The Corner

Why Was the Answer ‘No’ in Benghazi?

Concerning the 9/11 assault on the consulate in Benghazi, the crux of the issue during that tragic night is whether our military should have done nothing or should have tried to do something.

The president said he immediately directed that all actions be taken by our military to secure our personnel. Since then, he has made clear that he expects fast action when he gives a directive.

“You return everybody’s phone calls in 15 minutes,” Obama said at a news conference on October 31. “Whether it’s the mayors, the governors, county officials, if they need something, we figure out a way to say yes. . . . We leave no one behind.”

Secretary Panetta said General Ham, General Dempsey, and he unanimously agreed to take no action because they did not have enough information to place U.S. rescue forces in harm’s way. But if the president directed the military to take action, that is an executive order, not a request for the military to collect more intelligence.

The Pentagon is now leaking that it had no forces of any kind that could have helped inside seven hours — a different excuse than claiming a lack of information.

But the president said it was a mob that attacked, and intelligence officials say they didn’t conclude it was a terrorist attack until days later. Well, the U.S. military routinely scares mobs in Iraq and Afghanistan by a flyover of a fighter jet in afterburner. Generals Dempsey and Ham could have taken that action, even if the jet was ordered not to drop any bombs for fear of killing civilians. Surely a flyover at 600 miles per hour would not put the pilot in harm’s way from a mob.

The second military action could have been the dispatch of U.S. troops to Benghazi. The U.S. embassy in Tripoli — acting on someone’s authority in Washington — sent a plane 400 miles with six Americans to enter the fight around 2 a.m., four hours after the fight started. From Sigonella, about 480 miles away, a relief force of some assortment — surely more than six men — could have been flown in, given that Sigonella had a dozen or more aircraft of all types ready to go within, say, one to two hours.

So, did the commander-in-chief direct the U.S. military to take action?

If so, did the Pentagon refuse to do so because of a lack of information about the mob, as the secretary of defense has said? Or did the military lack any air or ground forces that could reach Benghazi within the seven-hour window of the attack?

“You return everybody’s phone calls in 15 minutes; we figure out a way to say yes.”

Why, then, was the answer “no” on 9/11 in Benghazi? 

Bing West — Bing West, a bestselling author and former assistant secretary of defense, served as a Marine grunt in Vietnam and later as a dean at the Naval War College. A graduate ...

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