The latest twist in the Benghazigate saga is a newly discovered, secret diplomatic cable. The document, sent two weeks before the Sept. 11 murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, warned that the consulate building in Benghazi could not withstand a "coordinated attack." It is yet another piece of evidence underscoring the Obama administration's inability to respond to intelligence.
The White House knew the situation in Benghazi was dangerous and unstable. In the preceding months a series of attacks had taken place against western interests -- including against the American consulate itself. Repeated requests for increased security were denied on the basis that the threat wasn't sufficient to justify it. The new cable reveals there were "approximately ten Islamist militias and [al Qaeda] training camps within Benghazi." That ought to have served as sufficient proof that heightened security was needed, particularly in advance of the Sept. 11, 2001, anniversary.
Once the crisis broke, the administration failed to step up and do the right thing. Potentially life-saving military assets were not dispatched to relieve the besieged Americans, and ready forces may have been ordered to stand down. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said, "The basic principle here is 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." This is a recipe for defeat. Every hot crisis is going to have murky intelligence. The principle in this case is the tradeoff between time and opportunity. The longer decision-makers wait for information, the fewer opportunities they will have to act. In fast-breaking crises, the facts on the ground change rapidly, so waiting virtually guarantees losing the chance to act decisively. Mr. Panetta may grouse that his critics are engaged in Monday morning quarterbacking, but the fact is that our team did not even show up for the game.
It's still not clear exactly what Mr. Obama was doing or where he was while the attack was under way. The White House had been informed of the attack, and Mr. Obama should have been closely engaged with the unfolding events. Mr. Panetta may have advised the president that "wait and see" was the best course of action, but the final decision rested with the commander in chief. Mr. Obama should have given the order for the available military forces to take whatever action they could to either save the besieged Americans or take out the terrorists while they were still in the vicinity. The buck stops with Mr. Obama, not with the State Department, the CIA or the Pentagon. Mr. Obama has made much of his "gutsy call" to send a SEAL team to kill Osama bin Laden, but Benghazi has proved to be a gutless call.
In tragic situations like this, the American people expect openness and candor from their government; they have received neither. The administration's shifting stories, uncertain timelines and lack of frankness have generated an atmosphere of distrust. Whether the lack of reliable information is because of confusion, deception or election-year calculation remains to be seen. Nearly two months after the Benghazi incident, we are still waiting for answers. It's time for the administration to come clean.
The Washington Times
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