After several Senators on the Senate Foreign Relations committee threatened to put a hold on Chuck Hagel's nomination going out of committee, Secretary of defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey agreed to appear before the committee and testify on the debacle in Benghazi. What ensued was basically a game of hot potato.
Panetta prepared the ground by going on several of the administration Sunday shows, notably NBC's 'Meet The Press', where he trotted out the narrative he pushed in his testimony today. It boils down to 'I salute the brave dead, everything happened so quick we weren't able to get the military in to rescue people in time, and anyway, we couldn't send anyone in because we lacked the intelligence information.'
Here's the money quote:
“The United States military, as I’ve said, is not and, frankly, should not be a 911 service capable of arriving on the scene within minutes to every possible contingency around the world. The U.S. military has neither the resources nor the responsibility to have a fire house next to every U.S. facility in the world,” Panetta said in his opening statement.
“We have some key bases, particularly in this region. We have some key platforms from which we can deploy. And we have forces on alert, and we’re prepared to move,” he continued. “But our ability to identify threats, to adjust posture, to prevent plots, and respond to attacks to our personnel at home and overseas depends on actionable intelligence — and it always will.”
This raises quite a few questions. The main ones, the ones Secretary Clinton, SecDef Pannetta and virtually the entire administration have been avoiding like a pretty girl with a herpes sore on her lip at an orgy is this: what were Ambassador Stevens and his crew doing in Benghazi in the first place? If getting a fleet of Chevy Volts and a state-of-the-art charging station for the embassy in Vienna was a higher priority than addressing Ambassador Stevens' repeated requests for more security, why were our people left in a location we couldn't secure, for whatever reason?
As for the rest of what Panetta had to say, I'm surprised no one apparently mentioned several inconvenient facts. First of all, the assault in Benghazi took place over 7 hours, a drone was overhead in minutes, the White House was in phone contact with both the consulate and the CIA annex a few blocks away with a clear line of sight of the consulate. And there was an ex-Navy SEAL with a laser site in the CIA compound who was actually was calling out target coordinates that could have easily been used for those gunships or F-16s that were well within range but never came.
The same is true of units of a unit of the Commander's In-extremis Force (CIF), a unit specifically designed for exactly these kinds of situations already deployed at our base in Sigonella, Sicily, less than a two-hour plane ride away. Why weren't they called in if, as Panetta claims, the F-16s and gunships weren;t available in time?
Veterans who've served with the CIF forces have been quite vocal about the fact that they're frequently deployed with a lot less intelligence info than they had available in Benghazi.
Another interesting change in today's narrative..Panetta has said before that that President Obama was was briefed by Panetta himself about what was going on by 5PM Washington time according to Panetta's own statements, and we also know that a CIA report further informed the president within 24 hours that this had been a well-organized terrorist attack.Yet for 9 days, the nation was deliberately lied to and told this was a spontaneous protest over an obscure video. Why?
And today, Panetta's story changed yet again. He now says that he only gave a perfunctory briefing to the president at their scheduled briefing at 5PM, which apparently was done by phone. And that the president gave no specific direction on what to do, "He left it up to us."
But that contradicts the president's own account.
First, in an interview on MSNBC, President Obama claimed that he had been briefed but that the intelligence was unclear and he was still trying to find out what had happened:
JS: Was it the intel community giving you bad information early on, because that’s…the stories keep changing.
BO: Well, that’s what we’re going to find out from the investigation. But the truth is that you know, across the board, when this happened, my number one priority was secure Americans, figure out what happened, bring those folks to justice. We are in the process of doing that right now Congress has been getting the flow of information continuously from day one, and what my attitude on this is, is if we find out that there was a big breakdown and somebody didn’t do their job, they’ll be held accountable. Ultimately, as commander-in-chief, I’m responsible, and I don’t shy away from that responsibility. My number one responsibility is to go after folks who did this, and we’re going to make sure that we get them. I’ve got a pretty good track record in doing that.
And later on, when he was pressed further, President Obama's story changed again. On the campaign trail in Denver on October 26,2012, he said, “The minute I found out what was happening . . . I gave the directive,” he said, “to make sure we are securing our personnel and doing whatever we need to do. I guarantee you everybody in the CIA and military knew the number-one priority was making sure our people are safe.”
A directive is a legal order from the president, and a written copy would have been kept. Where is it? And if the military got that, so did State and the CIA. Why wasn't it acted on?
Or is President Obama being less than truthful about that too?
Interestingly General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today that there was no directive:
That might explain a few things. If a directive was never issued by the president or anyone else, perhaps because he was otherwise occupied, it explains why the CIF forces were never sent. General Ham, then the theater commander of AFRICOM whose responsibilities included Libya would have been a direct recipient of a presidential directive if it were sent. Yet he's claimed he never got any orders in that regard, directly contradicting Panetta on the matter.
And in his testimony today, General Dempsey appears to be backing General Ham up, saying there was no request from the State Department for military assistance.
Once we start getting answers to these questions, what actually happened in Benghazi that night is going to become a lot clearer.
Until then, we're stuck with Hillary Clinton's "What does it matter?"