QUESTION: This question actually comes from a brain trust of my friends at Global Telecom Supply (ph) in Minneola yesterday.


QUESTION: We were sitting around, talking about Libya, and we were reading and became aware of reports that the State Department refused extra security for our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the attacks that killed four Americans. Who was it that denied enhanced security and why?

U.S. Presidential Debate, October 16, 2012

In the second Presidential debate, the September 11, 2012 killing of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya in Benghazi was the one foreign policy question that made it into the Townhall-style debate. This led to much analysis of the exchange between President Obama and Governor Romney regarding whether the President had referred to the attack as “an act of terror” in the Rose Garden a day after the attack, and what that really meant. The main point Romney was trying to make was that the Obama Administration had for two weeks incorrectly blamed an “anti-Muslim” film made in California for prompting the attack, rather than acknowledging the fact that it was a premeditated assault by Islamists. Later, the moderator, Candy Crowley, who, during the debate, had ruled in favor of President Obama’s claim that he had indeed called the attack premeditated terrorism, admitted she had made a mistake herself: “you’re totally correct that they (the Obama Administration) spent two weeks telling us this was about a tape… He (Romney) was right in the main, I just think he picked the wrong word,” by focusing on whether President Obama specifically said “acts of terror.”

Unfortunately, I think this entire debate controversy essentially “misses the forest for the trees.” Regardless of what President Obama specifically said in the Rose Garden on September 12, 2012, his Administration made major mistakes regarding the entire Libyan situation that need to be pointed out and evaluated. And one of the biggest was confronted by the actual question asked during the debate – Who was it that denied enhanced security (for the Embassy and the Ambassador) and why? This question was never answered during the debate, thanks to the moderator. It was also not answered during the third and final debate, on foreign policy matters, which took place on October 22, 2012. But it needs to be, before the election. How else can we evaluate the Obama Administration on their actions in Libya?

The simple fact of the matter is that having the American Ambassador in Benghazi with no American security guards, poorly-trained, largely unarmed, and possibly Islamist-if not-al-Qaeda supportive Libyan security personnel, and no real secure consulate, is nothing short of scandalous. This attack took place on 9/11/12, an anniversary date for the greatest Islamist terrorist assault on the U.S, in a Middle East nation. This point alone should have demanded protection from an extensive security team. Further, it specifically occurred in Libya, which the Administration knew was an unstable Middle Eastern nation awash with weapons and Islamist militias, including several with al-Qaeda ties. The Obama Administration also was aware that there had been hundreds of security incidents in Benghazi preceding the 9/11/12 attack, including a prior attack on the consulate. Also, the State Department/Administration was warned by the Ambassador and members of the Embassy that things were getting increasingly dangerous in Libya, and that more security was needed. (It gets even worse if Ambassador Stevens had been sent there for another mission: sending arms recovered from the former Libyan regime’s stocks to the rebels in Syria.) Finally, there were foreign warnings of potential danger to Americans in the Middle East, including a threat of retaliation – and thereby a warning – from al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri for the death of AQ’s operations guy, Abu Yahia Al-Libi (The Libyan) just the day before. Yet, even with all that, someone in charge – be it in the White House or in the State Department – chose to reject requests for more security and let an Ambassador die (possibly in a nasty manner) at the hands of Islamists.

So why did some party in the Administration choose not to protect our Embassy? There, is of course, no way to know for sure the answer to that question without further information. It is possible that the Obama Administration is so incompetent that the requests for more security, including from Ambassador Stevens, kept somehow slipping through the cracks until it was too late. But it is much more likely that the Obama Administration made a conscious effort not to increase security in Benghazi. In fact, in the six months prior to the attack, they had – despite multiple pleas from U.S. security officials on the ground for “more, not less” security personnel – removed as many as 34 people from the country. Also, as former assistant secretary of defense Bing West has noted, the attacks took place over seven hours without any outside U.S. military forces ever being dispatched. These provide circumstantial evidence, at least, that the decision to keep security low was an intentional decision on the part of someone within the Obama Administration.

If that is true, then the question becomes whom – or what decision making body – within the Administration made this decision, and what was his/their reasoning for doing this? A number of possibilities have been floated in the press so far. Perhaps the decision was made by the State Department, which apparently has a longtime disdain for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (BDS) and its agents that are supposed to be protecting our foreign service. This could be why Secretary of State Clinton has taken “responsibility” for the act, although this might also be nothing more than a political face saving measure. Or, the decision to keep security at a low level may have come from the BDS itself, as indicated by some of the documents that have been released by the Congressional investigation. Or, the decision might have really come from a major player in the Administration, perhaps the President himself, reasoning that security for U.S. interests would have meant more U.S. forces in Libya — which would violate “the Obama Doctrine – a “light footprint” strategy.” More hearings are necessary for us to get to the bottom of this mystery.

Of course, to a certain extent, exactly which Executive branch actor made this decision is beside the point. In every Administration, the President is ultimately responsible for the actions of his subordinates. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican known for his bipartisanship on many issues, has accordingly placed the blame squarely on “failed presidential leadership at its worst.” Even President Obama has acknowledged this fact.

Now the President needs to just let the facts out, and if they warrant it, truly apologize for his Administration’s mistakes. That is what a real leader does when he/she makes a mistake.

Adam Turner serves as staff counsel to the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) and the Legal Project (LP) at the Middle East Forum. He is a former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee where he focused on national security law. This column was originally written for EMET.

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