory morphed into despair when his son was killed while serving under his command. “I shall never be able to forgive myself,” Patch wrote. He blamed himself for rushing his son back into combat after he was wounded the previous June. Reflecting on Patch’s travails, his friend Maj. Gen. John Dahlquist wrote, “It is almost beyond comprehension that the human being can stand so much.”

Dahlquist’s remark is perfect because it is generic — it describes equally well the misery of an individual and the agony of a continent. Patch’s despair was a minuscule drop in a torrent of suffering; its significance lies in its ubiquity. That ubiquity usually defeats those who chronicle World War II. How, then, to convey its immensity — the terror and the tragedy, but also the beauty? Rick Atkinson, a former reporter at The Washington Post, has found a way. In this, the third volume of his Liberation Trilogy, he reconstructs the period from D-Day to V-E Day by weaving a multitude of tiny details into a tapestry of achingly sublime prose.

When handsome words are used to convey horror, their effect is like a bayonet in the gut. That is what Siegfried Sassoon proved with his poems from the First World War. “The Guns at Last Light” often reads like the best of Sassoon. “In claustrophobic holds and on weather decks the troops made do, wedged like sprats in a tin,” Atkinson writes. The stark tone and rhythmic perfection of that simple line brings to mind Sassoon’s “In winter trenches, cowed and glum/With crumps and lice and lack of rum.” Later, we get this: “On they marched, south, east, and west: past stone barns and mules hauling milk in copper urns, past shops that still peddled perfume and silk scarves, past collaborators with crude swastikas swabbed onto their shaved heads.” The fountain of eloquence bursts forth so frequently that one almost becomes immune to its beauty.

The war’s immensity is perfectly conveyed through thousands of details. For Operation Overlord, the U.S. Army accumulated 301,000 vehicles, 1,800 locomotives, 20,000 rail cars, 2.6 million small arms, 2,700 artillery pieces, 300,000 telephone poles and 7 million tons of gasoline. Reconnaissance of the Siegfried Line produced 200,000 aerial photos, comprising four acres of paper. American soldiers smoked more than 1 million packs of cigarettes a day, an addiction that strained shipping resources. Holding this vast logistical conglomeration together took its toll on Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme commander, who smoked four packs a day. When his blood pressure rose to 176/110, he banned doctors from taking further readings, for fear they might order him home.

The tiny details often illustrate war’s absurdity. On one occasion, German soldiers, lacking white flags with which to surrender, waved chickens instead. G.I.s forced to retreat across the Moselle River fashioned water wings from inflated condoms. Atkinson’s capacity for whimsy provides welcome respite from the oppressive horror. For instance, he relates how liberated Parisians affected the look of artists Daumier and Delacroix, with loose neckerchiefs and shirts unbuttoned halfway down the chest. They “mass produced Molotov cocktails with champagne bottles; the lightly wounded wore arm slings fashioned from Hermes scarves.”

Throughout the book, the author squeezes the air out of the pomposity of generals and politicians by providing evidence of their manifold peccadilloes. Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery neglected to visit the battlefield during Operation Market Garden because he was having his portrait painted — “again.” The 350-strong British delegation at the Yalta conference brought more than 1,000 bottles of spirits, 324 bottles of sherry and 20,000 cigarettes.

There is, admittedly, a trend in popular history toward long books that bombard the reader with a fusillade of detail in the mistaken belief that accuracy is proportional to volume. These works often seem to be written by committee, for the simple reason that they are. An army of researchers provides myriad arcane facts that the author then indiscriminately sews together with little attention to nuance, rhythm or tone. Atkinson, however, rises above this crowd of history hacks. He seems to weigh carefully every small piece of evidence before inserting it precisely where it belongs. “The Guns at Last Light” is a very long book, but in contrast to so many popular histories I’ve read of late, this one seemed too short.

The war correspondent Alan Moorehead noted how, during the advance across Europe, “here and there a man found greatness in himself.” Testimony of this sort has encouraged conceptions of the “Greatest Generation,” a cohort that supposedly touched perfection. While Atkinson recognizes their heroism, he does not allow it to erase their attendant iniquity. Desertion rates in 1944 were among the highest in the U.S. Army’s history. When these men entered Germany, they plundered, pillaged and raped. Soldiers called themselves the “Lootwaffe.” “We’re advancing as fast as the looting will permit,” one commander admitted.

