Weekly Standard has been busy covering the Benghazi scandal. I had earlier remarked that:
The notion that we don’t send our forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on is patently absurd and false. Simply said, it’s a lie. We deploy Army Rangers to take control of air fields and landing zones in potentially hostile environments, for which we do not know all of the desired information; we deploy Marine infantry into situations of potentially unknown threats all of the time all over the globe; each and every time a patrol left the outpost at the Korengal in Afghanistan, they were deploying into potentially deadly situations without specific and detailed knowledge of the situation.
A reader at Weekly Standard writes in with the following:
… one can find in Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1: Warfighting the following passage on pages 86 and 87:
“We must have the moral courage to make tough decisions in the face of uncertainty–and to accept full responsibility for those decisions–when the natural inclination would be to postpone the decision pending more complete information. To delay action in an emergency because of incomplete information shows a lack of moral courage. We do not want to make rash decisions, but we must not squander opportunities while trying to gain more information. Finally, since all decisions must be made in the face of uncertainty and since every situation is unique, there is no perfect solution to any battlefield problem. Therefore, we should not agonize over one.”
Just so, and good find, that one. But on another front, Bill Kristol covers the various finger pointing within the administration, just as do I. But then there is this pregnant statement along with the link.
In response perhaps to the questions raised by Petraeus and Panetta, there now appears to be an attempt by some defense officials to suggest there really wasn’t much more that could have been done on September 11, given limitations on the assets and capabilities available.
The link takes you to an article at AEI by Paul Wolfowitz. Now comes the interesting part. I need to cite at length.
From what I can determine from talking with someone who has spoken directly with key general officers and others involved in the US response to the Benghazi attacks, it would appear that – contrary to Panetta’s “basic principle” – the US did almost everything possible to protect our people once the attacks had started, though not in advance:
The Consulate was overrun in a matter of minutes, before any help was possible.
A team that appears to have been CIA personnel deployed quickly (and bravely) from the Annex to the Consulate and rescued everyone they found alive there. (It’s not clear whether Ambassador Stevens had already been taken by Libyans to the hospital or whether they simply failed to find him.)
A mainly CIA response force deployed quickly from Tripoli to reinforce the Annex and facilitate its successful evacuation.
Decision makers in Washington appear to have been leaning forward, as they should have been. The military’s most capable rescue force, based on the East Coast, was deployed immediately (something that is very rarely done), but – given the distances involved – arrived at Sigonella only after the crisis was over.
Also, the European command (EUCOM) deployed its number one counter terrorism force, which was training in central Europe, as quickly as possible, but it arrived in Sigonella after the evacuation of the Annex was complete.
Other special forces deployed to Sigonella but arrived on the 12th after it was too late to make a difference in Benghazi.
There was no AC-130 gunship in the region.
The only drone available in Libya was an unarmed surveillance drone which was quickly moved from Darna to Benghazi, but the field of view of these drones is limited and, in any case, this one was not armed.
The only other assets immediately available were F-16 fighter jets based at Aviano, Italy. These aircraft might have reached Benghazi while the fight at the Annex was still going on, but they would have had difficulty pinpointing hostile mortar positions or distinguishing between friendly and hostile militias in the midst of a confused firefight in a densely populated residential area where there would have been a high likelihood of civilian casualties. While two more Americans were tragically killed by a mortar strike on the Annex, it’s not clear that deploying F-16’s would have prevented that. In any case, the decision not to do so was made by the tactical commander, General Ham, as it should have been.
Let’s leave aside my personal feelings towards Wolfowitz (he helped to begin Operation Iraqi Freedom with too few men to tamp down the inevitable insurgency, thus leading to Phase II and III of OIF). I don’t have much fondness for him.
But back to what he said, this is a remarkable claim. According to this claim, the Africa command (based in Europe) had no assets to which it could turn. None. Contrary to reports (that I have cited), there were no Delta operators at Sigonella. There was no AC-130, there wasn’t even Marine Force Recon, again, contrary to published reports that I have cited.
They were apparently all in the field, deployed across Africa. No one was available. There were no air assets available to assist the poor souls at Benghazi. Not even an MP or cook could have responded from Sigonella. The base (the American side of it, anyway) was a ghost town. The closest asset was … the Eastern coast of the United States.
I don’t believe it. I’m not saying that I don’t believe Wolfowitz, but I don’t believe his sources. How the hell does one run Africa command with no assets at your disposal? Besides, this answer is too easy to produce and then move on after the furor dies down.
This leads me to the final point. There are so many reports – many of them false by design – that the picture is worse by the day. What happened at Benghazi happened. The horrible picture developing before our eyes is one of obfuscation, dishonesty, diversion, lies and excuses.
Here’s a note to the DoD and State Department. Listen very carefully. Wolfowitz says “it would appear.” That’s not even nearly good enough. We won’t accept appearances, or anonymous sources. There is a paper trail of deployments, locations, arming orders, force sizes, and so on and so forth. There is yet another paper trail of orders, requests, directives and other communications that fateful night.
We won’t stop until it is all public and assessed by all of us. We will get it, eventually. We will all see it. We will know who did what, who said what, what assets were where, who lied, who equivocated, and who came clean. We will name names.
The players who have any integrity left should come clean now and spill everything. It will go better for everyone in the long run. But it won’t change the facts. And the facts will be found out. That’s our promise.
UPDATE #1: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the attention.
UPDATE #2: It occurs to me from the comments and from other remarks that I have seen elsewhere that we need to deal with one objection up front, i.e., that there wasn’t time before the fire fight was over to transport assets to Benghazi to assist. This is an illegitimate objection, since we cannot assume that the decision-makers at that time know what we know now (that is, that the fight would last about a half day). For all they knew, the fight would have lasted for days on end, with Americans holed up in buildings awaiting relief. Ex post facto objections like this have no legs. They constitute excuses, but they don’t explain the decision-making at the time.