A tale of two consulates

The exposure of the Petraeus affair raises a welter of questions about Libya and national security.

The attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his entourage seems to have been a well-orchestrated artillery raid on a CIA safe house annex to the Benghazi consulate [REUTERS]
The attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his entourage seems to have been a well-orchestrated artillery raid on a CIA safe house annex to the Benghazi consulate [REUTERS]

It’s been the weirdest of times, for sure. L’affaire Petraeus has shed some light on the military-intelligence complex that generally avoids the myopic scrutiny of the public. It’s not the lack of transparency nor the vicious post-election politicising, but rather the feckless improvisation behind the skirts of the groupies, the floozies and the State Department that raises eyebrows. 

That the inner circles of CENTCOM, Petraeus’ email accounts, and even the White House were so easily penetrated by the real fishwives, er, housewives of Tampa and Charlotte offering the irresistible elixir of girlish adoration, sweaty workouts and tasty canapes is scandal enough.

But the real story is not the honourary consul of South Korea who was clueless enough to claim diplomatic protection for her McMansion when the paparazzi invaded her lawn. Cursory gawking at her antics (and those of her evil twin, tantalisingly linked in a love-hate relation a neocon tool with the Twilight-worthy name of Grayson Wolfe) reveals someone not quite disciplined enough to be an honest-to-god honeypot working for a foreign government, but exactly the kind of financially and emotionally vulnerable disposable pawn that good tradecraft cultivates. 

In triggering the FBI investigation of Broadwell by Frederick “Shirtless” Humphries who’s been looking for an encore since fingering Ahmed Rassam, the so-called Millennium Bomber in 2000, Jill Khawam Kelley set off a chain reaction of revelations of impropriety both sexual and informational that threatened to bring down the military-intelligence elite like a scene from a Godfather movie. If unintentional, it was brilliant in its guilelessness; it looked like a controlled demolition, the cleanest military decapitation since Erdogan took down his scheming generals

So, in spite of the fact that it was uber republican Eric Cantor who lanced this pustule, the bloviators of the right would have it that a triumphant Obama engineered it all to get rid of Petraeus, and they offer up the near simultaneous firings of other generals and admirals as evidence of a coup and counter-coup in the offing. This ominous escalation in partisanship can only be understood in terms of the attack on the other consulate, the US consulate in Benghazi.

In spite of the story of bad movies and blood lusting mobs popularised by Susan Rice, the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his entourage seems to have been a well-orchestrated artillery raid on a CIA safe house annex to the Benghazi consulate. 

As Paula Broadwell teased in one of her last public appearances at her alma mater, the Korbel School of International Relations at the University of Denver, named for the patriarch of all dead-eyed American war queens (Albright, Condoleeza and now Paula “All In”) the raid on the CIA safe house was an attempt to recapture jihadist prisoners kept in a hush hush CIA black site in newly liberated Libya. Maybe they were recruiting and rehabilitating too? Paula’s not saying, that’s for sure.

In the worst case scenario (of which Susan Rice and Obama himself may have been blissfully innocent through preemptive cynical information stove-piping) consular and safehouse security was in the hands of the neoliberal dream team of the February 17 Brigade of Libyan Islamists and what may or may not be an adventure tourism contractor

There were security failures, there may have been black ops and covert deals, and the Republicans are hypocritical enough to make the most of them. For now, the closed door Senate intelligence hearing apparently appeased toothless congressional watchdogs by letting them watch Petraeus’ touching mea culpa and a Drone TV real time presentation of  the September 11 events. But, as we’ve asked before, how much sense can really be made from 10,000 feet?

Was Stevens brokering a secret deal to arm Syrian rebels with leftover Libyan materiel? Even to send foreign fighters to Aleppo and Damascus? Was Stevens’ murder the result of Obama’s own Iran Contra scheme gone awry, a North African greenish on bluish attack

Hopefully Mitt Romney’s long overdue political demise and the looming fiscal cliff will temper Republican animal spirits for special investigators, and the Obama administration and remaining players will have had a wake-up call about the perils of using the ambiguity of “consulates” for outreach with skanks and Salafis. As Netanyahu plays his opening hand for Obama’s new term by launching a second hot war in the Middle East, everyone will need their wits about them. 

Leila Hudson is associate professor of Near Eastern Studies, Anthropology and History and director of the Southwest Initiative for the Study of Middle East Conflicts (SISMEC) at the University of Arizona. 

A version of this article first appeared on SISMEC.

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