“Fraternization” became a euphemism for rape. “Tell the men of the Third Army that so long as they keep their helmets on they are not fraternizing,” a callous Gen. George Patton quipped. One G.I. asked a reporter: “Do you tell [your readers] their brave boys are livin’ like a lot of fornicatin’ beasts, that they’re doin’ things . . . that beasts would be ashamed to do?”

The evidence of vice should not detract from the obvious magnificence of the Allied effort. Iniquity instead makes sublimity more realistic, for this is what war does to men. With great sensitivity, Atkinson conveys the horrible reality of what soldiers had to become to defeat Hitler’s Germany. “Complete victory,” he writes, “would require not only vanquishing the enemy on the battlefield, but also bearing witness to all that the war had revealed about the human heart.” As one G.I. told his sister: “I have seen men do such things, both good and bad, that surely the recording angel in heaven must rejoice and despair of them.”

As the poet Wilfred Owen once wrote, “My subject is war, and the pity of war.” So, too, with Atkinson. War without the pity is just a flat caricature, a sterile thing of right flanks and left, fields of fire and proportional rates of exhaustion. This was total war; success went to the side that could sustain and multiply its horror. In that, the Allies succeeded, but lurking within that horror was a heart beating with the best that men could muster.

Gerard DeGroot is a professor of modern history at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and the author of “The Bomb: A Life.”

THE GUNS AT LAST LIGHT The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 By Rick Atkinson Henry Holt. 877 pp. $40

How Matt Harvey Became the Most Exciting Pitcher in Baseball

By choosing not to micromanage the 24-year-old's game, the Mets have taken a wiser, healthier course of action than other franchises have with their young pitchers.
By Allen Barra
May 10, 2013

matt harvey banner.jpg
AP / Seth Wenig
Matt Harvey pitched the game of his career last Tuesday night against the Chicago White Sox. That may not sound like much, considering that Harvey's career so far consists of just 17 starts and 108.2 innings. But it was very nearly the game of any pitcher's career. As SNY announcer Ron Darling put it, "I've seen a couple of perfect games that weren't pitched with this kind of perfection."
Making his seventh start of the season for the New York Mets, Harvey allowed nothing more than a scratch infield single to Alex Rios with two outs in the seventh inning. He struck out 12. He wasn't around in the 10th inning when the Mets won the game 1-0, but by that time much of the Mets fan base wasn't either.
When the Mets trotted out reliever Bobby Parnell in the 10th inning, the crowd seemed to dwindle by half, and the Mets probably also lost a significant portion of their TV audience. Recently the New York Daily News' Bob Raissman noted that "when Harvey takes to the mound, the Mets are averaging 2.49 household rating, 14 percent higher than the team's average of 2.19. Harvey is also outpacing the team's average rating in two key demographics (adults 25-54 and men 25-54), the demos advertisers rely on when deciding whether to purchase commercial time." In other words, among the audiences the Mets most want to reach, when Harvey's on the mound ratings go up 35 percent. Or rather, they wereup 35 percent—that was before Harvey's near-perfect game.
Tuesday's performance cements Harvey's status as the most promising young player in baseball. A pitcher who has shown what Harvey has shown in 12 decisions seems almost inevitably destined to be great. What's more, he's not just a Mets franchise player—he's practically the franchise. His story stands as an example of the way that teams should, but too often don't, groom up-and-coming pitchers: by letting them pitch.
Harvey's rise couldn't come at a better time for his team. The Mets have been having a bad month in what looks to be a bad season in a bad decade of a bad half-century. Though they should have virtually the same resources to draw upon as their crosstown rivals the Yankees, they have won just four pennants and two World Series from their first season, 1962, through last year. Following the Wilpon family's near-disastrous association with Bernie Madoff, the franchise has pared itself down more than ever. Their All-Star third baseman David Wright and Harvey are just about the only players celebrity Mets fans Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart, and Bill Maher—and the rest of the Mets diehards—have to root for.
This is quite a burden for a young pitcher who just turned 24 and won only seven games (against five losses). His big-league ERA is 2.07, 1.28 this season. So far he has struck out 128 batters, which averages to about 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings. All the batters who have gotten hit off him in the major leagues, 22, would almost fit into one elevator. He's 4-0 and is currently the betting favorite to win this year's National League Cy Young award.
Harvey is a power pitcher, which you would expect from someone who is 6'4" and weighs around 225. His fastball is excellent, usually peaking at just under 85 mph, a speed that's good but not exceptional for a young prospect. But he throws it in two variations, a four- and a two-seam fastball, both of which have extraordinary movement. He throws fastballs nearly 60 percent of the time, mixing them up with a hard slider, an occasional curve, and a change-up that is still a work in progress.
His effectiveness largely comes from the fluid, almost flawless mechanics of his pitching motion, which have minimized stress on a precious right arm—an arm that seems to grow stronger every outing.
If the Mets have done nothing else right over the last few seasons, they did the right thing with the way they've managed Matt Harvey—by, as I said before, letting him pitch. Contrast that with the blunders made by the Yankees with their two hard-throwing right-handers, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. Towards the end of the 2007 season, the Yankees brought Chamberlain up and let him throw fastballs and hard sliders for 24 innings; he was practically unhittable, posting an ERA 0.38. The next season, anxious to protect their ace, they imposed a series of "Joba rules," limiting how many pitches he could throw in any one outing and also limiting the number of his appearances.
They repeated the process in 2009 with Phil Hughes, who many thought was the next Roger Clemens. But the Yanks couldn't decide if they wanted Chamberlain or Hughes in the starting rotation or in the bullpen, and constantly switched them around, costing both young pitchers experience and the chance to strengthen their arms. The result in 2013 is that Joba is once again on the DL, this time with pulled oblique muscles in his rib cage. Hughes, though he seems finally to be settling down as a starting pitcher, loses much of his effectiveness by the fifth inning.
Last year, former Yankee pitching veteran Tommy John said in an interview with ESPN radio that the Yankees "screwed Joba Chamberlain when they created the Joba rules." Comparing the Yankees' handling of Joba with the Washington Nationals and Stephen Strasburg, John said, "There's no guarantee that if you're shutting Strasburg down that he's going to be healthy down the road." John suggested that coddling didn't work: They stymied Joba's work load, and he still had to have surgery.
When I interviewed him a few days later, John expanded on that thought: "They wasted a lot of time and arm strength trying to teach him to throw curve balls and other pitches that put a strain on his arm instead of just doing what came naturally—rear back and fire."
Practically the same can be said of Hughes, and now Yankee fans are wondering if they'll ever see either pitcher fulfill what once seemed like epic potential.
Matt Harvey may not prove to be the superstar who nearly every observer—analysts as well fans—thinks he will be. But unlike Chamberlain and Hughes, he will get his chance.
(Matt Harvey will pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates this Sunday, 1 p.m. EST)

