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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
October 16, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Hillary Clinton Takes Responsibility for Benghazi Attack

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a visit to Peru that she will take the blame (CNN) for any shortcomings in the handling of an attack last month on the U.S. mission in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The White House has come under severe partisan fire for its handling of the incident (AFP), as Vice President Joe Biden affirmed during last week's vice presidential debate that Washington was oblivious to requests for security enhancement at Benghazi, contradicting testimony by State Department employees that such requests had been rejected. Reports surfaced that Washington, under political pressure to respond forcefully to the attack, is currently weighing options (AP) to strike back using drones in Libya, although it has yet to find a target.


"Regardless of whether she wants it or not, Hillary Clinton's job is on the line in the upcoming election, and everybody knows that this Benghazi attack is really turning into a headache for the Obama campaign. The administration did a good enough job brushing off accusations that it had screwed up when it pointed to the intelligence agencies for sending mixed reports in the days after the attack. Indeed, The Atlantic Wire's John Hudson said late last week that the blame was shifting from the State Department to the CIA and called it "quite the unexpected development." Push come to shove, though, it seems a lot simpler for Secretary Clinton to call mea culpa then it does to drill down into the guts of America's intelligence operation for the Middle East," writes Adam Clark Estes for the Atlantic.

"CNN reported Monday night from Lima that Mrs. Clinton finally addressed the White House comments by saying 'I take responsibility' for what happened in Benghazi. She added that 'I want to avoid some kind of political gotcha' so close to an election. That's nice, but it still leaves many questions, such as why her own comments to the UN differed so much from the substance and tone of Mr. Obama's. Saying you take 'responsibility' in brief interviews from faraway Peru is a long way from acting as if you're responsible," writes the Wall Street Journal.

"If the killing of the ambassador were premeditated and unrelated to the film, then it vests credibility in the criticism that the consulate should have been much better-protected, particularly on 9/11. And in general, the last thing a president running for re-election wants is an appearance that he is unable to protect America's diplomats from a terrorist group his supporters love to claim that he has heroically vanquished. The falsehood told by the White House – this was just a spontaneous attack prompted by this video that we could not have anticipated and had nothing to do with – fixed all of those problems. Critical attention was thus directed to Muslims (what kind of people kill an ambassador over a film?) and away from the White House and its policies," writes Glenn Greenwald for the Guardian.



China Criticizes EU Sanctions on Iran

China, Iran's largest crude oil customer, criticized the European Union on Tuesday for imposing new sanctions on Iran (Reuters) over its controversial nuclear program, calling for talks to resolve the stand-off.

SOUTH KOREA: South Korean and U.S. diplomats held talks on Tuesday in Seoul to discuss regional security concerns including the ongoing territorial rows in Northeast Asia (Yonhap), as well as the issue of North Korea.



Myanmar Prohibits OIC From Opening Office

Myanmar President Thein Sein blocked the Organization of the Islamic Conference (UPI), a Muslim association, from opening an office in the country after thousands of monks protested against the organization in two major cities on Monday.

Joshua Kurlantzick discusses Myanmar's ethnic strife in this CFR blog post.

INDIA: The Indian army said Pakistani troops killed three civilians after firing across the disputed frontier in the Himalayan region of Kashmir on Tuesday (BusinessStandard).



UN-Arab League Calls For for Syria Ceasefire

The UN-Arab League envoy, Lakhdar Brahim, called for a ceasefire in Syria during the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha after holding talks in Tehran and Baghdad (AlJazeera). Brahim said the Syrian conflict stood as a threat to world peace but denied he was seeking peacekeepers. The revolt enters its twentieth month with a death toll of more than 33,000.



African Mali Intervention Weeks Away

A French defense minister said that military action to oust Islamist militants from northern Mali (AFP), which the fighters have occupied since a coup in March, will start within weeks, reiterating that France would only be providing "logistical aid" after the UN Security Council on Friday approved a forty-five-day deadline for an intervention plan.

This CFR Backgrounder explains Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

AFRICA: Africa has failed to name a winner (GlobeandMail) for the $5 million Ibrahim Prize for leadership for the third time in six years, casting a harsh spotlight on the poor records of many African heads of state.

This CFR Expert Brief outlines the challenges of African democracy.



Radovan Karadzic Begins Bosnia War Crimes Defense

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who faces ten charges of genocide and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the war in the 1990s, began his trial defense by denying charges and demanding reward for his efforts to reduce suffering (BBC).

PORTUGAL: After grueling negotiations, Portugal unveiled a budget proposal (WSJ) for 2013 that centered on sharp tax increases, a move that drew roughly one thousand demonstrators to parliament.



Argentine Navy Chief Fired Over Libertad Spat

Argentina's defense ministry said on Monday that its navy chief had resigned and two top Navy officers were disciplined (MercoPress) for plotting the course of the ARA Libertad, a training vessel that has been in Ghana since October 2 following the injunction from a hedge fund that is demanding debt payment from Argentina.

GUANTANAMO: Alleged September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four accused accomplices stood Monday at a pretrial hearing (MiamiHerald) in the death penalty case against them.



Medicare 'Vouchers' Would Increase Costs for Many, Study Says

The Kaiser Family Foundation released a study Monday showing that if a premium support plan, similar to the so-called "voucher" plans that GOP nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan have proposed, had been put into place in 2010, health-care costs would rise (Politico) for majorities of people who chose a private alternative and those who stayed with traditional Medicare. U.S. health-care costs have often been cited as a major drag on private and public spending, harming global competitiveness.

President Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney will face off in a town hall-style debate tonight, a less predictable format (CNN) that either candidate could use to his advantage.



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