Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Loose Ends

The House Select Committee on Benghazi released its final report this morning.  Republican members of the panel (and their staff) crafted the document; committee Democrats, who dismissed the two-year inquiry as a political witch-hunt--and worse--marked the occasion with more criticism of their GOP colleagues, while claiming the report provided no evidence of wrong-doing by Hillary Clinton.

By that standard, it should also be noted that the assessment doesn't exactly cover Mrs. Clinton in glory, either.  House investigators affirmed what most Americans have known for years; the former Secretary of State ignored hundreds of requests from Ambassador Chris Stevens to upgrade security at U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya, but his pleas were ignored.  Stevens was one of four Americans who died when Islamic terrorists attacked the U.S. consulate and CIA annex in Benghazi on the night of September 11, 2012.

Indeed, the report documents 10 previous terror attacks in area during the months leading up to Benghazi, including two IED strikes against the American compound.  Yet, Mrs. Clinton's State Department elected to decrease security in the weeks before the final attack.  One unnamed security official summed it up well: noting the escalating violence in Benghazi, he predicted that "people are going to die" if the State Department didn't upgrade security for its personnel.

And when confronted with the truth, Hillary fell back on her most tried-and-true tactic: she lied.  Not just once, but repeatedly.  As David French notes at National Review, the House report is particularly effective at noting the blatant contradictions between public statements on the debacle (which initially blamed that infamous internet video) and private communications, where Mrs. Clinton immediately classified it as a terrorist attack.

Indeed, one of the more revealing sections of the report details a video conference, led by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough as the U.S. facilities were under siege.  It paints a picture of a national security team that was confused and mired in political correctness.  From Politico:

According to the report, some participants on the videoconference were unsure about what each agency was doing to rescue Americans.

State Department officials on the call also brought up concerns about whether Marines who might have been deployed to Benghazi were wearing uniforms, the report found — something officials previously said could hurt diplomacy in the region. One commander told the committee he and his men over the course of three hours kept having to change from uniforms to civilian clothes.

Panel Democrats said witnesses told investigators that the overall focus of the teleconference was first and foremost the safety and security of U.S. personnel in Benghazi. Adm. Kurt Tidd, director for operations at the joint staff at the Pentagon, said they "went down the list of the types of forces that are potentially available." 

"[W]e came out of that meeting with basically: send everything,” he said. 

But GOP sources said that urgency to ensure help was moving on the ground was not reflected in notes and action items. Half of the action items that conference participants wrote down in their notes had nothing to do with rescuing Americans, they said. Many of the action items were about the anti-Islamic video on which the administration would incorrectly blame the attack.

Hillary Clinton briefly participated in the teleconference, though it's unclear what directives she offered (if any).  A short time later, she went home for the evening, while Americans were still under attack at the CIA Annex.  In the end, no American military forces were dispatched to Benghazi.
Quite predictably, Mrs. Clinton's court stenographers in the MSM view the House report as vindication.  Absent a smoking gun, they glad accept the Democrat narrative that the two-year investigation was a waste of time and money.

But moving beyond the spin, the narrative depicts a foreign policy establishment that was completely dysfunctional.  After securing the desired "win" by removing Libyan dictator Mummar Qadhafi, Mrs. Clinton and her minions--along with President Obama and his national security team--had no plan for moving forward in Libya.  Instead, the nation foundered and became a breeding ground for Islamic terrorists, including those that killed four Americans on that terrible night almost four years ago. 

Unfortunately, the report leaves many unanswered questions about our failure to respond.  After originally deciding to "send everything," the administration and its top military officers apparently determined that nothing could be done.  There were no available assets, they argue; the distance was too great and the forces that could be mustered would arrive too late to make a difference.  

And, at various points in their assessment , Committee Chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and his colleagues seem quite willing to go along with that narrative.  Responding to questions about sending F-16s from Aviano AB, Italy, the Air Force told Mr. Gowdy's investigators that jets and crews at that installation were busy with an inspection. "Live" munitions had not been assembled and could not be prepared quickly enough to mount a response to Benghazi.  