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ALLEN BARRA writes about sports for the Wall Street Journal and His next book is Mickey and Willie--The Parallel Lives of Baseball's Golden Age.

Dallas Willard, Jesus Freak: Todd Hunter remembers his friend, mentor

When I heard that philosopher and author Dallas Willard had died, my mind jumped toBishop Todd Hunter. I was with him a few weeks back and he mentioned then that Willard was seriously ill. After news of his passing, I asked Todd if he would share a reflection on the life and impact of his longtime friend and mentor.
Dallas Willard
Loren Kerns, Wikimedia Commons
Dallas Willard was an old-school Jesus Freak. He had a world-class intellect and passionate curiosity about all things concerning God and his kingdom.
Dallas did not scare people into heaven, nor did he wrestle them down as a philosophical bully. Instead he kindly and humbly set forward Jesus as the one who announced in his teaching, demonstrated in his miracles, and embodied in his life, the gospel of God’s kingdom.
It was always so obvious that Jesus was Dallas’ hero in every way. He believed that Jesus had the best information possible on the most important topics of life. I’ll never forget hearing Dallas say — and I’ve repeated this a thousand times in my own teaching — “No one will follow Jesus who has to hesitate before saying, ‘Jesus is smart.’”
Right? You wouldn’t learn piano from someone who knew nothing about it, or Greek from someone who you didn’t trust was expert. And no one will follow Jesus if they don’t trust him and rely on him as a competent person, a dependable guide to life in the kingdom of God.
Dallas knew that much of the evangelical world had reduced Jesus to one thing he did: shed his blood. As unspeakably important as the cross is, valuing it and forgetting the rest of Jesus’ ministry has led untold numbers of people to become, in Dallas’ memorable phrase, “vampire Christians.”
Vampire Christians are people who want a bit of Jesus’ blood so they dodge hell but really don’t want anything to do with him. They had no vision for, or intention of, following him.
Dallas taught and embodied something better. We heard Dallas as a teacher discuss it, but we also witnessed him carry on his life as an apprentice of Jesus — learning how to be a philosophy professor in a major university, an author and a speaker, a husband and father, as Jesus would do it if he were in Dallas’ shoes.
It was this quality of being, more than the towering intellect, skillful teaching and masterful writing that drew those of us close to him, to admire, love, and cherish him so much.
Many people think Jesus Freaks died out with bell-bottoms and disco. I get it. The cultural phenomenon did pass away. But a new-school generation of apprentices to Jesus is rising on the heels of Dallas Willard’s work and his life’s message: Jesus and his kingdom. I want to live the kind of life that makes me counted among them.
This is my true testimony concerning Dallas: No human being taught me more about life in Jesus and his kingdom.
Yesterday morning, having received news of Dallas’ trip to heaven, I whispered a vow in my heart: I want to grow until the day I die, as an apprentice to Jesus, announcing, demonstrating and embodying Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom of God.
Bishop Todd Hunter is the founding pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Costa Mesa, California. A popular writer and lecturer, he is the author of several books, includingThe Accidental Anglican and Our Favorite Sins.

