Friday, May 10, 2013

Hearings into Benghazi raises doubts about U.S. security

This week's hearings into the Sept. 11, 2012, fatal attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, has shone a light on the Obama administration's bumbling as Islamist militants attacked the lightly guarded U.S. facility. In emotional, heart-wrenching testimony, witnesses told of the desperation inside the consulate as the attack raged and no American military personnel came to rescue them.

The incompetence of the administration in not providing minimal security at the facility in the violence-torn and volatile country was compounded by having Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations fill in for higher-up administration representatives on Sunday talk shows a few days later. Rice attributed the attack to a spontaneous demonstration over an anti-Islam video. That explanation, reportedly based on U.S. intelligence briefings, was quickly disputed and then rescinded. But the damage was already done. The administration was seen as attempting to appease Islamic militancy rather than protecting American lives.

This week's hearings left some doubt about whether the United States could have scrambled military assets to intervene in the attack and perhaps save diplomats' lives. A top military spokesman said it would have taken 20 hours to get F-16s from their base in Italy to Benghazi, and then they might not have been effective. If that is the state of readiness of our thinly stretched military, then what would happen in the event of a major attack by something more than lightly armed insurgents? Congress should delve deeper into the response time and the effectiveness of military assets in the Mediterranean, including aircraft in Italy and ground forces in Tripoli.

At a minimum, security for U.S. diplomats in Benghazi was lacking. Exactly why the consulate was understaffed and under-protected is not yet clear, but it seems certain that Ambassador Christopher Stevens and others need not have died when the Islamists attacked.

The fatalities in Benghazi might also be the pin that bursts the balloon of Hillary Clinton's presidential ambitions. In earlier testimony before Congress, she said, in an exasperated tone after a series of hostile questions, "What difference does it make" how Americans died? That video will haunt her for the next four years at least and will be replayed by her adversaries again and again.

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