Though the fires that consumed our diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, two years ago tonight have long since been put out, the incident still smolders in our minds.
Is it because we have never been able to get at the truth behind the attacks? Because we still don’t know what the president said, did, or didn’t do in the thirteen hours Americans were under fire? Is it because the memoirs of people such as Hillary Clinton are still publishing the risible fiction that the attacks were caused by an obscure anti-Muslim video? Or is it because the Obama administration has for two years masterfully ducked, dodged, and bluffed congressional investigators in the most successful cover-up in living memory?
Benghazi is still burning in our minds for all of those reasons, and more. President Obama’s speech last night — in which he proclaimed his “strategy” for defeating ISIS — only fanned those flames.
The thirteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks has arrived. We don’t know what can or will happen today or tonight anywhere in the world, though it seems likely that more attacks will harm more Americans. We know we haven’t won the wars we’ve fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we don’t have confidence in a president who told us last night that American forces would degrade, and ultimately destroy, what he calls the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” aka “ISIL.”
Most of what we know about the Benghazi attacks is in the January report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. As Bob Tyrrell and I wrote in the March issue, the report left most of the important questions about Benghazi unanswered.
We know that — despite twenty terrorist attacks on several nations’ diplomats before the 9-11-12 attacks — neither were our people in Benghazi given adequate security nor were military forces put on alert to protect them. We know there were ten terrorist camps active inside Benghazi’s city limits on the day of the attacks and that even that fact wasn’t enough to bestir State to get our people out or Defense to provide a substantial covering force on alert all the time. And we don’t know who in the State Department either knew or should have known of the dangers and should have provided proper security or gotten our people out before they were attacked. We are told, by Hillary Clinton, that Amb. Stevens insisted on being there. She courageously blames a dead man.
Former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus has said that no one in the CIA chain of command ordered anyone to delay a military response to the attacks that might have saved American lives. That statement, more than a year ago, was contradicted by the televised interviews with three of the military contractors stationed at the CIA annex to guard the CIA personnel: Mark Geist, Kris Paranto, and John Tiegen. In an hour-long interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier, they said that they had been ordered — three separate times — to stand down rather than go to the aid of those at the diplomatic mission. They delayed for a critical half hour at the order of their CIA boss, someone named “Bob,” and later went anyway in violation of his orders. By the time they got there, Stevens was missing and Sean Smith was probably dead.
In the Fox interview, Paranto said that very soon after the attacks began, he asked for “ISR” — meaning a drone to gather intelligence, do surveillance and reconnaissance — and an AC-130 gunship. An unarmed drone got there about two hours later but its information was evidently not provided to his team. He never got an answer about real air power — an AC-130 or anything else — coming to drive off the attackers.
The three got back to the CIA annex in time for the attacks that fell on it and took the lives of Tyrone Woods and Glen Dougherty, former SEALs who were also security contractors. The attacks spanned thirteen hours, long enough for Air Force or Navy combat aircraft to reach them several times over. As the SSCI report said, F-15s stationed in Djibouti — about 2,700 miles away — were armed but not on alert. Sources have told us that F/A-18 “Growler” unarmed aircraft were at Sigonella, Italy, which is only 45 minutes’ flying time from Benghazi (at Mach 0.8). They weren’t sent either, even — as Geist, Paranto, and Tiegen said — they might have been able to scare off the attackers before armed aircraft could arrive.
Those are only two points among hundreds that need to be investigated, probed in sworn depositions of witnesses and senior officials involved up to Hillary Clinton and President Obama.
We know that the cover-up will continue and almost certainly succeed because Rep. Trey Gowdy’s (R-SC) select committee will be stonewalled at every step. Many months will be spent prying documents and witness testimony from the State Department, the CIA, the Pentagon, and the White House. Many more months or years will be spent in court fighting claims of executive privilege.
So the only sure thing is that the 2016 election will be over — possibly long past — by the time these obstacles are overcome and the investigation moves forward, if it ever does. More likely, Gowdy’s committee will be disbanded and forgotten before anything is revealed on the crucial questions with which we began.
We know, from the emails regarding the infamous “talking points” released by NBC about a year ago, that one of the Obama team’s principal objectives in spinning the Benghazi attacks was to prevent them from being seen as a bigger policy failure. Former defense secretary Bob Gates makes clear in his memoir that he told Obama that we had no national security interest in Libya, but Obama disregarded his advice and sent American aircraft to fight to topple Gaddafi. Libya has now become what Afghanistan was before the original 9-11-01 attacks, a breeding ground and safe haven for terrorists.
The failure in Libya is characteristic of Obama’s failure in foreign policy: military intervention where it shouldn’t occur followed by horrific consequences that benefit terrorists and no one else. He’s done it in Libya, Nigeria, Uganda and West Africa where U.S. troops are being sent to “fight” the Ebola virus. Obama failed in his attempt to regain credibility last night because we, and the world, know that his rhetoric is as empty as are his promises and plans.
That emptiness was demonstrated immediately by Obama’s statement that ISIS “isn’t Islamic.” If ISIS isn’t Islamic, then neither are al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Islamic Jihad and all the other terrorist organizations that claim legitimacy solely on the grounds that they are the most faithful followers of Islam. Four days ago on Meet the Press Obama said he’d fight an ideological war against ISIS. Last night, he preemptively surrendered.
Obama promised to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS by a systematic air campaign in Iraq and possibly extending into Syria. He promised not allow ISIS any safe haven. He is sending 475 more U.S. troops into Iraq (to join about 1,000 already there) but not as a combat force. He will increase aid to the so-called Free Syrian Army (which in August he derided as a force of farmers, doctors, and pharmacists that couldn’t possibly topple Assad. In that, if nothing else, he was correct. Russia and Iran are heavily invested with money, arms, and Iranian troops on Assad’s side. They will decide the outcome in Syria.)
Obama’s “strategy” boils down to organizing a coalition, to include Arab nations, to fight ISIS on the ground while our air campaign goes on. Nine NATO members have given lip service to that coalition but no Arab nations have even done that.
His plan cannot succeed. NATO will not commit troops to any ground force, nor will any of the Arab nations. Secretary of State Kerry and Defense Secretary Hagel, in the Middle East this week to round up such allies, will face resentment and derision. The Arab nations will donate food, medicine, and the use of air bases, but only a token force on the ground, if even that. The Arab nations dislike and distrust Obama, Kerry, and Hagel. They won’t do much.
Obama held up Yemen and Somalia as examples of how his strategy works. He must believe we are uninformed, unread, and plain stupid. Both Yemen and Somalia are the kind of terrorist safe havens (as is Libya) that Obama promised to refuse ISIS.
American airpower needs to be applied quickly, in great force, and for a long enough period to inflict massive damage to ISIS. We have a vital national security interest that doesn’t depend for its legitimacy on the willingness of other nations to join in the fight. Obama is dipping his toe into a war that requires us to land on the enemy with both feet. He will fail as he has before.
The terrorist attacks in Benghazi two years ago tonight — and the state of Libya today — are testaments to a long series of presidential decisions that are not only wrong but dangerous to our nation’s security. Last night, Obama hooked another car to a train that’s already wrecked.