Carney Keeps on Digging

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Benghazi Lie

A failure of character of this magnitude corrodes the integrity of the state. 

Today's Tune: U2 - Ultra Violet (Light My Way) (Live)

Bad Faith and Benghazi

Hillary Clinton’s “whatever” defense falls flat. 

The big Benghazi mystery: Where was Obama while 4 Americans perished?

By Andrew Malcolm
Investor's Busniness Daily
Posted 05/09/2013 09:00 AM ET
Michael Ramirez
The most over-used trick of Barack Obama's reign of error in Washington is whenever something adverse happens, just ignore it. Keep on talking happy. And with a complicit or, at best lazy, capitol media corps the problem will eventually melt away.
Remember all those new jobs that almost $1 trillion of stimulus was going to create by the hundreds of thousands any month now? That was 2009. We're still waiting. And as recently as last weekend Obama is still claiming that job creation is his top priority.
The budget deficit Obama was going to halve? It's been $1 trillion-plus each year.
The spending cuts that really, truly are necessary to get our national debt under control? It's grown by $6 trillion-plus under this guy. Print some more money. The score of green energy projects run by Obama pals with taxpayer underwriting that went bankrupt? Hey, well at least we tried. The gun-running scheme into Mexico by federal agents under Eric Holder? Well, he didn't know about it.
The single stench that's stuck is the 9/11 attack on the Benghazi consulate when four Americans were killed. Perhaps because it strikes at the moral core of many Americans that we don't leave countrymen to die without at least trying to help.
Can anyone forget the searing images on that first 9/11 of those heavily-laden New York firefighters jogging up the World Trade Center stairwells to their doom as the towers' civilian occupants fled downstairs?
And what's our image of the Benghazi attack on that eleventh 9/11? The American compound burning while terrorists in T-shirts brandish AK-47's in triumph. The limp body of Amb. Chris Stevens being dragged around. And that's it.
Obama et al have done everything in their power to minimize that event, to let it melt away to wherever lethal embarrassments go. Why? Remember the context of those days: Both national party conventions were just over and Obama was claiming al Qaeda was on the run, thanks to his leadership and deadly drone kill list. You're welcome.
Now, finally, thanks to our two-party system of checks and balances and the courage of a handful of whistle-blowers we're beginning to get a full account of what really happened that awful night. It's not pretty.
In fact, it's sadly sordid.
Three men directly involved that night testified before the House Oversight Committee Wednesday. The most compelling testimony came from Gregory Hicks, a top-rated career diplomat who became embassy head on Stevens' death.
AFP / Getty Images
AFP / Getty Images View Enlarged Image
Here's some of what we've learned:
The Benghazi consulate was totally unsecured and unprepared, despite area terrorist attacks and months-long urgings of security personnel and Stevens himself.
In fact, a month before 9/11 when two security personnel used their weapons to fight off terrorist carjackers, most of the Special Ops security forces were ordered out of the country.
The first and last contact Hicks in Tripoli had with Stevens that night was an interrupted cellphone call in which the ambassador said, "Greg, we're under attack!" No mention of any protest demonstration.
A special joint team of FBI-CIA-Defense-State crisis experts was ordered not to deploy to Benghazi.
Twelve hours after the U.S. Embassy wall in Cairo was stormed, no contingency military forces were prepared to assist there or anywhere else in the region. The nearest F-16's in Italy were not even on alert and had no refueling tankers nearby.
As the four remaining Special Ops troops in-country boarded a Libyan C-130 to rush to help in Benghazi, someone ordered their colonel to stand down.
Five days later Hicks was "stunned" to see U.N. Amb. Susan Rice on five Sunday talk shows blaming the attack on angry reaction to an obscure online anti-Islam video. From Minute One every official American in Libya knew the attack was terrorist, as did a high-level email circulating in the State Department on 9/12, four days before those infamous TV shows.
When Hicks, who was not consulted for Rice's talking points, reminded State execs the embassy never reported one word about video protests and inquired where that explanation came from, he was instructed to drop that line of questioning.
Hicks, who received calls of praise from Secy. of State Hillary Clinton and Obama himself, has since been sentenced to a desk job.
Remember back in 2007-08 in their bruising primary battles when Clinton questioned Obama's readiness for that 3 a.m. crisis call?
Obama has had himself photographed firmly atop other national security events like the whacking of Osama bin Laden. The Democrat held a brief Rose Garden photo op on Benghazi the next morning before rushing off to fundraisers in Las Vegas. We know he and Clinton both blamed the offensive video for weeks after they knew that line was phony.
What we don't know is where the hell was the commander-in-chief all-night while two former SEALs, a communications specialist and the first U.S. ambassador in three decades were being murdered on-duty six time zones away.
We do know that then Secy. of Defense Leon Panetta claims Obama instructed him in the early evening of 9/11 to do everything necessary to protect Americans and embassies abroad.
We also know now that "everything" wasn't really anything at all.

