Most historians, writing about a particular historical event, seek to place that event in the largest context possible in order to fully explain its implications. In order to understand the tragedy of Benghazi, the political background operating in the presidential year of 2012 cannot be ignored.
In 2008, we elected a president who had a vision for our country rooted in a progressive domestic agenda which a majority of voters embraced. Little was said regarding his inexperience particularly on matters of foreign policy. It can be safely argued that he was lucky during the next four years since little happened internationally to reveal any weaknesses he may have had in conducting his administration’s foreign affairs.
By the time of his reelection bid, his most notable accomplishment, at least according to his vice president was that “General Motors was alive and Osama Bin Laden was dead.” Putting aside the fact that General Motors may be on life support, it is now painfully obvious that the implied conclusion in the vice president’s words that with the death of the then leader of Al Queda, the war on terror had been won was grossly erroneous.
The liberal perspective as currently practiced and cited by numerous writers of that ilk is that our country is reaping what it has sowed historically as a jingoistic nation and that if we would simply mind our own business as we seek to try to convince the world that by doing so we are the “good guys,” we can avoid foreign entanglements and other nations will leave us alone.
This philosophy was aided and abetted by the war in Iraq and the war (still being fought) in Afghanistan which appealed to a large segment of voters who had grown war weary, particularly after revelations that the basis for at least the war in Iraq was false which made the liberal argument all the more seemingly convincing.
Unfortunately, we have a bad habit of violating the old cliche about repeating the mistakes we ought to avoid by reference to historical precedents. In the 1930’s, a large segment of our population believed that surrounded by oceans, we could hide our head in the sand dunes along their shores and thus avoid involvement in unsettling events in Europe and the Pacific where bad people were bent on destroying our way of life. The European democracies believed, since they didn’t have the protection of vast distances between themselves and their potential enemies that if they could just give the bad guys what they wanted, they would be left alone. The now infamous refrain from the British prime minister in 1938 that by sacrificing a nation on the continent, he had “achieved peace in our time” came back to haunt both he and the free world when the chief bad guy, Herr Hitler, plunged the world into war barely a year later.
By the time Pearl Harbor added our nation to that war, we were ill prepared to fight and it took us a year to get back in the game during which time we got our lunch handed to us, to borrow a metaphor. Isolation and appeasement. Flawed and very dangerous policies. It is ironic that we now have a military about the same size as we did in 1940.
In pursuing a domestic agenda, our president ignored and adopted a purely reactionary posture on foreign matters, a policy that has now come back to haunt both he and the American people. Thus, we find ourselves confronting an even greater threat from terrorism, the increasingly growing specter of a new cold war with Russia, new aggression from China, saber rattling from the likes of North Korea and so on all leading to a crisis of confidence from our allies culminating in thrashing our closest ally in the middle east, Israel and worst of all, the apparent appeasement of Iran as it marches onward in its drive to develop a nuclear weapon.
In seeking reelection, as noted above, our president and his followers sought to put a lid on foreign affairs to keep any problems in that arena from putting a damper on his campaign for a second term. Thus, when a crazy army officer slaughtered his fellow soldiers at an army base in Oklahoma, ranting militant Islamic oaths, the administration called his act, “work place violence.”
Against this backdrop, the “head in the sand dunes” philosophy was clearly evident in the events leading up to the Benghazi attack on the American compound on the anniversary of 911 in 2012.
Whatever may yet be discovered about the attack in Benghazi, it is inescapable that there were inadequate preparations to protect embassy personnel at the compound in Benghazi. In the summer of 2012, there were no fewer than six terrorist attacks in Libya, including an attempted assassination attempt on the British ambassador and a bomb blast which blew a hole in the wall of the Benghazi compound for which a pro-al-Qaeda outfit took credit. Although the State Department had Libya at the highest risk level, when Ambassador Stevens sent a request for more security saying, “The security condition in Libya is unpredictable, volatile and violent,” his request was denied, the reason given that there were inadequate resources to do so and “for other reasons.” Other State Department personnel also requested enhanced security. They received no response to their requests.
In the days leading up to September 11, 2012, an intell bulletin posted at the CIA annex in Benghazi warned, “Be advised…reports from locals that a Western facility or U.S. embassy/consulate/government target will be attacked in the next week.”
