So No Change


Based on some Italian media reporting, the Vancouver Sun is lauding Canadian Cardinal Marc Quellet as the pope-maker, arguing he asked his supporters to switch their votes to Cardinal Bergoglio for the fifth ballot, giving the Argentinian the victory and giving the World Pope Francis.

But the real pope-makers – the cardinals who brokered the deal making and picked and unpicked alliances – were Italians: Giovanni Battista Re, Vatican secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone, and Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals.

My sources at the Vatican tell me that they were the ones who quickly blocked Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, persuading many of the Italian cardinals not to be back him.

And behind those three key pope-makers was the real eminence: yet another Italian, former Vatican representative at the UN for fifteen years — Raffaele Martino, a cardinal but not an elector at this conclave. He opposed Ratzinger at the 2005 conclave, backing Bergoglio at that election, and was the one who persuaded the Canadian to back the Argentinian as well.

What is the significance of all of this? Bergoglio owes his election to the men who have made the Curia what it is today: a bureaucracy that is focused on protecting its control of the Church and the ones most responsible for the scandals swirling around the Vatican.


Alien vs Predator: The Face-Off Between Hezbollah and Al Qaeda

From my piece in today’s Daily Beast:

“The Lebanese have been fearful ever since the civil war erupted next door in Syria that it would spread to their nation and trigger communal fighting within their borders. And with the influx of huge numbers of refugees and occasional clashes in the north between Lebanese sects supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to him, such fears have had plenty to feed on the past few months.

Now, a new development could bring sectarian conflict that much closer to Lebanon and have wider repercussions for the entire Arab region: the likelihood of a confrontation along the border between Lebanon’s Shiite armed movement Hezbollah and Sunni fighters with Jabhat al-Nusra, the jihadist militia that has evolved into the most effective rebel formation fighting to oust Assad.”

Read full article here.


No Cover-Up, Just Confusion: Thoughts on Benghazi and Stevens

According to U.S. lawmaker Frank Wolf the Obama administration has handed the FBI an impossible task in investigating the assault last September on the American consulate in Benghazi that led to the death of ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. “Can you imagine the FBI going up to a door [in Benghazi], knocking and saying, we’re going to take you away? … The only way to [get answers] is to get a select committee that can subpoena [witnesses],” told Fox News.

Well, I would be curious to see Capitol Hill policemen plodding out to Benghazi and knocking on doors handing out congressional subpoenas.

Wolf, though, has a point in criticizing the administration for not making available American survivors of the attack for them to relate from their perspectives what occurred that night; although presumably there are other House committees that could issue subpoenas for survivors to appear without having to set up a special committee.

For those of us who covered the Benghazi assault on the ground, it is frustrating to see the incident reshaped into a pretzel in Washington DC to fit into various Democratic and Republican agendas. Stevens and those who fought to defend the consulate and the nearby CIA annex – Americans and Libyans – deserve better.

Wolf and other Republicans argue there has been a cover-up by the administration – it is a story line Fox News has been flogging for months. But what happened in Benghazi can more be put down to the fog of battle and to the lack of governance in Libya. Hillary Clinton had a point, surely, that on that day and night the State Department was being buffeted by several crises across the Middle East and was finding it had to keep up with hard information in a region where facts can be very fungible.

When it comes to Libya there was total confusion in the government in Tripoli and with the authorities in Benghazi about what was happening – on the night of the attack and in the days following. That was the case from the president of the National Transitional Council, the prime minister and the deputy prime minister all the way down. They were at sea: I know I talked directly with them or their top aides and the story kept on changing. No doubt Washington DC was getting to hear the same confusion.

Clearly there were lapses. As I made clear in reports for Newsweek, Daily Beast and Maclean’s magazine, sadly Stevens has to bear some of the responsibility. He felt immune having played a crucial role in the success of the rebellion that toppled the Gaddafi regime and often threw off most of his security in Tripoli in the afternoons to meet contacts and friends in the souk. Also, as I — and others — reported in the summer before the assault, Benghazi was becoming ever more dangerous with attacks on foreign envoys and NGOs. Stevens was planning to stay in Benghazi all week – a very different approach from European ambassadors who in the months before his death avoided staying in the city for longer than a day.

The consulate was not a fortified compound and was easy to penetrate; there were too few defenders. Stevens bears some responsibility for this – as does the State Department.

Was it an Al Qaeda attack? Despite some media reports from outlets that like to tag reflexively anything involving militant Islamists as AQ, I don’t believe it was. There has been no hard evidence to the contrary. Too much is made of one phone call to an AQ commander. To put this down to core AQ misses a significant trend that has been taking place in the region: the growth of AQ-inspired Jihadist/Salafist groups that don’t take their marching orders from AQ and operate independently. The bacillus has adapted and rather like a virulent flu has many strains.