Pink line over Damascus

By Published: May 9

Barack Obama
Syrian opposition sources have questioned Barack Obama's 'red line' now chemical weapons are reportedly being used. Photograph: Rex Features

You know you’re in trouble when you can’t even get your walk-back story straight. Stung by the worldwide derision that met President Obama’s fudging and fumbling of his chemical-weapons red line in Syria, the White House leaked to the New York Times that Obama’s initial statement had been unprepared, unscripted and therefore unserious.

The next day Jay Carney said precisely the opposite: “Red line” was intended and deliberate.

Which is it? Who knows? Perhaps Obama used the term last August to look tough, sound like a real world leader, never expecting that Syria would do something so crazy. He would have it both ways: sound decisive but never have to deliver.

Or perhaps he thought that Syria might actually use chemical weapons one day, at which point he would think of something.

So far he’s thought of nothing. Instead he’s backed himself into a corner: Be forced into a war he is firmly resolved to avoid, or lose credibility, which for a superpower on whose word relies the safety of a dozen allies is not just embarrassing but dangerous.

In his recent rambling news conference, Obama said that he needed certainty about the crossing of the red line to keep the “international community” behind him. This is absurd. The “international community” is a fiction, especially in Syria. Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are calling the shots.
Nor, he averred, could he act until he could be sure of everything down to the “chain of custody” of the sarin gas.

What is this? “CSI: Damascus”? It’s a savage civil war. The antagonists don’t exactly stand down for forensic sampling.

Some countries have real red lines. Israel has no friends on either side of this regional Sunni-Shiite conflict, but it will not permit the alteration of its strategic military balance with Hezbollah, which is already brimming with 60,000 rockets aimed at Israel.

Everyone in the region knows that the transfer of chemical weapons to Hezbollah or the acquisition of the Fateh-110 missile, with the accuracy and range to hit the heart of Tel Aviv, is a red line. Hence the punishing Israeli airstrikes around Damascus on advanced weaponry making its way to Hezbollah.

The risk to Israel is less a counterattack from Damascus than from Hezbollah. Bashar al-Assad of Syria doesn’t need a new front with Israel. Syria remembers not just its thorough defeat at the hands of Israel in 1967 and 1973 but also its humiliation in the skies over the Bekaa Valley in 1982 when it challenged Israeli air dominance. In a two-day dogfight, Israel shot down 60 Syrian planes and lost none.

Israel’s real concern is a Hezbollah attack. But Hezbollah has already stretched itself thin by sending fighters into Syria to save Assad. And it knows that war with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be far more devastating than its 2006 war with the tepid and tentative Ehud Olmert.

Most important, Iran, Hezbollah’s master, wants to keep Hezbollah’s missile arsenal intact and in reserve for retaliation against — and thus deterrence of — a possible Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program.

These are complicated, inherently risky calculations. But living in the midst of this cauldron, Israel has no choice. It must act.

America does have a choice. It can afford to stay out. And at this late date, it probably will.
Early in the war, before the rise of the jihadists to dominance within the Syrian opposition, intervention might have brought down Assad and produced a decent successor government friendly to America and non-belligerent to its neighbors.

Today our only hope seems to be supporting and arming Salim Idriss, the one rebel commander who speaks in moderate, tolerant tones. But he could easily turn, or could be overwhelmed by the jihadists. As they say in the Middle East, you don’t buy allies here. It’s strictly a rental.

