The central question in the Benghazi scandal is quite simple: what did President Barack Obama do?
Other issues, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s failure to provide adequate security to U.S. diplomats, and the administration’s lie about an anti-Islam video, are important.
Yet the fundamental problem remains the fact that the president did not order a rescue–and did not, apparently, take any interest as the fight went on.
The left apparently believes otherwise–that President Obama was engaged throughout the evening of September 11, 2012 and issued specific orders to Special Operations forces to intervene.
One article that has been making the rounds in left-leaning foreign policy circles is a guest post at Thomas E. Ricks’s “The Best Defense” blog at Foreign Policy, written by Georgetown graduate student and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Billy Birdzell.
Birdzell argues that the Special Operations whistleblower interviewed by Fox News on May 2 was incorrect to suggest that an immediate intervention would have saved lives.
(Birdzell is less polite: he calls the whistleblower a “clown” and suggests he might have hoped to land at the Benghazi Zoo, which “would have provided good cover, as well as entertainment, in case someone saw 40 people parachuting into the middle of the city.”)
Even if Special Operations forces had left ten minutes after President Obama met with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey at the White House, Birdzell argues, it is unlikely that they would have arrived in time to repel the second attack, or that they would have been able to locate and destroy the enemy mortars that ultimately claimed the second two American lives lost.
That may be true. It is also irrelevant, because no one knew at the time how long the attacks would last, or how many of them there would be. And there were still survivors, some of them wounded, to protect and remove from the area as quickly as possible.
Birdzell makes another, more interesting, claim–that the president specifically “gave the launch order at 0239″ [8:39 p.m EDT] to send Special Operations into Benghazi.
He cites the Pentagon’s own timeline of events, posted by CNN in November, which reports:
2:39 a.m. to 2:53 a.m. [Benghazi time] — The National Military Command Center gives formal authorization for the deployment of the two special operations force teams from Croatia and the United States.
Note that the Pentagon cites the National Military Command Center (NMCC), not President Obama, as the source of the orders.
The NMCC serves the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs. Typically, if the President were to give an order, it would likely go through the NMCC.
The problem for Birdzell–and Obama–is that we know President Obama gave no such orders–neither to Secretary Panetta nor to General Dempsey. They testified before the Senate in January that they had no communication with the president after 5:30 p.m.
The fact remains that President Obama did nothing after that initial briefing. He did not even call the Pentagon to check on the progress of whatever efforts were under way.
He claims he gave “directives” about “securing our personnel,” but no evidence of those directives has been produced. If he did issue them, it was before 5:30 p.m. on 9/11–or the following day, when the attacks were over and he was off to a Las Vegas fundraiser.
What Birdzell, and the left-wing foreign policy establishment eagerly circulating his post, cannot escape is that the Commander-in-Chief did nothing while U.S. citizens were under attack. They prefer to focus the debate on minor points of contention–such as whether Special Operations could (in hindsight) have arrived in Benghazi in time, or whether Secretary Clinton really signed a communication that bears her “signature.”
The pushback from the left after tomorrow’s hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will likely follow the pattern of Birdzell’s argument–or Clinton’s outburst: “What difference does it make?”
It makes a very great difference indeed whether President Obama fulfilled his constitutional duties or not–which is why, beyond the snark and pretense, the left is so desperate to believe that he did.