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Looking Forward: Benghazi Blues, Climate Wake-Up Calls, and the Importance of Maps

11/05/2012 05:34 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

There's so much to dislike about the campaign season thankfully almost past. Shallow, vicious, ADD, these are only a few words that come to mind.

But it may just be that things have gotten so bad that we can learn a few things to slice through frenzied hyper-partisanship, neglectful media culture, and overall studied insularity.

* Benghazi Blues

The murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 wasn't just a tragedy, it was a disaster.

But truly wild conspiracy theories on the right about the Benghazi disaster are reaching an amazing level.

Major mistakes were made there, as I've pointed out from the beginning. But those errors are really about preparation and characterization rather than the wild charges now flying about.

John McCain, his measured maverick days seemingly in the rear view mirror, calls it a bigger scandal than Watergate.

Rudy Giuliani says that President Barack Obama has to resign over Benghazi.

As someone who supported McCain when he ran for president in 2000, I find his attitude stunning. And having had a few perfectly rational talks with Giuliani five or so years ago, I can only shake my head at what he is saying now.

The charges have become so wild and, frankly, desperate, that CIA operators in Benghazi were, per Fox News, supposedly told to "stand down" by their CIA superiors rather than try to help Stevens and his colleagues.

Now, if you like, click through and take a look at that Fox News story. Then use your common sense. Whose name is missing there?

Why, that would be the director of the CIA, one David Howell Petraeus.

I've noted before how seldom the name of America's most famed general in many years, intellectual author and executor of the surge strategy for Iraq and Afghanistan, has popped up through all the bruiting about of Benghazi. He's a sacred cow across the right wing and in much of the media. But it's impossible to have any serious discussion about Benghazi while excluding Petraeus from consideration.

I know why Petraeus is keeping a low profile on this. Two reasons. First, it's a disaster. Second, and probably more importantly, CIA has a large covert presence in Benghazi which he is understandably not eager to discuss.

Of course, if the Agency missed word of the coming assault on the US diplomatic mission, that's an issue in itself.

But that is another matter from the frankly crazy charges flying around.

To imagine that there was a deliberate decision not to rescue Stevens and company is to imagine that General Petraeus would allow that to happen. Which would cause a rational person to think before blathering on.

One would imagine also that a rational person would think before blathering on about the nature of Obama himself, who, after all, ordered one of the ballsiest raids in the history of US arms to take down Osama bin Laden.

In the real world, Obama is hardly the jihadist-apologist peacenik that extremist rhetoric makes him out to be. Quite the opposite. For in the real world, Obama has accelerated a program of special operations raids and drone strikes (which I'm all for, to a point) that is so aggressive it might be stimulating its own jihadist-creating backlash.

Obama was hardly into sacrificing the most popular American ambassador in the Islamic world. That's birther type think.

What happened in Benghazi is very serious stuff, requiring serious questions from serious people.

As I wrote right away in "How Romney Should Have Attacked Obama: Anatomy of a Geopolitical Crisis," the failure to anticipate and be prepared for a potential attack is what needs to be examined.

Mitt Romney, of course, started with a totally ludicrous attack, claiming that the Obama Administration actually sympathized with the folks who attacked the US embassy in Cairo and the mission in Benghazi. He never really did get his line of attack straight, including when he was face to face with Obama in the foreign policy debate.

With the election over, we need to determine what potential failures of intelligence, planning, resources, communication, and rapid response capability contributed to the Benghazi disaster. Hopefully, the rest of this vicious noise will subside to the fringes where it belongs.

In the meantime, it's all yet another complicating factor for the geopolitical pivot to the Pacific, which I've written about in this archive.


* Climate Wake-Up Calls

In our increasingly goofy political and media culture, climate change was the big issue no one was talking about any more, even as it continued to grow in the real world. Then came the superstorm.

What Superstorm Sandy demonstrated is the critical role of government, and particularly strong federal government as represented by the Federal Emergency Management Administration. And it demonstrated, once again, the reality of climate change, denied by far too many fronting for the old energy economy. For the increased extreme weather events, though individually unpredictable, that we are experiencing are all part of the greenhouse scenario.

It's ironic that extreme weather events such as this are part of the scenario for climate change, since the issue has been barely mentioned during this shallow campaign season. Right after the conventions, in "Pay No Attention to the Elephant: The Conventions and the Climate," I noted that the historic Arctic Sea ice melt coincided with a near blackout of any discussion of climate change by pols and media, caught up in the usual ping pong.

At least Obama mentioned climate change. But then, so did Romney. He made it a joke in his convention speech. Little surprise then that his chief Washington advisor, close friend and fellow Mormon Jack Gerard, is the president of the American Petroleum Institute.

So now we've had an epic ice melt in the Arctic, and the biggest storm anyone can remember -- covering an area the size of Europe! -- just a few months apart. Will we get some focus and action now?

* The Importance of Maps

It may well be that geography -- which studies the land and people of the Earth -- is the great unsung academic field of the 21st century. (And no, that was not my major. I majored in history and sociology.)

In the new globalized world, nations are increasingly defined in relation to one another. The most basic part of geography, knowing where places are and what meaning flows from that, is key to any serious policy.

Which made Romney's gross error about Iran in the final debate so striking, and so amazing to some of my contacts in other regions of the world.

Romney has been talking about Iran as the biggest threat to world peace that there is.

Which made what he said all the more troubling.

"Syria," he intoned, "is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea."

That is totally, embarrassingly, and arguably shockingly wrong. Syria simply is not Iran's "route to the sea." To begin, Syria and Iran are not next to one another. Beyond that, Iran has 1,500 miles of coastline -- almost twice the length of California's coastline -- along the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, all leading to the sea.

Romney doesn't seem to have bothered to look at a map of Iran, which is shocking considering how many times he's declared that a nuclear Iran would be the world's greatest threat.

He really doesn't know much about Iran, or its relations with close ally Syria, much less the most crisis-ridden region in the world.

What was also striking, and alarming to my friends in other parts of the world, is how the US media barely mentioned this stunning gaffe.

It's a mark of insularity, even in an ever globalizing world. And insularity is a luxury we can no longer afford.

Once we've purged the junk food of this campaign season, it's time to get serious.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.

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