Israel’s successful strikes around Damascus show that a Western no-fly zone would not require a massive Libyan-style campaign to take out all Syrian air defenses. Syrian helicopters and planes could be grounded more simply with attacks on runways, depots and idle aircraft alone, carried out, if not by fighters, by cruise missiles and other standoff weaponry.

But even that may be too much for a president who has assured his country that the tide of war is receding. At this late date, supporting proxies may be the only reasonable option left. It’s perversely self-vindicating. Wait long enough, and all other options disappear. As do red lines.

Read more from Charles Krauthammer’s archivefollow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

Read more on this issue: Fareed Zakaria: U.S. credibility is not on the line in Syria Anne-Marie Slaughter: What Obama should keep in mind as he weighs action in Syria Eugene Robinson: Questioning intervention in Syria Richard Cohen: Obama out of line

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Blow-by-Blow: How Obama & Hillary Left Americans to Die

Posted By Arnold Ahlert On May 9, 2013 @ 12:55 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 7 Comments

Gregory Hicks (C), Foreign Service Officer and former Deputy Chief of Mission/Charge d’Affairs in Libya, speaks during a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Capitol Hill 


Wednesday on Capitol Hill, three impeccable witnesses offered the clearest evidence to date that the Obama administration’s response to Benghazi before, during and after the terrorist attack that claimed the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, State Department employee Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Glen A. Doherty and Tyrone S. Woods, was a deadly combination of ineptitude, political calculations, and outright lying. Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant Secretary of State for counterterrorism; Greg Hicks, former deputy chief of mission in Libya; and Eric Nordstrom, former regional security officer in Libya, offered unshakeable testimony, despite efforts by several Democratic lawmakers to protect both the current administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, their party’s most viable presidential candidate for 2016. What the witnesses averred reveals a grim web of deceit likely orchestrated by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to cover up the order to ground U.S. rescue teams that could have easily saved our besieged countrymen in Benghazi.

Some of the most compelling and emotional testimony was provided by Hicks, who offered the House Oversight and Government Reform committee a damning blow-by-blow account of the September 11, 2012 attack: In Tripoli at the time, Hicks recounted how he had spoken with Stevens early in the evening, and there was no sign of unusual activity. After relaxing for a while, he got an alert that Benghazi was under attack. When he checked his cell phone he saw two numbers, one of which he didn’t recognize. He called that number first and got Stevens on the phone. “Greg! We’re under attack!” said Stevens, according to Mr. Hicks.

Later, when it became clear that Stevens was missing, the first concern was that he had been taken by terrorists. “We began to hear also that the ambassador’s been taken to a hospital,” said Hicks. “We learn that it is in a hospital which is controlled by Ansar al-Shariah, the group that Twitter feeds had identified as leading the attack on the consulate.” As this information was coming in, a “response team” from Tripoli arrived at the Benghazi airport, one that Hicks thought might become involved in a “hostage rescue” operation, even as officials worried they were being “baited into a trap.”

Hicks then spoke of the mortars that landed on the compound shortly after a group of Americans fleeing the consulate arrived at the annex. The first mortar landed among a group of Libyans who had helped bring the Americans to safety. “The next was short,” he said. “The next three landed on the roof.”

Those were the mortars that killed Doherty and Woods.

Hicks was visibly choked up when he recounted learning about Stevens’ death from the Libyan prime minister. ”I think it’s the saddest phone call I’ve ever had in my life,” he said.

In one of the most stunning portions of the hearing, Hicks confirmed the chilling refusal of the Obama administration to send in readily available U.S. assets to stop the consulate slaughter. This order to “stand down” was given not once, but at least twice. Hicks also revealed that an explicit order from the chain of command prevented a four-man special forces rescue team in Tripoli from getting to the Americans trapped at the annex. He noted the order came from ”either AFRICOM or SOCAFRICA” and that the team was “furious” when they were told to stand down. “I will quote Lieutenant Colonel Gibson,” said Hicks, referring to the officer on the receiving end of that command. “He said, ‘This is the first time in my career that a diplomat has more balls than somebody in the military.’” Hicks’ testimony on this point directly contradicts recent statements from the Obama-run Pentagon. “There was never any kind of stand-down order to anybody,” said Maj. Robert Furman, Pentagon spokesman, on Monday.

