What Happened in Benghazi: The U.S. Response & Reactions

I want to discuss the armed assault of the U.S. consulate on the 11th of September 2012 in Benghazi, Libya. Not necessarily because I want to, but because I feel compelled to in light of the hyper-politicization by Republicans and FOX News. Even in light of all we now know, their continued perpetuation of false narratives and misconceptions have frustrated me and now I just want to finally clear up this non-issue. Now as a general disclaimer, I am NOT saying that there should be no concern in the media over Libya, I am NOT trying to minimize the tragedy that led to four brave Americans losing their lives, and I am NOT saying that there should not be an investigation or Congressional hearings. Now, let's begin.

To be clear on what I am arguing against, I will outline my concessions. Yes, the compound was not as secure as it should have been, but it was not a full scale embassy. The U.S. is still in the midst of fiscal turmoil, and as a result of austere fiscal policies, everything suffers - here it was the quality of security for the foreign consulates. And for a general outline and background for the events that transpired, here is the official time line of events that unfolded at the Benghazi consulate. [Links Here and Here] The myths that have entered the dialogue that can be addressed and thusly refuted by the timeline will not be mentioned here. 

1. Before the assault in Benghazi even began, the Republican leadership in Congress was trying to defund security resources in Libya. [Links Here and Here] While admittedly this is a fleeting assumption, it shows a continued trend of politicizing the events in Libya as well as Republican opposition to Obama's foreign policy. Perhaps if the mission had been able to fully operate to the extent it needed to, the threat of these armed militias could have been curbed during NATO's Operation Unified Protector.

2. The real-time intelligence being relayed to American military assets was murky. U.S. secretary of Defense Leon Panetta even said that the U.S. military lacked "real-time information." He went on to say, "You don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on, (We) felt we could not put forces at risk in that situation." [Link Here] This is a clear no brainer. If there is indeed chaos, you don't throw assets at the conflict without knowing what is going on. This impulsive inclination leads to naive consequences. Even when the U.S. military is readily prepared in a region and in an active war zone, sending reinforcement assets can have devastating consequences even when there is a fairly clear picture of what is unfolding. [In reference to the 2011 downing of a Chinook Helicopter in Afghanistan, which killed 30 U.S. Special Forces Operators - Link Here]

3. Critics of the actual response have been throwing out 'what ifs' and 'Should have, Could have, Would haves' after the fact, failing to account that hindsight's 20/20. The claim that the U.S. government failed to act quickly to help the Americans under attack is reprehensible. Most notably, the likes of John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and other Republicans have been saying that the U.S. should have responded immediately with U.S. fighter jets stationed in southern Italy - or with other regional air assets like Armed UAV Drones or AC-130 Gunships. This would have had little to no efficacy due to the urbanized nature of the consulate's location and the extremely high risk for collateral damage and civilian fatalities. In direct response, U.S. secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said "these aircraft were not stationed near Benghazi and they were not an effective option." [Links Here and Here

An F-16 from the Aviano Air Base
4. Furthermore, even if F-16's were sent from Aviano Air Base, the nearest U.S. air base in Italy, it actually had the potential to be devastating. Here two separate premises that are true must be expanded upon: 1) That the real time conditions on the ground were murky and 2) That the attacking faction was heavily armed. The militants obviously wanted to inflict as much damage as they could on American assets. Sending an F-16 would have fed in perfectly to their plan, due to a long forgotten post-Gaddafi development - the proliferation of nearly 20,000 MANPADs in Libya. [Links Here and Here] MANPADS are Man-portable air-defense systems, which are basically shoulder fired anti-aircraft munitions like the FIM-92 Stinger. So if these heavily armed militants had gotten their hands on an anti-aircraft missile, and F-16 flyover would have resulted in a tragic addition of loss. Not only would the consulate's security personnel have been lost, but the reinforcements would have been walking into an ambush. Again, this demonstrates the need for prudence and explains why hastily sending reinforcements into this murky situation could not be justified.

Now, to address the recent reactions, I will deconstruct the criticisms of Susan Rice and examine John McCain's hyper-politicization of this issue. First and foremost, Susan Rice is a brilliant intellectual and academic. From the State Department website: "Ambassador Rice received her M.Phil (Master’s degree) and D.Phil. (Ph.D) in International Relations from New College, Oxford University, England, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. She was awarded the Chatham House-British International Studies Association Prize for the most distinguished doctoral dissertation in the United Kingdom in the field of International Relations. Ambassador Rice received her B.A. in History with honors from Stanford University, where she graduated junior Phi Beta Kappa and was a Truman Scholar." [Link Here] But the attacks hurled at her since are quite laughable.

1. The talking points given to Susan Rice by the Intelligence Community are as follows: [Link Here]

UN Ambassador Susan Rice
- "The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations."

- "This assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and as currently available information continues to be evaluated."

- "The investigation is on-going, and the US Government is working with Libyan authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of US citizens."

In this context, she was just a mouth piece. It was a failure of intelligence that led to her making the remarks that she did. And as popularized in the 2012 presidential debates, President Obama did refer to the assault on the Benghazi consulate as a terrorist attack. Just like Condoleezza Rice and, especially, Colin Powell - their erroneous remarks concerning Iraq and WMD's were due to bad intelligence.

2. Susan Rice was not responsible for the creation of the talking points, nor did she alter them. Sources cited by CBS News and others said the Director of National Intelligence's office made statements to the effect that "the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) cut specific references to "al Qaeda" and "terrorism" from the unclassified talking points given to Ambassador Susan Rice on the Benghazi consulate attack - with the agreement of the CIA and FBI. The White House or State Department did not make those changes." [Link Here] Even after this was confirmed by testimony made by General David Petraeus, the Republican narrative still apportioned blame to Susan Rice. Quite rightly, this led Adam Schiff, Democratic Representative from California, to say, "Gen. Petraeus made it clear that that change was made to protect classified sources of information, not to spin it, not to politicize it and it wasn't done at the direction of the white house. That really ought to be the end of it, but it isn't. So we have to continue to go around this merry go round, but at a certain point when all the facts point in a certain direction, we're going to have to accept them as they are and move on." [Link Here]

3. John McCain has repeatedly highlighted the lack of information being released about the Benghazi assault. This is hilariously ironic in light of the fact that he purposely absent from an official classified briefing about the details of the investigation into Benghazi. Perhaps if McCain had attended the briefing instead of spending his time in a hyper-partisan fashion by politicizing the attack, he would have answers to the assertions he keeps blindly hurling at the Obama administration. [Link Here] In fact, when McCain was questioned by CNN about this issue, he responded by saying, "I have no comment about my schedule and I'm not going to comment on how I spend my time to the media," McCain said. Asked why he wouldn't comment, McCain grew agitated: "Because I have the right as a senator to have no comment and who the hell are you to tell me I can or not?” [Link Here] I think this just demonstrates the declining integrity of John McCain and the withering of a long political career. He should have taken the loss in 2008 as a nod to go ahead and retire.

The investigation into what truly happened in Libya and how the Obama administration responded is  currently ongoing. But the fact that the investigation has already been launched is the important takeaway. As the revelations emerge, the picture will be more clearly formed. But until then, the defamation of Susan Rice and the criminal accusations being hurled at the Obama administration are based on ignorance, partisanship, and imprudence.

I don't claim to be an outright expert on all things State Department or Classified Intelligence, but I am quite the authority on post-Arab Spring Libya. Check out my NATO Project Page to see some of the research I have done on this subject. Please share this so the uninformed can become informed and we can finally stop hearing about this hyper-politicization. Because amidst the partisan narrative, the real issue has become lost in the fog of politics.

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