Commentary by Lt. Colonel John Lewis Cook, USA (ret.)
This was the angry rhetorical question from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today when she appeared before a US Senate hearing to finally answer questions about the Benghazi attack on the US consulate back in September, 2012. It was triggered by a question from Senator Ron Johnson ® from Wisconsin. Senator Johnson wanted to know why the administration kept insisting that the attack was triggered spontaneously by an anti-Muslim video posted on uTube, long after the intelligence community knew it was a deliberate, well planned terrorist attack with no connection to the video. It was a serious question and it deserved a serious answer, but nothing serious was forthcoming from the Secretary of State today.
Rather, she continued to ramble through the fog of war, the uncertainty of the Libyan security forces, the rapid changes taking place in the Muslim world, the lack of funds for diplomatic security, everything, in fact, except the truth. To understand the truth, we have to go back to September, 2012, to fully appreciate the thinking within the Obama administration. This event occurred on the eve of the presidential elections and, under no circumstance, could the carefully built narrative that Islamic terrorism was on the decline be undermined by the harsh reality that we now know Benghazi represents. After all, Osma bin Laden was safely dead, thanks to the courageous actions of our Commander in Chief, and nobody wanted to talk about al Qaeda except in the past tense. This was the major theme that had to be amplified in all the talking points leading up to the election. Terrorism was on the run. That was in September and a lot has happened since then.
With Obama safely reelected, everything changed. It was now safe to take another look at Benghazi and actually admit, up to a point of course, that “mistakes were made.” It was safe for Secretary Clinton to come out of hiding and say that the attack was actually a terrorist attack and the video played no role. This was accompanied by the usual commitments to do a better job of protecting our diplomats abroad and that a review would provide recommendations for improving security.
Under these circumstances, it was understandable for Secretary Clinton to ask, “what difference would it make?” What she is really saying is, what difference would it make now? The truth is, it makes no difference now because four Americans are dead and the election is over. However, had this truth been told back in September, it could have made all the difference. When we understand this, it explains why Susan Rice, our UN representative, made the rounds of the Sunday morning talk shows back in September, pushing the administration’s theme that the attack was spontaneous, and not terrorist motivated. When questioned on this point, Secretary Clinton decided to throw Ms. Rice under the bus, claiming she had nothing to do with that decision and that she, Secretary Clinton, did not deal in talking points. This was a bizarre claim since Ms. Rice works for Secretary Clinton. If the Secretary didn’t direct this, who did?
Now, the administration seems very comfortable in discussing Islamic terrorism. In fact, we are now embracing al Qaeda as our justification for staying the course in Afghanistan. In fact, preventing the return of al Qaeda to Afghanistan is the only justification the administration can offer for staying there. This is the new talking point. The reality is al Qaeda is not the real threat in Afghanistan and has not been since 2001. The real threat there is corruption, yet this administration is not above using al Qaeda when it suits its purpose and, at other times, denying that it is a real threat.
We are now left with more questions than answers. However, official Washington now appears ready to close the book on the whole Benghazi affair. Secretary Clinton, has indeed, appeared before Congress, just as she said she would. She has admitted mistakes were made and we will do better in the future. Of course, many questions remain unanswered such as why no rescue mission was launched once the consulate was under attack. Unfortunately, it appears that all of these questions will remain unanswered because the emphasis has been placed on why the consulate was ill prepared to withstand an attack, not what happened after the attack was initiated. Were rescue efforts ever initiated? If they were, why were they not carried out? Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton claim they order all necessary action be taken. These are the questions that should be asked and answered. Several hours elapsed during the attack and during these hours, a lot could have happened but didn’t. It would be very interesting to hear from General Carter Ham, the commander of Africa Command, and ask him if he considered launching a rescue mission. We know he was monitoring the situation on the ground and we know he had assets available for such an attempt. Was he consulted? And if not, why not? And why have we not heard from the survivors of Benghazi because they were there, on the ground, not hunkered down in Washington, thousands of miles away? These are the questions that need to be asked. These are the people who can give us ground truth, not political appointees far removed from the action. So, have we heard the last on Benghazi? I hope not but I’m afraid we have. The right questions were never asked of the right people, and this will forever be the real tragedy of Benghazi.
About the Author
Lieutenant Colonel John Lewis Cook, United States Army (Retired), “served as the Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Interior in Kabul, Afghanistan, with responsibility for developing the force structure for the entire Afghan National Police. As of 2012, this force totals 157,000. From March 2008 until August 2012, his access and intimate associations with all levels of the Afghan government and coalition forces have provided him with an unprecedented insight into the policies which will determine the outcome of the war. It is this insight, coupled with his contacts and associations throughout Afghanistan that form the basis of Afghanistan: The Perfect Failure.
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