Yet Mark Thompson also testified that he tried to get a Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST) comprised of special ops and intelligence personnel deployed, and he, too, was told to stand down. According to a source interviewed by, only President Obama, or someone acting on his authority, could have given the stand down order. As we know from testimony provided by former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, President Obama met with the two officials on September 11 at 5 p.m. EDT for 30 minutes — less than an hour-and-a-half into the attack — and was supposedly never heard from him again for the rest of the evening. The very next day, Obama headed to a campaign fundraiser in Las Vegas.

The Obama administration undoubtedly understood that its decision to leave defenseless Americans, including our ambassador, to needlessly die at the hands of al-Qaeda-linked jihadists would not go over well for a commander-in-chief in the throes of a presidential election and a secretary of state angling for the Oval Office in 2016. Hicks’ testimony affirmed suspicions that administration officials conspired to conceal the nature of the attack by concocting an absolutely fictitious account of events involving a “spontaneous” attack prompted by an anti-Islam YouTube video. Hicks testified that he had personally told former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the Benghazi raid was a terrorist attack at 2 a.m. that same night. He recounted that ”everybody in the mission” believed it was an act of terror “from the get-go,” a reality echoed by Libyan President Mohammed al-Magariaf, who said his government had “no doubt that this was pre-planned, predetermined.” Magariaf made this assertion the very day before UN ambassador Susan Rice went out to peddle the lie that a “spontaneous demonstration” had gotten out of hand due to an Internet video.

When Hicks heard Rice, he was appalled. “My jaw dropped, and I was embarrassed,” he said.
In reality, Rice was a willing mouthpiece for the two biggest promoters of the Internet video lie: President Obama and Hillary Clinton. In fact, the State Department spent $70,000 to run advertisements in Pakistan featuring the two of them rejecting the contents of the video, and promoting tolerance for all religions. Even more remarkable, despite committee Democrats implying that a thorough investigation was conducted internally by the State Department’s Accountability Review Board (ARB), Hillary Clinton was never interviewed by the ARB.

Hillary’s entire take on the matter can be whittled down to the infamous statement she made during the U.S. House Oversight Committee hearing on May 8, 2013. After being questioned as to why the administration misled the American people, Clinton became indignant. “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” she said. “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?”

Eric Nordstrom, who became emotional when he described his friends and other personnel who lost their lives in the attack, provided an answer to that question. “It matters to me personally and it matters to my colleagues–to my colleagues at the Department of State,” he said, his voice breaking. “It matters to the American public for whom we serve. And, most importantly, it matters to the friends and family of Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods who were murdered on September 11, 2012.”

Nordstrom further testified in writing that Hillary Clinton waived security requirements for the Benghazi consulate despite high and critical threat levels in the six categories of security standards established under the Overseas Security Policy Board and the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act of 1999. The waiver can only be authorized by the Secretary of State, who cannot delegate that responsibility to someone else. ”If the Secretary of State did not waive these requirements, who did so by ordering occupancy of the facilities in Benghazi and Tripoli?” Nordstrom wrote.

Nordstrom also offered his take on the ARB. ”I found the ARB process that I was involved in to be professional and the unclassified recommendations reasonable and positive. However, it is not what is contained within the report that I take exception to but what is left unexamined,” Nordstrom wrote. “Specifically, I’m concerned with the ARB’s decision to focus its attention at the Assistant Secretary level and below, where the ARB felt that ‘the decision-making in fact takes place,’” he wrote.

Hicks testified that the State Department actively sought to intimidate witnesses in order to prevent facts surrounding the Benghazi attack from being leaked. He revealed that a top State Department official called him to demand a report from his meeting with a congressional delegation and expressed unhappiness that a State Department lawyer was not present for the session. “I was instructed not to allow the RSO, the acting deputy chief of mission–me–to be personally interviewed,” he said. Later in the hearing, Hicks noted that State seemed especially concerned with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who has done yeoman’s work tracking down the survivors of the attack, kept under wraps by the administration. ”We were not to be personally interviewed by Congressman Chaffetz,” said Hicks, who added that Cheryl Mills, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff,  ”demanded a report on the visit” that did take place.

The State Department was caught in another lie yesterday as well. While the hearings were getting underway, Republicans revealed that Ambassador Thomas Pickering, co-chairman of the ARB, refused to testify. State countered that Republicans refused to let him. Frederick Hill, spokesman for Committee chairman Darryl Issa (R-CA), produced a letter dated February 22 inviting Pickering to testify. “Ambassador Pickering initially told the Committee he was not available on that date,” Hill told ABC News. “When asked about a different date, he said he was not inclined to testify.”

