Why Benghazi Matters: Part 2

During the recent “whistleblower” hearings before the House Oversight Committee, information rendered by non-partisan, career diplmats (now referred to as “the Benghazi Whistle-Blowers”), Gregory N. Hicks, Deputy chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Libya; Mark I. Thompson, Counterterrorism Bureau Deputy Coordinator for Operations; and Eric Nordstrom, Libyan Regional Security Officer;  starkly contradicted the version of events presented and perpetuated by the State Department and the White House. The aftermath of these hearings and the associated contradictions has seen rousing verbal volleys and aspersions cast from all sides of the political aisle. In its own odd way, this visceral melee suggests that the matter at hand warrants fighting about.

In this post I consider the event only by means of the statements that have come directly from the people who were there or otherwise intimately connected to what happened that day, and who have waited a very long time to tell their version of events.

I mentioned in my previous post that by means of incremental postings (3) I want to make the case that “what happened” in Benghazi matters, and more to the point, what did not happen, also matters. These convictions arise not from political suasion, but upon moral grounds. Members from both political parties are raising alarm about ongoing revelations.

Jon Stewart, on his show (May 8), made the point that between 2001 and 2008 there were numerous attacks on diplomatic posts during the Bush Administration that went unheralded and aroused little or no indignation. I am willing to be convinced that those who currently express outrage about Benghazi have been remiss in our absence of outrage pertaining to these events, if indeed these incidents carried similar outrageous elements:

  • Were the Americans on the ground prior to these incidents ill-equipped to defend themselves? Did they know they were ill-equipped and had they requested more support, and were these requests denied? Were the few assets they had forbidden to defend these facilities? Did people die as a direct result of this ill-preparedness?
  • Were primary witnesses and appropriate operatives isolated and shunned in the immediate aftermath and their version of the events ignored and changed?
  • Was the redacted version perpetuated internationally? Did it compromise subsequent conditions and actions on the ground at the time?

If the above criteria defined the incidents cited by Jon Stewart, then he is right to call to task those who cry foul at Benghazi but who have dismissed other instances under the Bush Administration. If all the international incidents he cites carried the same elements as did the incident at Benghazi–it suggests concomitantly that abandoning diplomats and operatives who are under attack in hots spots where they serve, is standard operating procedure. And if we shrugged at those, we ought to join Mr. Stewart in a collective shrug regarding Benghazi.

I am willing to go out on a limb and suggest that  the various attacks on diplomatic facilities, which Stewart cites, do not fit the same criteria that have defined the Benghazi incident. But, as I said, I am willing to be proved wrong.

Two weeks after the Benghazi attack, Barbara Walters asked the President during his visit to The View (Sept 25) about it. The President said the matter was “still being investigated” and that what really happened still wasn’t known.

We know now this answer is wrong, as it was wrong then. Those on the ground who witnessed and endured the attack on September knew exactly what happened and had made it clear beyond any doubt on September 12. They made desperate attempts to save their colleagues, without support from American military, but failed to save them. More Libyans died trying to save the Americans than Americans did.

Trained forces already in Libya on the ground in Tripoli were anxious to jump in to save these people, yet orders came down telling  them not to. Career civil servants were left to fend for themselves. Then, once it the seven-hour attack finally ended, the narrative inexplicably changed.

Hillary Clinton’s question remains: “What difference, after all this time, does it make?”

Who “did this” matters, of course. But what matters more in this case are the actions, or non-actions, of those who did not do it: of those who could have prevented it but did not do so. Who did it wouldn’t matter if security had been robust enough to thwart any attack from happening at all, but it wasn’t robust. In fact it had been diminished. And once the attack was in play, those who were waging it might have been stifled, their efforts squelched and casualties averted, if, at the very least, dispatched U.S. forces had tried to save these people. Trying would have been enough–even if these doomed people perished anyway. But they didn’t try. Orders came down to abandon this battle and people died.

Thus the story had to be made to look like something else.


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About Wendy Murray

Wendy Murray is a veteran and award-winning journalist. She served as associate editor and Senior Writer at Christianity Today magazine and has written extensively for other publications such as Books & Culture and The Christian Century. She has written 11 books.

  • Michael R

    Obama thought that after bombing Gaddafi out of the way, the Libyans would love him. He and Hillary thought this was the dawn of a new relationship with Muslims. Libyans would see Obama was on their side. Hence he thought he could trust Libyans with security, and hence he would be hesitant to send in a US response team to spoil that new relationship.

    Alas, Obama is only playing with one part of the “nature v. nurture” equation i.e nurture. Obama thinks that once the USA stops being the aggressor in Muslim countries (and even goes to war FOR them) that all the Muslims will love him.

    But Obama doesn’t reckon on the nature part of the equation i.e. Muslims are instances of a type. The archetype being Muhammad who, by my reading, was anything but a man of peace. Ergo, there are ALWAYS going to be fundamentalist Muslims who interpret Islam as a religion of war. Ergo, non-Muslims can NEVER be safe in a Muslim country.

    This all comes down to the misguided belief that Islam is a religion of peace. By any reckoning, there is enough violent material in Islamic doctrine to classify Islam as a dangerous ideology. And the only sane response is to keep Islam and the West well separated, because they are incompatible.

    But Obama still thinks Islam is a religion of peace. And he’s still going full steam ahead trying to topple dictators like Syria. But the same thing will happen there: fundamentalists will take over.

    And it’s not only with Islam that Obama is recklessly wrong. I’ve heard that he now wants to give Russia US-developed missile defence technology. Why? Probably the same reason: he thinks that once the USA stops being so dominant and threatening, and world-power evens out, Russia will stop hating the US. Yep, Obama is a national security threat.

  • candeux

    “Trained forces already in Libya on the ground in Tripoli were anxious to
    jump in to save these people, yet orders came down telling them not

    This seems to be the linchpin of the current complaints about the handling of the Benghazi attack. Yet the Gregory Hicks transcript doesn’t seem to provide much evidence to support this statement. Can you provide “chapter and verse” from the transcript showing that any of the four lives were lost because of explicit decisions from the US government not to intervene?

    • Wendy Murray

      This, alas, is part of the material waiting to be confirmed. The comments in the blog post come from the testimony of Greg Hicks, who I believe told the truth. *Everyone* wants to know who gave the “stand down” orders. Clearly, they were given. It is not surprising that no one, specifically, has been named.

      • candeux

        That, too, is an interesting question, but I’m asking a different question: Where did Greg Hicks actually say that they were told to “stand down”? At the end of his testimony he talks about how Col. Gibson was told to stay put, but that was long after the damage had been done. Hicks said nothing about being told to stand down when the Benghazi compound was first attacked. In fact, he first found out about the attack at 9:45 and by midnight a response team had left Tripoli for Benghazi. He also testified that he was in close contact with the State Department throughout, but never mentions anything about being told not to respond.

        Admittedly, Hicks’ testimony is somewhat confusing as to the timeline, but if we’re going to make accusations, we need to be clear about what the actual problem is and what could have been done differently to save lives and property. If Col. Gibson has information that could shed light on this, then we should wait until he testifies before passing judgment.

        • Wendy Murray

          Fair and good point. If Hicks himself didn’t use the term I know he was asked to confirm it for the sake of clarity. I recall a senator asking him to clarify: “Are you saying they were given orders to stand down?” and Hicks (reluctantly perhaps) confirmed. He also deferred all questions of this nature to the commanding officer on site, Lt. Col. [Steve] Gibson, who was in Tripoli, ready and willing to go, when he informed Hicks he would not be joining him on a rescue operation.