Obama’s Benghazi: a failure to lead

As more details emerge about the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya, it is increasingly clear that President Barack Obama did nothing to save the lives of the four Americans who were killed that day. New reports indicate that time and military forces were available to launch a rescue or defensive operation. But Obama failed to act.

At approximately 9:40 p.m. local time in Benghazi on September 11, gunfire erupted outside the U.S. consulate. At that moment, Americans at a nearby CIA annex requested military support and approval to go to the consulate to help. Curiously, their requests were denied. According to Fox News sources on the ground in Benghazi, the Americans at the annex were twice told to “stand down.” It is unclear at this point who gave that order, but it was not the CIA, according its spokeswoman.

Shortly thereafter, at 10:05 p.m., an email alert from a State Department official notified the White House, “U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi Under Attack.” The email reported that “approximately 20 armed people fired shots; explosions have been heard as well.” By this time, the Obama Administration had full knowledge of the assault on the consulate, and an immediate response was needed.

The U.S. military could have provided that response. A Special Forces unit specializing in counterterrorism rescues was reportedly in Sigonella, Italy, at the time (480 miles away or just over an hour away by flight). Fighter jets and Specter AC-130 gunships at three nearby bases also could have assisted in quickly dispersing the terrorists. But none of these assets were mobilized during the attack. The Obama Administration instead stood by and watched on Predator drone video feeds as four Americans died that day.

To be sure, immediate military action may not have saved Ambassador Chris Stevens or Agent Sean Smith—they died in the terrorist attack at the consulate building less than an hour after it began.

But Obama had more than enough time to save the others from any harm. The mortar attack that killed Agents Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty at the CIA annex did not take place until after 4 a.m.—almost 7 full hours after the first shots were fired.

Such inaction is inexcusable.

And just as deplorable is the Obama Administration’s concerted effort to mask the truth about what happened in Benghazi that night. Long after the assault, the Administration persistently characterized the terrorist attack as a spontaneous, violent outburst by an unruly mob protesting a ridiculous anti-Muslim video on Youtube.

For example, on September 16, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, appeared on five Sunday-morning talk shows to reinforce the Administration’s deceitful message. She said, “What sparked the violence was a very hateful video on the Internet. It was a reaction to a video that had nothing to do with the United States. The best information and the best assessment we have today is that this was not a pre-planned, pre-meditated attack.”

On September 18, President Obama appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman and maintained that the Youtube video prompted the Benghazi attack. After talking at length about the offensive nature of the video, Obama said, “Extremists and terrorists used this as an excuse to attack a variety of our embassies, including the one – the consulate in Libya.”

These repeated statements directly contradict information that the Obama Administration received just two hours after it was first notified of the attack in Benghazi. A State Department email sent at 12:07 a.m. on September 12 reported that a militant Libyan Islamic group in fact took credit for the terrorist attack. The email—titled “Update 2: Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack”—states, “Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli.”

The violence in Benghazi was very much a premeditated attack that had everything to do with the United States—it was aimed directly at the United States. The members of factcheck.org had this to say about Obama’s spin:

We cannot say whether the administration was intentionally misleading the public. We cannot prove intent. . . . But, at this point, we do know that Obama and others in the administration were quick to cite the anti-Muslim video as the underlying cause for the attack in Benghazi that killed four U.S. diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. And they were slow to acknowledge it was a premeditated terrorist attack, and they downplayed reports that it might have been.

Given the totality of the information thus far, the following is apparent: the Obama Administration magnified the anti-Muslim video to distract the American people from its incompetent nonresponse to a terrorist attack on the United States on the anniversary of 9/11. For in the midst of this attack, we can see how Barack Obama reacts under pressure. He dithers. He does not lead.

UPDATE 10-29-2012: Former National Security Adviser (and fellow Naval Academy alumnus) Bud McFarlane labelled President Obama’s inaction as a “dereliction of duty.” He said yesterday on Fox News Sunday:

You don’t just passively allow Americans to remain under attack for eight hours at a time when you have forces within range and do nothing. The Secretary of Defense was in the White House at five o’clock within an hour of when the attacks started. He could have told him, “Yes. We have special operations people and F-18 aircraft that could be deployed right away.” To have known what he had available, to have known that Americans were under fire, and to have done nothing, is dereliction of duty that I have never seen in a Commander in Chief from a president of any party. Outrageous.