The secretary of defense in his best grown-up voice says:
“(The) basic principle is that you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on; without having some real-time information about what’s taking place,” Panetta told Pentagon reporters. “And as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, Gen. Ham, Gen. Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation.”
It seems obvious that Panetta is trying protect Obama from responsibility for the administration’s Benghazi response. I don’t think that works. The decision to outsource the call is still a presidential decision.
But there are two problems bigger problems with the Panetta doctrine. First, Panetta says they didn’t have real-time information. Uh, if having a live video feed and real-time reports from assets on the ground for hours doesn’t count as real-time information, what does? And if, as rumors suggest, the drones monitoring the situation were armed, the idea that the administration was trying to avoid some kind of “black hawk down” situation seems incomprehensible.
Which brings us to the second, I think bigger, problem with the Panetta doctrine. If the circumstances in Libya didn’t meet the “enough information” threshold for a rescue attempt or some other form of intervention, then what does? And, note, Panetta & Co. make it sound as if the decision to let the Americans on the scene twist in the wind was sort of a no-brainer, not a difficult decision. So what happened in Libya didn’t even come close to the threshold for intervention.
What does that mean? Well, it seems to me that any embassy or consulate subjected to a surprise attack will likely catch the administration off guard. That’s why they call them “surprise attacks,” after all. According to the Panetta doctrine, the very essence of what makes a surprise attack a surprise attack likely precludes any commitment of U.S. forces to repel it. The message to our diplomats and troops: You’re on your own. The message to terrorists: As long as you keep your attacks minimally confusing, you win.