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The Guns Over People Party, with no issues to pin on President Obama, have seized upon (again!) Benghazi as the event to flog, with the irrepressible Rep. Darrell Issa cranking up his car alarm to revisit this issue. At the same time, other Republicans in Congress, such as a Senator facing a tough re-election (Lindsay Graham of South Carolina) and his warmongering fellow Senator, John McCain, who never saw a potential war he did not like, have pounded the drums for military action by the U.S. in Syria, Iran, and even North Korea.

mccain accountability


U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens saw himself as an untouchable friend of the new Libyan government, a "cowboy" who did as he wanted, when he wanted. There is some evidence that he did not even let the State Department know that he was traveling to Benghazi on the trip that led to his death. There is also talk that the "Annex" to the embassy in Benghazi was actually a CIA "safe house" that was used by CIA operatives to interrogate Libyan militants, and that the attack was aimed at freeing those militants, not killing the U.S. ambassador. There is also some evidence that the half-completed U.S diplomatic compound there was not ready for use when the attack occurred, and that the "safe room" where the ambassador died was not fully safe. He died of smoke inhalation, not gunfire, another indication that his death or capture was not the purpose of the attack.

Rep. Issa and his Republican hitmen also criticized the State Department (and Hillary Clinton) and the President for not sending more tactical aircraft from the U.S. airbase in Ariano, Italy to support the U.S. operatives after the first attack. However, they conveniently ignore the fact that the airplanes would have had to refuel in mid-flight before reaching Benghazi, and there was no air tanker available at that time to refuel them.

The attack on the "Annex" took place after reinforcements arrived at the Benghazi airport from Tripoli, including two Special Operations commandos. The two CIA security officers, former Navy SEALS, killed at the Annex, died as a result of mortar rounds hitting the Annex shortly after the commandos arrived. The four additional commandos supposedly scheduled to go to Benghazi could not have reached Benghazi before the mortar attack happened.

This investigation is grasping at straws. The deaths of four Americans in Benghazi was a tragic event, but it happened in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, with militants on the loose with a multitude of weapons left over from the civil war that led to Kaddafi's death and the overthrow of his regime. Learn from it, but don't look for scapegoats.

syria calling


Who are the good guys? The U.S. is still trying to sort this out. There are roving groups of rebels affiliated with many different groups, some of the Jihadists. Should we arm them, later to see the same weapons used against Americans, as in Benghazi, and against Israel? There is no easy answer here: Assad must go, but who will replace him? And the situation is not made easier by the cozy relationships that China and Russia have with the Assad regime. Take your time, Mr. President, before you decide on a course of action, and try to get the Arab League on your side, as in Libya, before committing American boots on the ground, air power and CIA operatives (if they are not already there) to the conflict. Many people are dying there, but we don't need more American servicemen dying in another Afghanistan-like war.

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Are you crazy, Senator McCain? "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran", like you joked during the 2008 campaign? Iran has a huge military, and a rabid government, led by I'm-a-Dinner-Jacket, who will likely be out of power by year's end, hopefully replaced by more moderate leaders. Iran is years away from developing a nuclear weapon, and if it becomes clear that a bomb is being readied, either Israel or one of the U.S. "super bunker busters" just developed could take it out. Be watchful, but don't commit American troops to another major war.

North Korea

Dennis Rodman may be the one to tame this beast. If he has not been interviewed by U.S. operatives about his visit with Kim Jong-Un recently, he should be. Students and faculty at the school in Switzerland that Kim attended as a teenager should also be talked to, to get a profile on this young leader of one of the strangest, most cloistered countries on earth. It is my feeling that he is still getting his "sea legs" as the next Dear Leader after taking over from his father while still in his 20s. He is almost certainly controlled by his uncle and the massive North Korean military, who have a lot to lose if the perpetual war economy created by his grandfather and father is disassembled.

After the ping pong diplomacy in the early 1970s opened the door a little bit to renewing relations with China, I helped open it further by hosting the head of the PRC's Chinese Mountaineering Association at an American Alpine Club convention in Los Angeles in 1981, followed the next year by a month-long visit with my family (wife and blue-eyed, blond-haired nine year old identical twin daughters) throughout China as guests of the Chinese government to help open up mountainous areas of China and Tibet to tourism. It worked, and most of China and Tibet are now open to foreign tourists.

The same approach might work in North Korea. Young Leader Kim loves basketball, and an American basketball team might try to get an invitation to make a good will tour of North Korea. Or a group of American mountaineers and rock climbers might try to secure an invitation to climb in the mountains of the northern part of North Korea, as ten members of the American Alpine Club did in Iran several years ago. Non-political sports exchanges might be the way to open up this strange, dangerous country.

But if you go, don't bring American $100 bills minted in the year 1996 with you to North Korea. I found that the Chinese will not accept them, and as North Korea's closest friend, they should know counterfeit $100 bills when they see them.

ted vaill

the world's hottest spots will only get hotter if the Republican hotheads are allowed to influence American foreign policy. They are trying to force President Obama into a foreign policy mistake, which they can use to their advantage in the 2014 and 2016 elections. Ignore them.

Ted Vaill

Friday, 10 May 2013