The bombshell here isn’t the blame — it’s that the blame is bipartisan. Normally in these circumstances, a Congressional committee looking into the activities of a current administration will split into partisan conclusions, especially if it’s critical at all. Not this time:
A long-delayed Senate intelligence committee report released on Wednesday spreads blame among the State Department and intelligence agencies for not preventing attacks on two outposts in Libya that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
The bipartisan report lays out more than a dozen findings regarding the assaults on Sept. 11 and 12, 2012 on the diplomatic compound and a CIA annex in the Libyan city of Benghazi. It says the State Department failed to increase security at the sites despite warnings, and faults intelligence agencies for not sharing information about the existence of the CIA outpost with the U.S. military.
The committee determined that the U.S. military command in Africa didn’t know about the CIA annex and didn’t have the resources to defend the diplomatic compound in an emergency.
“The attacks were preventable, based on extensive intelligence reporting on the terrorist activity in Libya—to include prior threats and attacks against Western targets—and given the known security shortfalls at the U.S. Mission,” the panel said in a statement.
The conclusion that State ignored security warnings is a direct slap at the Secretary of State at the time, Hillary Clinton. The Accountability Review Board tried passing off the blame to lower-ranking careerists, but that effort has been thoroughly discredited by the knowledge of the string of earlier terrorist attacks in Benghazi and the Western flight from the city. The ARB didn’t bother to look into Hillary’s aide in charge of the security decisions, Patrick Kennedy, and it’s difficult now to claim that Kennedy or Hillary were ignorant of those concerns — especially now that State Department whistleblowers have made it clear that Kennedy knew, at the very least.
The coordination between State and the CIA is also partly to blame, according to the report:
The report says it was problematic that the CIA and State Department were not working out of the same facility together in the dangerous Benghazi environment. That meant the CIA and its well-trained contractors, who had served in elite U.S. forces, were not on location at the diplomatic outpost in case of a crisis.
We’ll get back to the coordination point shortly, because it’s not just State taking the blame for this, either. The Senate and House classified hearings on Benghazi exposed how unprepared the Department of Defense was on the night of 9/11 — a rather obvious key date on the calendar — to respond to an attack in a region and city where the lights were clearly flashing bright red:
Over the last year, lawmakers repeatedly expressed disbelief during closed-door briefings with Pentagon and military officials over why the armed forces was ill-equipped to respond to the terrorist attacks on Americans in Benghazi in 2012.
During a May 21 hearing convened by the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Darryl Roberson, the vice director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, simply explained that the military had no realistic options available that day to respond to the multiple attacks that left four Americans dead, including Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
“It is not like a fire station,” Roberson said of the military during the May hearing. “We don’t have assets to respond like a fire call, jump down the pole and respond for any American that is under fire anywhere in the world.”
Roberson explained that when it comes to protecting diplomats, the Department of Defense’s role is to support the State Department, which has the “primary responsibility for the security” of its people.
But lawmakers expressed bewilderment. “It is embarrassing that you can’t get a plane over there and do a low flyover and drop a sonic boom,” Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz said. “It is embarrassing.”
Ohio Rep. Mike Turner asked Roberson how in the “post-Qadafi” world that “we just send Americans and put them on the ground [in Libya] and don’t have any assets to back up?”
“It was a war zone,” Turner said. “I mean this is not like what is happening in Austria or some other place. You went in and took out [Moammar] Gadhafi. This is a war zone. I mean this is months after a war zone.”
It was a failed state, made obvious by the string of terrorist attacks in the city. One attack blew a hole in the American compound three months before that final assault. While State kept refusing more security resources, other Western nations and even the Red Cross packed up and left Benghazi that year. All the while, as General Carter Ham testified, the Pentagon didn’t do anything to improve readiness to respond in that region even with the knowledge that al-Qaeda affiliates operated openly in eastern Libya and Benghazi, and the anniversary of 9/11 was just around the corner.
Let’s put this together. The State Department, run by Hillary Clinton, and the CIA, run independently by David Petraeus under DNI James Clapper, didn’t coordinate efforts to safeguard the consulate. The DoD under Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta didn’t provide readiness to respond. The common point of leadership among these agencies is … President Barack Obama. That is where the blame lies, and it’s striking that the Senate’s bipartisan report makes that argument, even if indirectly.
And why did the growing menace in Libya get ignored? Obama had spent a year arguing that his intervention against Moammar Qaddafi was the new and correct model for Western military intervention in the Middle East, explicitly drawing a contrast between his actions and those of George Bush in Iraq. If the White House, DoD, and State suddenly had to shift a lot of security and military resources to protect Americans in “liberated” Benghazi — or bug out, like everyone else did — it would have made the failure of that intervention in the larger context of American security all the more obvious in an election cycle that Obama barely won. That’s also why the administration seized on the YouTube video as the primary explanation for getting caught by surprise, rather than just the context of the recruitment for the attack.
The White House’s blameshifting is over, and the Senate and House should start demanding answers from Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, and David Petraeus in light of this report.
Update: Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) agrees, especially in regard to State:
“This bipartisan report is a step forward in our understanding of these events, but should not by any means be viewed as a final verdict. To the extent this report is incomplete, it is not due to the Committee’s unwillingness to investigate, but the State Department’s intransigence.”
To quote Wilford Brimley in Absence of Malice: “Wonderful thing, subpoenas.”