The Faulty Premise Behind CNN's Benghazi Question


CNN's Kate Bolduan insinuated that the administration could have done more in sending military support to Americans under attack in Benghazi during an interview with a Republican congressman, an intimation which feeds into what military experts have deemed a "cartoonish" view of military capabilities.  

On the November 18 edition of CNN's New Day, host Kate Bolduan interviewed Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) about last week's closed-door congressional hearing with CIA personnel in Benghazi at the time of the 2012 attacks. The pair discussed whether there was a lull in fighting between the two main waves of attacks, as the official timeline lays out. Bolduan prompted (emphasis added):

BOLDUAN: The reason the question of a lull is key to this investigation is because there's been a question all along, is could more support have been brought in -- would air support have made any difference? The administration argues no, because they believe that it was over after the first attack. So do you believe that's accurate?

Bolduan is insinuating that the administration's response time was somehow influenced by the belief that the first wave of fighting ended and was followed by a lull. She offers no actual evidence to support this. And, in fact, the administration has repeatedly said that the military ordered an immediate military response upon learning of the incident, and military experts have repeatedly testified that the response represented the best of our military's capabilities. 

Then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered the Marine Corps' Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST), stationed in Spain, to deploy to Libya "as fast as you can" after the first attack began. But the unit encountered logistical issues, as former diplomatic security agent Fred Burton and journalist Samuel M. Katz explained

There was never a question concerning U.S. resolve or the overall capabilities of the U.S. military to respond to Benghazi. There was, however, nothing immediate about an immediate response. There were logistics and host-nation approvals to consider. An immediate response was hampered by the equation of geography and logistics. 

Panetta testified in a February 7 hearing that "there was not enough time, given the speed of the attack, for armed military assets to respond." 

Robert Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense during the Bush and Obama administrations, said in a May interview that the idea military assets could have arrived in Benghazi more quickly represented a "cartoonish impression of military capabilities." According to Gates, getting a force to Benghazi from outside the country "in a timely way would have been very difficult if not impossible." He also explained that "given the number of surface to air missiles that have disappeared from Qaddafi's arsenals I would not have approved sending an aircraft, a single aircraft, over Benghazi under those circumstances."

Other military experts, like Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs retired Admiral Mike Mullen, agree that the military did everything they could that night.

In fact, even the House Republicans' own report on the Benghazi attack undermines Bolduan's insinuation that the administration could have deployed additional forces that night (emphasis added):

The House Armed Services Committee also examined the question of whether the Defense Department failed to deploy assets to Benghazi because it believed the attack was over after the first phase.  The progress report finds that officials at the Defense Department were monitoring the situation throughout and kept the forces that were initially deployed flowing into the region.  No evidence has been provided to suggest these officials refused to deploy resources because they thought the situation had been sufficiently resolved.

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National Security & Foreign Policy
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