NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
House Republicans on Thursday plan on using an unexpected approach to questioning former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the much-anticipated hearing of the special congressional committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi terror attacks.
Instead of focusing on Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server and the security concerns surrounding it, GOP panelists on the House Select Committee on Benghazi will zero in on what they regard as her leadership and policy failures, according to a panel member.
Mrs. Clinton’s private email server is currently the target of an FBI criminal investigation into how highly classified information was improperly transferred to the unsecure computer server.
The former secretary’s role in misleading the public about the attack — that it was a spontaneous Islamist demonstration against an obscure online anti-Muslim video — also will not be a major Republican focus.
Instead, the committee, headed by Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, will zero in on Mrs. Clinton’s larger failures handling the Libyan civil war that emerged from the pro-democracy Arab Spring in 2011.
Those failures, Republicans will argue, culminated in the terror attack of Sept. 11, 2012, that resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans who were attacked by Islamist terrorists at the Benghazi diplomatic compound and a nearby CIA facility.
The Obama administration has called its Libya policy an example of “leading from behind” for limited indirect U.S. involvement and support. Critics say the policy produced a failed state currently wracked by civil war among rival Islamist militias that has increased the risk of international terrorism.
Mrs. Clinton, the leading Democratic candidate for president, is expected to shift blame for the Libya and Benghazi failures to underlings and career State Department diplomats and policymakers.
“Forget the emails, we’re going to torch her on her incompetence,” said a panel member who spoke to Inside the Ring on condition of anonymity. “She was the leader, and you can delegate authority, but you cannot delegate responsibility.”
The committee will delve into how Mrs. Clinton and State Department officials were ill-prepared to deal with the aftermath of the ouster of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi despite covert and overt U.S. backing for the anti-Gadhafi rebels who eventually toppled and executed him.
For the three months prior to Gadhafi being captured, killed and dragged through the streets of Sirte, Libya, in October 2011, committee investigators were unable to find any signs the State Department was preparing for the longtime dictator’s fall from power.
“There was no planning, none, for the toppling of Gadhafi,” the member said. The only indicator found by committee investigators was documents discussing State Department plans to prepare a press releasing announcing his ouster and how to handle news media inquiries.
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“This was her plan and crowning achievement, but there was never a Plan B on what to do if it all goes to hell,” the member said of Mrs. Clinton.
Investigators expected to uncover documents outlining post-Gadhafi plans to work with Libyan rebels or discussion of how to help structure a pro-Western system in the North African state. Again, there was no evidence any planning was done, the member said.
As a result, within months Libya began spinning out of control as rival Islamist militias vied for power in the oil-rich state.
Committee Republicans believe the post-fall planning failures directly led to the Benghazi attack and Libya’s current state of disarray. Libya was described by U.S. intelligence officials recently as an al Qaeda safe haven and emerging base of operations for the al Qaeda offshoot Islamic State.
Other GOP questioning of Mrs. Clinton during the first hour and a half of the hearing will highlight the large number of terrorist incidents and attacks that took place in Libya in the months leading up to the Benghazi attacks.
Republicans also will detail in public at the hearing the large number of requests for increased security assistance that were made by the U.S. ambassador and other officials in Libya prior to the attack. Those requests were ignored by Mrs. Clinton and the State Department.
“There was a complete failure to respond” to the security requests, the member said.
Democrats on the committee, led by ranking member Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, are expected to use their questioning of Mrs. Clinton to focus instead on what they regard as Republican politicization of the inquiry. That view was fueled by recent remarks by House GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggesting the panel’s main goal was to weaken the Democratic presidential candidate’s political fortunes.
China to boost Iran’s weapons
The Vienna deal that critics say undermined international opposition to Iran’s illicit nuclear program appears set to begin helping Tehran’s military programs for precision weapons.
The Chinese official news media and the official Iranian government Fars News Agency reported Oct. 17 that Iran and China concluded a memorandum of understanding on the transfer of technology related to China’s BeiDou satellite navigation system. The story also was reported on Sina.com, a major Chinese outlet.
The deal reportedly involves building ground stations for BeiDou satellites and the launch of navigation and positioning satellites in Iran.
“This raises the possibility that Iran will be able to broadcast ‘differential’ navigation satellite signals that could produce accuracy measurements in inches rather than feet,” said Rick Fisher, a specialist on the Chinese military with the International Assessment and Strategy Center. “While this navigation satellite technology will doubtless benefit civil users in Iran, the chief beneficiary by far will be Iran’s military.”
The precision guidance technology will boost the accuracy of Iran’s ballistic and cruise missiles that were built or sold with Chinese and North Korean assistance.
“As Iran succeeds in putting nuclear warheads on its missiles and cruise missiles, China’s navigation satellite technology could make them far more accurate,” Mr. Fisher said.
China first began operating its BeiDou satellite constellation in 2012 with 19 satellites and a network of ground stations. A total of 35 satellites will be deployed by 2020, and give China’s military precise navigation over the entire planet.
The BeiDou system gives the Chinese military independent targeting capability and reduces reliance on U.S. Global Positioning System satellites that can be restricted or used to provide false data in a crisis or conflict.
The Beidou satellite navigation system was designed mainly for military purposes and provides targeting accuracy for precision guided weapons of up to 10 meters or better.
A forthcoming congressional report on China’s military finds that “China almost certainly is equipping its ballistic and cruise missiles to operate with both GPS and Beidou.”
“If this is true, PLA operators could switch to Beidou to guide a missile to its target if GPS were denied by the United States during a conflict or deemed unusable by PLA commanders due to operational security concerns,” the draft of the annual report of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission states.
“Additionally, the availability of Beidou would allow China to attack an adversary’s access to GPS without disrupting the PLA’s own capabilities.”
Defense budget veto showdown
Congress and the White House are headed for a showdown over the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill now sitting on President Obama’s desk.
A White House National Security Council spokesman said the president has not changed his position and will veto the $612 billion authorization bill.
“No details on timing, but the president’s position has not changed,” the official, Ned Price, told Inside the Ring.
The Republican chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have urged the president to sign the bill, arguing a veto would be an unprecedented action.
“It is time for the president to put our troops and national security first. He should sign the bill,” Mr. Thornberry said on Capitol Hill Thursday.
Mr. McCain was even more critical.
“This veto threat is about one thing only: politics,” he stated. “The president wants to take a stand for greater domestic spending by playing politics with our national security.”
The president is opposing the defense bill’s provisions that allow the Pentagon to shift funds slated for overseas operations to traditional defense spending needs. The president opposes the funding shift because it would allow meeting defense needs but keep in place budget restrictions on domestic spending.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.