When ambassador Stevens traveled to Benghazi, his security detail was minimal and included no professional soldiers. Ex seals and at least one former Marine sniper were at the CIA annex as private contracted security. Their story is brilliantly told in 13 Days, What Really Happened in Benghazi.
Unless one is prepared to question their veracity, their account gives a blow by blow description of the events leading up to the attacks on the compound and the annex and their heroic response to those attacks in which two of them were killed.
Of critical import in their story is a twenty minute delay in which they sat in armored cars waiting for an order to proceed the one mile from the annex to the compound to aid the ambassador while a CIA station chief repeatedly told them to “stand down” as he talked to some unidentified source or sources and ended up telling the operatives, he wanted or someone up the line wanted the response to the attack on the compound to be handled by local militia.
At the risk of their jobs, they finally ignored “Bob” and proceeded to the compound anyway. During the twenty minute delay, the building in which Ambassador Stevens and two other men took refuge was torched by the attackers and Stevens and another man died from smoke inhalation.
The operatives indicate that had they received the “go order” when first notified of the attack on the compound, they could have saved the ambassador. Their conclusion is more than credible based on the time line they outline.
The second issue which has been widely discussed is whether help could have been sent in time to at least save the men who died in the later attack on the annex. Although an unmanned drone made it to the air over the annex, the DOD received no orders to send in other planes or rapid response teams, apparently because those making the decisions in the White House were unaware that such response teams were even available. The larger question, however, relates to not only why adequate security was not provided on the ground but also why if, as claimed by the administration, military resources were not in a position to respond in a timely manner, why they weren’t available given the continuing threat level in Libya.
If State had requested those resources to be in place, then it is logical to assume DOD would have provided them. But, of course, there is no evidence that State made any such request of the military.
The most controversial question is whether the administration misled the American public by claiming for at least two weeks after the event that the attack in Benghazi was the result of some U Tube video. On the night of the attack, Washington, including the White House received info on the attack at 4 p.m. Washington time. This infor clearly indicated the compound was being attacked by terrorists. The President instructed his staff to take all appropriate steps to respond to the attack before he apparently went to bed so he would be well rested for his jet trip the next day to Las Vegas for a fund raiser.
Here is what we now know. First, on the morning before the attack, a suspicious character was noted taking pictures of the compound from an adjacent building. Second, there was no mob in the streets leading up to the attack as would normally be expected as a spontaneous attack unfolded. Third, in the attack on the compound, the militants were armed with AK 47’s and grenade launchers. It strains credibility to believe that demonstrators angry over some video would grab their grenade launchers laying around in their kitchens before spontaneously storming the compound. Fourth, the two Americans killed in the annex attack were killed by mortar fire. Fifth, the attacks were carried out in at least para military fashion. The mortar fire marched across the compound until it found its targets and two men were later captured who were probably spotters for the mortar rounds.
No one on the ground had any warning of the impending attack in the hours or minutes before it happened and each of the participants on the ground believed it was a coordinated and planned assault using the element of surprise, a standard military tactic.
Despite or probably because this evidence could not be ignored, the President claimed in his foreign policy debate with his presidential opponent that he had labeled the Benghazi attack as a terrorist attack. In watching that debate and the prior speech in which he claimed he had said that, it is obvious that in that speech his reference to terrorism was generic and he made no mention of Benghazi. If he intended that, he didn’t say it and if he had meant to refer to Benghazi, why did his administration, including his then U.N. representative and his Secretary of State continue to maintain the false narrative that the attack was a result of some video after he made his speech in the rose garden.
Given the impending election and his argument that his greatest accomplishment in foreign affairs was that he had won the war on terror, it is incredible to believe that there is any other explanation than the obvious conclusion that admitting the attack had been the result of terrorism would have put a large hole in that narrative just at the very moment when the American people were about to vote on his reelection. Likewise, that narrative also explains why security was not adequately provided.
The only other rational explanation is incompetence, pure and simple. To accept this conclusion, you would have to believe that senior State Department officials were totally incompetent and worse, criminally negligent. If that was the case, then no one was held accountable. A few people in the State Department were reassigned and the matter was seemingly forgotten.
In her testimony before Congress, the ex Secretary of State, being badgered by the opposition party, angrily said, “What does it matter?”
It matters, ma’am because four Americans died and you were in charge when it happened. In the real world, people who make mistakes at this level are held accountable.