The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake–who deserves a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on Benghazi–reported today that the State Department did not ask for military backup while the U.S. consulate was under attack on 9/11. That, together with other denials collected already, suggests that President Barack Obama decided, early on, there would be no intervention as long as the attack did not spread beyond the consulate or safe house.
Lake recounts what is known about the afternoon’s events:
By 11 p.m. Benghazi time [5 p.m. EDT], 90 minutes after the assault began on the U.S. mission, Obama met with the National Security Council to discuss the attack. NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor said the president “ordered Secretary Panetta and Chairman Dempsey to begin moving assets into the region to prepare for a range of contingencies” at that meeting.
We also know that the CIA has denied turning down requests for help, though such requests were reportedly made from within the agency. So, too, has the White House. Now the State Department has denied making any such requests, despite the fact that Secretary of State took responsibility last month for the security of diplomatic personnel. Only Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta–who also met with President Obama that afternoon–has acknowledged being part of any kind of decision not to send military assistance.
What seems likely, therefore, is that Obama made a decision, after consulting with the NSC and the Secretary of Defense, to move military forces into place but to refrain from intervening unless “contingencies” arose–contingencies evidently not including the death of personnel already under attack.
The goal was likely to limit casualties, and both diplomatic and political fallout, by containing the attack, not repulsing it.
Obama said that one of his directives, upon finding out about the attack, was to “make sure that we are securing our personnel and doing whatever we need to.” But “securing” does not necessarily mean “providing security for.” In military parlance, “securing” personnel can mean effectively grounding them. That is likely why former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were reportedly told to “stand down”: the primary concern of the White House was not to take risks, even those that could save lives.
The reason that CIA chief David Petraeus could say, “No one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need,” is that the decision was likely made beforehand, by President Obama. And the reason the State Department never requested military assistance is that the president’s decision had likely foreclosed that possibility. The president’s directive was aimed at damage control–not protecting Americans.
That would be consistent with the his past pattern of military decisions, from delaying a decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, to failing to reach an agreement with Iraq on a U.S. troop presence there, even to ruminating for sixteen hours on whether to pursue Osama bin Laden. His primary goal as commander-in-chief has been to avoid political risk (and the political risks of not going after bin Laden were far greater).
The American people deserve to know the truth. And little by little, the truth is becoming ever clearer.