But that rather tidy explanation has been debunked by individuals at the scene.  Last month, an airman who was at Aviano at the time told Adam Housley of Fox News that Aviano's 31st Fighter Wing was alerted for "real world" tasking that night, and the base flighline was abuzz with activity, as pilots and ground crews prepared for possible tasking in Benghazi. 

In his interview with Mr. Housley, the airman made it clear that the preparations were in response to events in Libya--not the inspection.  Indeed, Air Force policy has long mandated that real-world tasking always trumps evaluations.  At the moment a unit is alerted, the evaluation stops.  Of course, the USAF has never specified what type of inspection was taking place at Aviano.  Was it a local operational readiness exercise (ORE), or a formal evaluation by the U.S. Air Force in Europe (USAFE) Inspector General?  Such questions could be easily answered by the committee requesting a copy of the inspection report--or interviewing the wing commander--but there is no evidence Gowdy or his investigators ever made those requests.  

The committee also raised red flags about potentially incomplete displays of available forces in theater.  The report notes that a C-17 which flew an evacuation mission to Libya on 12 September (apparently from a base in Europe) was not included in a graphic depiction of on-hand assets during that period.  Did anyone from the committee bother to check with the command post or base ops at Ramstein AB, Germany, RAF Mildenhall in the UK, or other bases that support C-17 missions--and would track the arrival and departure of transient aircraft?  

Likewise, the panel sheds no light on USN assets in the Mediterranean.  While there was no carrier in the region that night, there were almost certainly guided missile destroyers, cruisers or attack submarines that (as a last resort) could have mounted a cruise missile strike against terrorist targets in Benghazi, using updated coordinates provided by an unarmed UAV, orbiting overhead. 

Additionally, there is no information on the status of airlift assets available to move SOF elements from Croatia, or a Marine FAST team from Rota, Spain.  Such data should be readily available through the theater operations center, or the Tanker Airlift Coordination Center, part of Air Mobility Command (AMC) at Scott AFB, Illinois.  The report provides no indication that investigators contacted AMC or other airlift control elements as part of the probe.   This much we know: it took more than five hours for the Pentagon to begin moving assets towards Benghazi, unacceptably slow given the deteriorating situation on the ground in Libya.  

Equally disturbing is the (apparent) inability of the committee to fill in the "missing hours" in President Obama's schedule on the night in question.  Officially, we know that he met with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and JCS Chairman General Martin Dempsey in the late afternoon, about two hours into the attack.  A few hours later, he placed a call to a foreign leader, but there is no indication of his whereabouts (or actions) in the time leading up to that conversation, or in the hours that followed.  Publicly, Mr. Obama would not be seen again until 9 am the following morning, as he departed for a campaign trip to Nevada.  

In fact, no one seems really sure who was calling the shots in the situation room that night, with Mr. Obama apparently indisposed and Mrs. Clinton at her home.   The scenario is mind-boggling; American diplomatic and intelligence facilities are being overrun; our ambassador is dead, and the Commander-in-Chief and SecState are nowhere to be found.   

As Mr. French observes, the Benghazi disaster would be enough to end the career of a mere mortal, but no one describes Hillary Clinton in those terms.  She has proclaimed it is time to "move on," and her friends in the media are ready to follow suit.  Benghazi will now fade in the nation's rear-view mirror as Clinton sets her sights on November.  

Mr. Gowdy and his Republican committee members should be commended for their work, but in the end, it merely affirms the worst qualities of Mrs. Clinton, which the media and political elites are all-too-happy to ignore, regardless of the consequences.  And unfortunately, the Gowdy reports still leaves many questions unanswered.  Hillary Clinton wasn't the only senior official who failed miserably that night, and like the former Secretary of State, they will never be held accountable. 




Chris White said...

Maybe they both thought the other one was handling it?

sykes.1 said...

No available assets within range, and an exposed, essentially undefended embassy and separate CIA station. That probably explains what happened. This is actually more serious than the various conspiracy theories we've heard. At it core, the US government, both Defense and State, is unable to recognize threats and unable to respond when they occur.

We have spent the last quarter century fighting and NOT beating Third World militias (yes, Iraq, I know). No one believes a war with either Russia or China is possible. But, if one occurs, can the American military fight effectively against peer opponents? Or will the first six months of the war with Japan be repeated?