Benghazi a barometer of Obama’s incompetence
The Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi, Libya terrorist attack left four Americans dead including our ambassador, destroyed our consulate, compromised sensitive information, and made America look weak. This story lingers because it is a barometer on President Barack Obama’s competence.
The Benghazi attack exposed Obama’s foreign policy record as hollow and his government as incompetent. Specifically, he claims to have decimated al Qaeda and liberated Libya for democracy, but the facts leading up to, during and after the Benghazi attack eviscerate those “victories” and reveal a shocking picture of Obama’s poor governance.
Three key questions associated with the Benghazi saga expose Obama’s performance.
First, why wasn’t our Benghazi consulate better secured?
Part of the answer is related to the administration’s denial that Benghazi is a haven for al Qaeda-associated Islamists. That view is associated with the administration’s naïve belief that just because America helped liberate Libya the threat is diminished and besides, al Qaeda is “decimated.” Further, administration officials ignored calls for help.
The truth is al Qaeda has been active in Benghazi for some time. In fact on Aug. 12, 2012 the Benghazi consulate staff hosted an “emergency meeting” concerning local al Qaeda training camps. And one of the Central Intelligence Agency’s missions in Benghazi was to track Islamist groups like Ansar al-Shariah, the al Qaeda affiliated group that attacked the embassy. In spite of Obama’s campaign declarations that al Qaeda was “decimated,” al Qaeda-linked groups thrive in Libya and were responsible for four of the top five lethal attacks globally in 2011.
Our consulate was not secure enough. Consulate officials warned about the deteriorating security in Benghazi for months prior to the Sept. 11 attack such as a bomb thrown into the consulate in April and another detonated outside the facility in June. There was even an assassination attempt on the British ambassador while he visited Benghazi this summer.
This summer, the regional security officer likewise expressed concerns about the consulate’s growing vulnerability in the event of a coordinated attack, according to a leaked cable. That is why he repeatedly asked for physical security upgrades and staffing but those requests were ignored.
Even as the security situation deteriorated the administration failed to field a rapid reaction force or other military force to the region in the event of an emergency, even though intelligence agencies consistently cite Sept. 11 as a time of heightened security threats for the U.S.
Second, why was our response to the attack so clumsy?
The attack succeeded because the compound was insufficiently manned, intelligence was poor, and back-up plans were totally inadequate.
Indicators of a pending attack failed to garner the necessary support. Specifically, a letter found in the Benghazi consulate’s rubble expressed fears about the security situation on the morning of the attack. The letter revealed U.S. diplomats noticed a Libyan police officer conducting photographic surveillance of the compound the morning before the attack and the local police had not responded to requests for more security during the visit of Ambassador Chris Stevens.
This suggests elements of the Libyan government might have been complicit in the attack. It is widely known Libya’s militias run roughshod over the police and often co-opt officials for their own purposes. Further, the consulate’s external security was provided by the Islamist-leaning February 17th Brigade, which reportedly “walked away” from their posts just prior to the attack.
Fox News reports the consulate’s contract guards, Blue Mountain Security, notified colleagues in Benghazi of a growing security problem at least an hour prior to the attack. Also, various sources indicate Ansar al-Shariah fighters were pre-positioned around the consulate several hours before the 9:40 p.m. attack. Yet, in spite of the imminent threat, no alarm was sounded and no reaction force was sent to the consulate until after the attack.
Not until the consulate wall was breached by 20 armed Islamists who stormed into the compound and torched the main building was the outside world alerted. That alert sounded at the nearby CIA annex, the embassy in Tripoli and at the Diplomatic Security Command Center in Washington. Shortly thereafter, emails alerted administration officials at the National Security Council, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pentagon, and Director of National Intelligence.
A six person rescue squad from the agency’s global response staff departed the annex in short order, arriving at the consulate at 10:04 p.m. Meanwhile, the CIA base chief failed to recruit help from the February 17th Brigade, other militias and the Libyan intelligence service. It is noteworthy that the British consulate in Benghazi was never notified even though they have more people on the ground than the Americans.
Others did respond to the alert, but too late to impact the immediate fight. An unarmed military Predator drone arrived overhead an hour and a half after the alarm and CIA reinforcements from Tripoli landed at the Benghazi airport more than four hours after the alarm but didn’t arrive at the CIA’s annex until more than seven hours after the attack. Eight hours and 20 minutes after the alarm sounded, Libyan intelligence service forces arrived to escort the survivors to the airport.
Meanwhile, that evening, the U.S. embassy in Tripoli reported to Washington that the Islamic militia group Ansar al-Shariah had claimed responsibility for the attack. It is noteworthy that after the Americans abandoned the consulate, Ansar al-Shariah fighters surrounded the Benghazi hospital, where our dead ambassador was taken, while others pursued the CIA at the annex where they fired mortars that killed two former SEALS, both CIA contract security personnel.
Finally, why is the administration trying to keep the truth from the American people? It is likely that administration officials want to avoid the issue before the presidential election, but their effort to hide the facts makes them look incompetent and manipulative.
Leaked communications indicate top administration officials knew almost immediately about the assault and the culprits’ identity. Yet for days after the attack, administration officials — including President Obama — blamed the violence at the consulate on a spontaneous demonstration to an anti-Islam video. Later, the State Department admitted no demonstration had occurred at the consulate on Sept. 11.
The administration is also dragging its feet responding to legitimate official questions. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) has been complaining of the Pentagon’s lack of cooperation in providing witnesses for hearings.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta muddied the water claiming we didn’t send reinforcements to Benghazi because “the basic principle is that you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on.” Since when is that a military prerequisite? When people need help, our military gets there fast and develops the situation.
President Obama said during the presidential debates that he “gave three very clear directives” immediately after the attack: “secure those Americans,” “investigate exactly what happened,” and “go after those who killed Americans.” So far, the administration is failing on all three “clear directives.”
It took nine hours to “secure” the Americans vis-à-vis the arrival of the unreliable Libyan intelligence services. Obama should have launched a special forces unit poised an hour away in Sicily.
Obama directed the FBI to investigate. It took three weeks for the Bureau to reach Benghazi and once there they spent only three hours examining the 13 acre compound and evidently not very well. After the FBI’s visit Foreign Affairs Magazine reporters found important letters in the rubble. Now, the administration turned over the investigation to the State Department’s Accountability Review Board. Not surprisingly the White House is hiding behind that board refusing to answer questions.
The president promises to bring the culprits “to justice.” That’s unlikely because Libya is in chaos. Loyalists from the former regime are still very active and there is growing dissatisfaction toward the central government from both Islamists and regional power centers outside of Tripoli, like those in Benghazi. We saw evidence of that discontent last week when militia groups stormed Libya’s national assembly forcing the cancellation of a vote on a proposed coalition government.
The Benghazi attack exposes Obama’s failed foreign policy and his incompetence in governing. Specifically, al Qaeda is not “decimated” but very much a threat and Obama’s Libya “success” is shaping up to be a good example of how the Arab Spring opened the door to Islamic extremists and criminal militias. It also demonstrates incompetence because our government failed to adequately prepare a vulnerable consulate and then failed to appropriately react once it was attacked. And in the aftermath of the fiasco, the administration is covering up its failures and hiding behind an investigation.
Obama clearly failed his primary responsibility — safeguarding our people. It is incomprehensible that not a single resignation has been offered. Hopefully, the American people will demand Obama’s resignation Nov. 6.
Robert Maginnis is a retired Army lieutenant colonel, and a national security and foreign affairs analyst for radio and television.