Beng­hazi: Sym­bol of cat­a­strophic lead­er­ship

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Mona Charen

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 was no protest out­side the con­sulate in Beng­hazi. Mem­bers of Congress who were briefed said the at­tack was a mil­i­tarystyle as­sault. We learned that an al-Qaeda af­fil­i­ate claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack. It was re­ported that Am­bas­sador 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 re-elec­tion. 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 email. In ad­di­tion, Grif­fin re­ports, a spe­cial op­er­a­tions force was sta­tioned only 480 miles away at Naval Air Sta­tion Sigonella 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, “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.”

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 Obama’s claim of di­rect­ing that our per­son­nel be se­cured as false. Panetta ex­plained,”[The] ba­sic prin­ci­ple is that you don’t de­ploy forces into harm’s way with­out know­ing what’s go­ing on, with­out hav­ing some re­al­time 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, Gen. Ham, Gen. 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.

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