The State Department isn’t the only entity interested in controlling the flow of information in this tragedy. House Democrats embarrassingly struggled to distract from the proceedings with absurd non sequiturs and personal attacks. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking Democratic at the Benghazi hearing, told one of the whistleblowers to “protect your fellow employees.” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) suggested it was unpatriotic to challenge the administration’s narrative. “I find it truly disturbing and very unfortunate that when Americans come under attack, the first thing some did in this country was attack Americans,” she said. “Attack the military; attack the president; attack the State Department; attack the former senator from the great state of New York, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) blamed Republicans and congressional budget cuts for the terror attack, even as he apparently remains oblivious to the reality that it was Democrats who insisted the lion’s share of the budget cuts induced by sequestration come from the military.
Media are also shamelessly entrenched in the campaign to suppress the facts surround the Benghazi attack. Politico reports that CBS News execs are getting “increasingly frustrated” with premiere investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson’s stories on Benghazi, which they consider “dangerously close to advocacy.”

Dangerously close to honesty is more like it, which is exactly what CBS is worried about. As Washington Post explains, “While other media, particularly Fox News, have been similarly skeptical about the official narrative about Benghazi, Attkisson and CBS might put the story in a different light,” the paper reports. “As a much-decorated reporter from a news outlet often derided by conservatives as a liberal beacon, Attkisson and her network flip the usual script on this highly politicized story. That is, it’s hard to peg her and her network as Republican sympathizers out to score political points against a Democratic president.” With Attkisson, a self-described “political agnostic,” questioning the administration, Bengahzi can no longer be dismissed by the left as a vast right-wing conspiracy. “People can say what they want about me, I don’t care,” Attkisson says. “I just want to get the information out there.”

Attkisson notwithstanding, it remains to be seen whether the remainder of the mainstream media will now demand answers from the Obama administration on why it chose to needlessly throw American servicemen to the wolves in Benghazi and why, exactly, it was necessary to contrive a totally false account of events. The Obama administration is fighting hard to distract from the severity of the scandal. White House press secretary Jay Carney claimed that continued scrutiny of Benghazi is nothing more than an attempt by Republicans to ”politicize” the issue. ”This is a subject that has from its beginning been subject to attempts to politicize it by Republicans, while in fact what happened in Benghazi was a tragedy,” he said, adding that the incident has been ”been looked at exhaustively.” Carney further noted that the ongoing pursuit is ”part of an effort to chase after what isn’t the substance here.” The entire substance, according to Carney, is the reality that the consulate was attacked, four Americans were killed, and the president will make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Carney saved his most ridiculous assertion for last, claiming the administration’s editing of the talking points, in which wholesale changes and rampant deletions were made, (the details of which can be seen here) were “stylistic and not substantive.” “We’ve been very clear about the specific edits that were made at the suggestion of the White House.”

That is an utter lie. Version one of the CIA report included references to an “attack,” “Islamic extremists with ties to al Qa’ida,” the involvement of Ansar al Sharia and the fact that “wide availability of weapons and experienced fighters in Libya contributed to the lethality of the attacks,” which were all completely removed. Furthermore, at no time did any of the versions mention an anti-Islamic Internet video as being the catalyst for the attack.

The Obama administration can try spin this debacle any way it likes, but it can’t spin away four dead Americans, two separate “stand down” orders and the State Department’s advanced knowledge of inadequate security. They can’t change the reality that no rescue was even attempted over the course of a seven-hour battle, that brave Americans were left to fend for themselves, or that the administration sat on the details of this story for eight months — two most crucial of which occurred prior to the 2012 election.  Even now the administration continues to stonewall every effort to get to the truth.

But with the truth finally coming to the surface, the remaining question observers are left with is why the Obama administration abandoned Americans who were easily within reach. While the lies used to cover up this disaster are easy to explain, the rationale behind the unconscionable stand down orders must still be determined. As the facts stand now, the likely explanations do not bode well for President Obama. The circumstances suggest the decision was made by a callous and desperate president struggling with a re-election campaign, a central plank of which was that al-Qaeda had been decimated and was “on the run” — not something affirmed by news of al-Qaeda operatives’ murder of our ambassador and military personnel. Or perhaps our commander-in-chief was too busy being our campaigner-in-chief and simply didn’t care about the carnage unfolding on his watch, which he declined to prevent. In any case, it is incumbent on the Obama administration to provide a rationale for its disastrous decision. As persistent Americans have shown, the investigation will not cease until that occurs.

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