Award-winning journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave tells Newsmax.TV that Americans should be outraged that President Barack Obama did not attend daily intelligence briefings in the week leading up to the embassy attacks in Cairo and Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
“Well, absolutely,” de Borchgrave acknowledges in an exclusive Newsmax interview. “If the direct link is established, and it really is already, between this 13-minute clip called ‘The Innocence of Muslims,’ which ridicules the Prophet Mohammed, that’s enough to set the whole Middle East on fire.”
A 30-year veteran of Newsweek magazine, de Borchgrave is now director and senior adviser of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, editor at large at United Press International, and a frequent Newsmax contributor.
De Borchgrave said he and Ambassador Stevens had much in common – and they dined together last year just before Stevens left for his new assignment at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. A civil war was raging in Libya at the time, and Stevens got there by hitching a ride on a Greek cargo ship.
“He was passionately interested in Libya and, of course, we talked about Libya,” de Borchgrave said. “My wife’s father, my father-in-law, was the first American ambassador to Libya after World War II – and I’ve had at least seven interviews with Gadhafi before he was executed. So we had a lot in common about Libya.
“A hell of a nice guy. Very professional. Very much looking forward to the assignment.”
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De Borchgrave said he believed Stevens was effective in Libya.
“He managed to keep the whole thing on an even keel. There were various influences competing for attention, if not power, including some former al-Qaida people. It was that kind of a situation Ambassador Stevens walked into and managed to calm things down all the way between Libya and Benghazi, which is several hundred miles.
“I just thought that for the first time in a long time that we were sending a true professional to this very challenging assignment,” de Borchgrave said.
He expressed confidence that the Libyan perpetrators would be brought to justice.
“Once you get to the bottom of what provoked these attacks, what killed not only the ambassador, but three other Americans, that will be contained. It’s certainly easier to contain Libya than it is Syria.
“Syria still is number one in terms of potential explosive repercussions,” de Borchgrave said. “That’s where we should be focused right now and not on Libya.”
There’s also the issue of Israel and Iran, he noted.
“Israel is threatened except by Iran, certainly not by the Arab world. Iran, as we know, is not an Arab country – and the controversy that’s occurred over Iran’s nuclear weapons program is what could touch off a regional war, but it’s certainly totally separate from the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood has taken over in Egypt.”
All of these issues – along with the widely divergent responses from President Barack Obama and his GOP challenger, Mitt Romney, to the Libyan attack – reflect the greater prominence foreign affairs have taken in this year’s presidential election, de Borchgrave said.
Obama, however, still should proceed cautiously on Iran.
“It’s bound to play a larger role, especially revolving around the Iran issue,” de Borchgrave said. “People have forgotten that there are three former Israeli intelligence chiefs who all said it would be geopolitical madness to start bombing Iran over the nuclear issue – and you’ve had other very prominent people who have lined up with the former Israeli intelligence chiefs.
“So you’ve got many powerful voices saying, ‘Don’t do it, because this is going to all sorts of things that are entirely beyond our control.’ ”
De Borchgrave again warned about the Syrian presence.
“The next shoe that drops is related to what may or may not happen in Syria. After all, we’ve gotten up in 19 months now to 25,000 killed in Syria under President Bashar al-Assad. His father, Hafez al-Assad, killed 25,000 people in less than a week in the city of Hama in 1982.
“This remains to be played out, and there’s a lot of pressure for the US to intervene the way we did in Libya. But I would warn that that is an entirely different situation.
“Libya, to put it in vulgar terms, is a strip of sand dotted with oil wells and a lot of squabbling tribes,” de Borchgrave added. “Syria is a very advanced, modern country – and it has a lot of little nasty toys, chemical warfare and other nerve warfare agents at play there. This is the one to watch very carefully.”
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