Air Force General criticizes lack of military response to Benghazi attack

Retired Air Force Brigadier General Robert Lovell testified today that the military should have done more to try to help the Americans who were under attack in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. At the time of the attack, Lovell was the deputy director for intelligence at Africa Command.

Lovell told the House Oversight Committee:

Many with firsthand knowledge have recounted the heroism displayed by the brave Americans in Benghazi that night. They fought the way they trained. That is in the record.

Outside of Libya there were discussions that churned on about what we should do. These elements also fought the way they were trained. Specifically, the predisposition to interagency influence had the military structure—in the spirit of expeditionary government support—waiting for a request for assistance from the State Department.

There are accounts of time, space and capability discussions of the question, could we have gotten there in time to make a difference. Well, the discussion is not in the “could or could not” in relation to time, space and capability—the point is we should have tried. As another saying goes: “Always move to the sound of the guns.”

It is with a sense of duty as a retired General officer that I respectfully submit these thoughts and perspectives.

(Emphasis added)

Notice that Lovell stops short of saying that the U.S. military could have made it to Benghazi in time to make a difference. Lovell is wise to do so. I have it on good authority that it’s unlikely we could have made it from Europe to Bengazi on time. The ramp up would have taken too long.

But, of course, no one knew as the attack was taking place how long hostilities would last. Thus, Gen. Lovell’s point — that we should have tried to get to Benghazi — seems indisputable. As he put it today:

We didn’t know how long this would last when we became aware of the distress nor did we completely understand what we had in front of us, be it a kidnapping, rescue, recovery, protracted hostile engagement or any or all of the above. But what we did know quite early on was that this was a hostile action.

Why didn’t U.S. military forces in Europe respond to this hostile action? It was waiting, as Lovell says, for a request from the State Department, whose assets were under attack. The request never came.

Was the decision (or non-decision) made by Hillary Clinton? One must assume that, at a minimum, she made the initial call. Did the White House make the final call? We don’t know.

Why wouldn’t Clinton (or Obama, if he roused himself sufficiently to engage the matter) order the military in as soon as it became clear that, whatever the motive of the attackers, this was an attack? One possibility is that the decision maker[s] froze. In other words, Hillary Clinton (and maybe Barack Obama) choked the response to the proverbial “Three AM phone call.”

The other possibility is that the decision maker[s] didn’t want a major fight involving significant military assets, and thought it better to hope for the best. This explanation makes sense only if the decision was a politically motivated effort to preserve President Obama’s narrative that the terrorist threat was receding. If protecting the Americans at the compound had driven the decision, there should have been no hesitation about sending the military in from Europe.

The Obama administration likes to point out that there was a lull in the attack. It argues that, in fact, there were really two attacks.

But this argument doesn’t overcome Gen. Lovell’s point that the military should have been ordered to respond shortly after hostilities in Benghazi began. If one looks at Benghazi as two attacks, then either the decision maker[s] froze twice or decided twice that it was good idea to do nothing and hope for the best.

There seems, then, to be no getting around the fact that Hillary Clinton and/or President Obama failed to respond properly to a deadly attack in which four Americans were killed. Either they were grossly incompetent or criminally cynical. In the interest of accountability, we should find out which was the case.

The failure to respond militarily on Sept. 11, 2012 is, of course, just one aspect of the Benghazi matter. Speaker Boehner should appoint a special committee to investigate the entire scandal.