For a couple of months after the 9/11/12 attack on the US facilities in Benghazi, I asked repeatedly: what did Obama know? When did he know it? What did he do about it? I was particularly incensed at the White House’s refusal to account for Obama’s actions while Americans were under attack in Benghazi.
Not that it’s a surprise, we now understand the reason for the administration’s retreat under the Cone of Silence: Obama did nothing.
Under questioning by Senators Ayotte and Graham, outgoing SecDef Leon Panetta admitted that he spoke to Obama about the attack only when news of it came during a meeting between them at the WH. Panetta returned to the Pentagon, and had no contact with Obama thereafter, during the hours when Stevens and other Americans died:
Mr. Panetta said he and Mr. Obama, along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, discussed the attack for 15 minutes in the Oval Office the afternoon of Sept. 11, and also covered an anti-American protest that had broken out that day at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
Testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr. Panetta said the president told them to “do whatever you need to do to be able to protect our people there,” though when it came to specifics the president “left it up to us.”
Republicans said they were dismayed that the Defense Department’s top officials and Mr. Obama didn’t speak again over the next six hours, during which two attacks claimed the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
“Did he ask you how long it would take to deploy assets, including armed aviation, to the area?” asked Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican.
“No,” answered Mr. Panetta.
“He didn’t ask you what ability you had in the area and what we could do?” Ms. Ayotte asked.
“No,” Mr. Panetta responded again. “I mean, he relied on both myself … and Gen. Dempsey’s capabilities. He knows generally what we have deployed to the region; we’ve presented that to him in other briefings.”
No, we don’t want an LBJ attempting to micromanage a combat situation thousands of miles away from the WH. But the image that is conveyed by Panetta’s testimony is indifference. Or even worse, Obama’s desire to distance himself from an impending disaster and to avoid any responsibility-let alone accountability-for it. For the man who has tried to make it seem like he was the first off the helos in Abbottabad, his avoidance of any involvement in, or even interest in, a far less glorious situation in Benghazi is beyond unseemly. He is perfectly willing to play the strutting Commander in Chief when things go right, but when the going gets tough, Obama goes AWOL. A profile in cowardice.
Not that “what does it matter?” Hillary was any better: she had zero contact with the Pentagon while her charges were dying.
Panetta’s testimony also confirms what I suspected rather later in the development of the Benghazi narrative. That it was not that assistance was denied those under siege in Benghazi: instead, it was there was no assistance to give. The US military was essentially powerless in North Africa, with zero deployable combat power on call. No armed drones even, let alone AC-130s or rapidly deployable troops. Given the highly dangerous situation in Benghazi, and the fact that the CIA was doing something there (exactly what, still TBD), it is shocking in the extreme that there was no backup on call-zero, zip, nada.
It is hard to recall an episode that is more discreditable to American political and military leadership. An utter abdication of authority and responsibility, and a prioritization of avoiding accountability.
Everyone in this affair comes off badly. Incompetent moral cowards. The lot of them. Hillary-MIA. Dempsey-a pitch perfect example of the political creature cum general, leaping to the defense of the president (note the obsequious volunteering of information regarding the inquiries of the NSC staff): I find him particularly repulsive because I expect little of politicians, but hope for something better from the uniformed military. Naive me. Panetta at least seems willing to be honest about what a clusterf*ck occurred on 9/11, but he bears responsibility for the fact that the clusterf*ck occurred in the first place, due to his failure to have forces available to respond to a likely threat.
But obviously the most odious figure in this sorry episode is Obama. A person (I won’t say “man”) willing to bask in the glory earned by the risks assumed by others, but who retreats to the sanctuary of the West Wing when things get tough. Remember the old expression: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”? Obama got going, all right, but not in the way that aphorism usually connotes. He got going in the way Sir Robin got going in Holy Grail. He ran away, and distanced himself from failure. He has refused to answer questions about these events, and has acted as if they never even happened: endeavors which a courtier press has enabled. Worse, he attempted to distract attention from what really happened by pushing the offensive narrative about the Mohammed video. I am hard pressed indeed to find a historical parallel to Obama’s low, feckless, and unseemly performance.
What happened in Benghazi was a tragedy, and almost certainly a preventable one. Those who could have prevented it know they could have done so. How can I say that? Their assiduous efforts to consign the events to the Memory Hole speak volumes. But Obama’s distancing himself from the situation as soon as the looming catastrophe became manifest, and his refusal even to discuss the issue seriously, let alone admit any culpability, are particularly loathsome.
The title of this post says that Obama was AWOL. That’s actually a slur on deserters. For most deserters do not hold an elevated and prestigious office, and do not bask in the glory of those who achieve great things under their command, but abscond when things go bad. The ignominy of desertion is proportional to the elevation of the position deserted. Obama holds the highest office in the land, meaning that the ignominy of his scurrying to the sanctuary of the West Wing on 9/11/12 is very great indeed.