Politics & Policy

Benghazi: A Symbol of Obama’s Leadership

The president’s account of his directives doesn’t square with Panetta’s story.

The first statements from the Obama administration about what happened in Benghazi seemed plausible. There were, after all, protests throughout the Muslim world on the anniversary of 9/11 — some incited by Islamists using an obscure video to arouse anti-American fervor in the mobs, and some, no doubt, just pelting U.S. embassies on general principles. When the administration explained that one of those protests had spun out of control and led to the murder of our ambassador and three other Americans in Libya, there seemed no reason to doubt it.

For a day. But within hours, the administration account deflated like a punctured balloon. CBS reported that there had been no protest outside the consulate in Benghazi. Members of Congress who were briefed said the attack was a military-style assault. We learned that an al-Qaeda affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack. It was reported that Ambassador Christopher Stevens had noticed increased al-Qaeda activity, had feared for his safety, and had requested additional security, only to be turned down. Yet day after day, the administration continued to distort reality by referring to the Internet video.

Most of the press was willing to let the story fade, because the man in charge is their man and he is in a tight race for reelection. But Fox News, Eli Lake of The Daily Beast, and one or two others have revealed details about the administration’s handling of the crisis that are beyond embarrassing — they verge on malfeasance.

According to Fox’s Jennifer Griffin, former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods, who was part of a small team at the CIA safe house about a mile from the consulate, heard shots fired at 9:40 p.m. He urgently requested backup from the CIA and asked permission to head to the consulate to help. The request was denied three times. He and his team were told to “stand down.”

Woods and others disobeyed orders and headed over to the consulate, where they rescued several people and carried away the body of Sean Smith. They did not find the ambassador. Upon returning to the safe house, they again requested military back-up and were again denied. They were soon under fire. The fighting there went on for four more hours. Washington was in constant touch with personnel in Benghazi through e-mail. In addition, Griffin reports, a special-operations force was stationed only 480 miles away at Sigonella air base in Italy. They could have flown to Benghazi in less than two hours. The New York Post further reports that a military drone aircraft was over Benghazi at the time of the attacks, relaying real-time information back to Washington.

President Obama told a Denver TV station that “I gave three very clear directives. Number one, make sure that we are securing our personnel and doing whatever we need to. Number two, we’re going to investigate exactly what happened to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Number three, find out who did this so we can bring them to justice.”

Investigations can stretch on for a long time — certainly past November 6. If the president gave such an order, why were urgent pleas for military support denied? Would the military defy the orders of the commander-in-chief? General David Petraeus says that the CIA never denied a request for help — which raises the question: Who else but the White House would have made such a decision?

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta may have answered the question — and exposed as false Obama’s claim that the White House directed that our personnel be secured. Panetta explained that 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. And as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, General Ham, General Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation.”

Really? Is the Secretary of Defense really saying that we can’t put forces at risk when Americans are already at risk and are being shot at? Why do we have a military again? Tyrone Woods certainly didn’t have any doubt about what to do when Americans were under attack. He defied orders and rushed to help, sacrificing his own life. It’s what any member of the armed forces would normally do — unless restrained by incompetent civilian authority.

Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2012 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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