This topic, which has been the subject of heated exchanges in several comment threads on this blog, warrants treatment in a stand-alone post.
It involves a concerted campaign in the conservative media to paint President Obama as a traitor for allegedly blocking any rescue mission when a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked in September.
The truth of the matter is something else. Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for example, writes THIS:
There is no indication — none — that U.S military officials advised the president or anyone in the administration that a rescue operation was possible, and that the administration ignored that offer. The evidence is entirely to the contrary.
As Defense Secretary Leon Panetta explained, “(The) basic principle is that you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on; without having some real-time information about what’s taking place. And as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, Gen. Ham, Gen. Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation.”
That would be Gen. Carter Ham, the head of U.S. Africa Command, and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They are men of training and experience; they know where our military assets are located; they know their capabilities, and they know the difficulties involved in inserting and extracting an armed force into an uncertain situation in another country.
[Fox News says] that a Special Forces team stationed at an air base in Signonella, Italy, two hours from Benghazi, was ready to intervene but orders were never given. But here’s how such mass hysteria gets fed by partial information, in both senses of the word “partial”. As it turned out, the Special Forces team in question was not based in Sigonella but had to be assembled and transported there from elsewhere in Europe.
“U.S. officials say (the team) did not arrive in Sicily until after the attack was over,” CBS reports. “Even if the team had been ready in time, confusion about what was happening on the ground in Benghazi — and State Department concerns about violating Libyan sovereignty — made a military rescue mission impractical, the officials say.”
Arguing against mass and willful hysteria using facts, logic and expert professional opinion is a losing battle, of course. It doesn’t matter that our top military people believed a rescue effort would be impractical and would probably end in the loss of even more American lives. What matters is that talk-show hosts and others can stir up millions of Americans raised on Rambo movies to believe that their leaders could have helped to rescue a well-respected U.S. diplomat and his team, but simply decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Because the president is a traitor.
That makes no sense. It is such a ridiculous notion that in most eras it would never even be broached in public debate. But this is an era in which many are predisposed to believe the most ridiculous things if it justifies their hatred of Obama, and a time in which when emotions are heightened by a hard-fought presidential campaign. So nonsense reigns.
And William Boardman of Consortium News writes THIS:
One line of attack has been to portray the Obama administration’s statements about Benghazi as some kind of a cover-up that’s worse than Watergate. Sean Hannity launched the cover-up meme on Sept. 20 on Fox News, without explaining exactly what was being covered up or why, just that the supposed cover-up would somehow help President Obama’s re-election, presumably the way the Watergate cover-up helped Richard Nixon’s re-election in 1972.
No one has explained the Watergate meme coherently since it began, including [John] McCain on CBS, who slipped the smear in with a sleazy touch of indirection: “You know, somebody the other day said to me this is as bad as Watergate. Well, nobody died in Watergate. But this is either a massive cover-up or incompetence that is not acceptable service to the American people.”
Another line of Republican attack has been to assert that the U.S. could have made an effective military response to the Benghazi attack while it was happening, but chose for some unexplained reason not to do so. There is no evidence that this is true.
The charge is not credible for several reasons, including:
–Libyan reinforcements arrived during the early fighting;
–The first fight lasted about two hours, too brief for the nearest American forces to get there;
–American reinforcements arrived from Tripoli around 1 a.m. and were at the consulate annex when it suffered a mortar attack between 2 and 4;
–The American reinforcements enabled the remaining American diplomatic personnel to leave Benghazi safely.
On Oct. 26, Fox News cited anonymous sources to support a claim “that an urgent request from the CIA annex for military back-up during the attack on the U.S. consulate and subsequent attack several hours later on the annex itself was denied by the CIA chain of command.”
According to Fox, the request was made after midnight from the CIA annex in Benghazi and asked for a Spectre gunship that was based 480 miles away in Italy. To make the story seem credible, Fox stated falsely that “fighting at the CIA annex went on for more than four hours.” The CIA, the Pentagon and the White House all flatly denied the Fox story.
On Oct. 28, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume complained that mainstream media was more or less ignoring the Benghazi story: “One of the problems we’re having here is, that it has fallen to this news organization, Fox News and a couple others, to do all the heavy lifting on this story.”
He didn’t say what wasn’t covered, but slipped into the Watergate meme of implied wrongdoing: “Normally, the big news organizations would have this thing out there. And we would know a lot more than we do about — about what the president did, what he knew, when he knew it, and what when he made what order he made and on what basis.”
If, as so many Republicans have claimed, the administration’s handling is a cover-up more significant than Watergate, then what is being covered up? Based on the available evidence, it’s more credible to believe that if there’s any cover-up at all, it’s being orchestrated by the Romney campaign to distort and hide the early success so far of the President’s foreign policy in Libya.