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ECKERT: Unanswered questions about Benghazi

Was the U.S. truly incapable of helping fellow Americans under attack?

- - Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Is it really true that the U.S. military was not capable of getting any help whatsoever to the Americans under terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya? That's hard to believe, isn't it? I don't.

Suppose it is true, though. Who's responsible?

Nine months later, we still have no clue — just that same incredible excuse the Obama administration gave us after the attack: Help would not have arrived "in time."

They told us that the "fog of war" prevented them from knowing much of anything — yet they were so certain how long the battle would last that they knew sending help was not even worth attempting. Huh?

It is, of course, possible that U.S. military preparedness was indeed so utterly lacking as to rule out even trying — a truly frightening thought. Is it likely? Not very.

U.S. military leaders are deeply committed to the concept that we must be able to swiftly "project power" to any spot where Americans or American interests might come under attack. Our military has contingency plans for coping with virtually anything that might happen. It would be completely contrary to long-standing practice not to have plans in place for responding to attacks on U.S. facilities and personnel in North Africa.

The Obama administration implies — but never actually charges — woeful negligence by the military in both preparation and response. If he really thinks it's our military's fault that we pretty much just watched from afar while Americans suffered and died, why was the commander in chief's reaction blase shoulder-shrugging?

Two years earlier when a magazine attributed mocking remarks about Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to a general, President Obama promptly summoned the officer to the White House and booted him out of the military. Isn't negligence leading to deaths and injuries of Americans serving our country every bit as terrible as hurting Mr. Biden's feelings?

Has the Joint Chiefs of Staff concluded that no one in the military deserves blame? It appears so. Were military contingency plans or proposed responses foiled by their civilian superiors?

Why was the Counterterrorism Security Group, our top counterterrorism resource with the ability to coordinate assets across agencies for swift deployment, not convened?

Why was the Foreign Emergency Support Team, conceived for precisely the sort of crisis Benghazi posed, not dispatched?

Why was the Special Forces team that the defense attache in our embassy in Tripoli, Libya, had arranged to be deployed to Benghazi aboard an aircraft provided by Libya's government ordered to "stand down"?

Did we call upon our NATO ally Italy to help us? At Sigonella, Sicily, site of a U.S. naval air station at which we should have pre-positioned significant assets, there is also an Italian air force base. It's closer to Benghazi than Tripoli — only an hour's jet flight away.

Did we ask Egypt next door to dispatch a few of the 240 U.S. F-16 fighter jets we've transferred there to buzz Benghazi to frighten away the terrorists?

Did no one have the presence of mind to ask our great friend and strong ally Israel to help us? Can you think of any fighters, other than our fellow Americans, who would be more willing to help America counterattack terrorists — or better at it?

If we were able to dispatch an unarmed drone over Benghazi to relay video so we could watch the terrorist attack, why were we not able to dispatch armed drones to counterattack the terrorists?

Where exactly was the commander in chief throughout the roughly eight-hour attack on Americans in Benghazi, what exactly was he doing, and why does this remain such a big secret?

It is highly likely that much of what is being kept from the American people could be declassified without any harm whatsoever to national security — although very likely with huge harm to some political careers and perhaps some military careers.

To date, Congress' halfhearted public investigation into Benghazi has centered on matters of lesser substance such as the "talking points" shenanigans and the obvious shortcomings of the let's-investigate-ourselves Accountability Review Board process.

The American people remain completely in the dark about the far more substantive questions surrounding this horrible scandal, in which Americans who had pleaded for adequate protection came under deadly attack from terrorists and were so disgracefully abandoned.

Mr. Obama ducks disturbing questions about Benghazi by dismissing raising them as "a sideshow."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accuses anyone asking Benghazi questions of "hyperventilating."

House Speaker John A. Boehner claims he wants to get to the bottom of Benghazi — yet single-handedly blocks what he and everyone else in Washington has to know is the best way to get to the truth: creating a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attack, a proposal introduced almost seven months ago by Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican.

Mr. Wolf had the wisdom and courage many months ago to propose what's best for the country and he had more than two-thirds of House Republicans co-sponsoring his select committee proposal. However, with Mr. Boehner making the Obama administration's cover-up a bipartisan endeavor — perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not — the American people may never learn the full truth about Benghazi.

Not unless we very soon begin loudly and relentlessly insisting on it.

Fred J. Eckert served as a U.S. ambassador under President Reagan and is a former Republican member of the House of Representatives from New York.