“Neither the president nor anyone in the White House denied any requests for assistance in Benghazi,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told Yahoo News by email.
Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard asked several questions similar to the ones I posed. Vietor pushed back hard on one:
But Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol, in a post published Friday, doubted Panetta’s explanationand said the fault must lie with Obama himself. “Would the secretary of defense make such a decision on his own? No,” Kristol wrote. “It would have been a presidential decision.”
“He’s wrong,” said Vietor.
So the White House denies turning down requests for relief. The CIA also denies. Putting the ball squarely in the Pentagon’s court.
This leaves three alternatives, it seems to me.
First, there were no requests. I find this completely implausible. People under siege are going to be screaming for help-and rightly so.
Second, these requests were rejected at a relatively low level of the chain of command, and not passed on to higher authorities. This too is utterly implausible.
Third, the buck stopped with Panetta. Panetta has admitted that he decided not to commit US forces due to the uncertainty of the situation on the ground. He did not explicitly state that he had received pleas from those under attack in Benghazi and decided not to respond to them. But given that it is almost certain that those under attack were screaming for help, and that those who received those desperate requests would have passed them up the chain, the inference is clear: Panetta received the pleas and declined them, on his own.
That’s if you believe the White House denial.
I don’t necessarily believe the denial. But there’s not going to be any way to go over, under, or through that stonewall anytime soon.
But let’s stipulate that it’s true. Think of the implications. The President-the Commander in Chief-was not the ultimate authority when deciding whether to commit US forces to respond to an assault on American diplomatic and intelligence personnel in Benghazi. He delegated the decision to the SecDef. Then went to bed to rest up for a grueling trip to Vegas for a fundraiser.
Puts the whole new “gutsy call” persona in a whole new light, eh? It also suggests extreme dereliction of duty on behalf of the President. Buck passing, not buck stopping.
But there are still too many unanswered questions to accept this highly damaging and disturbing interpretation, even though it squares with the public statements of the principals. Questions that don’t require an investigation-just answers from Obama himself. What was Obama doing during the seven hours? Whom did he speak to? What did he tell them? Specifically, what communications did he have with Panetta-who has said he took the decision not to dispatch military assistance?
In the end, we are left with two possibilities. First, the White House is lying about Obama’s role in the decisions on 11 September. Or, second, Obama was derelict in his duties as Commander in Chief, and made Leon Panetta President for a Day. I don’t see any other alternatives. Requests for help had to have been coming fast and furious from Benghazi. No help was dispatched. Either Obama made the decision to withhold assistance-making the White House statement false and implying that Obama is attempting to conceal that decision-or he didn’t-meaning that Obama shirked his responsibilities as C-in-C.
He has to answer for his actions on 11 September. In person, before the country. Before the election. What happened in the White House can’t stay in the White House.
Any system requires accountability to function. The accountability mechanism in our political system is elections, and to work, the electorate must be informed about the actions of those who face popular election. This particular issue lies at the heart of the President’s Constitutional responsibilities, and holding him to account on these matters is of paramount importance. Doing so requires we know what he did. Or what he didn’t do.
We’ve heard a lot of “B” words from him of late: Binders, Big Bird, Bullshitters, and Bayonets. But not Benghazi. This is inexcusable, and sufficient to disqualify him from holding the awesome office he now occupies.