After six weeks of willful distortion of the facts concerning the organized terrorist attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi on September 11, we’ve learned this week that the President knew what was going on from the outset of the seven-hour battle — and did nothing. Thanks to the work of former Assistant Secretary of Defense Bing West (” First, Aid the Living ,” National Review Oct 22), we now know that President Obama was receiving photo and signals intelligence from a drone flying over the compound as well as reporting cables from the staff members who were under attack in near real time — yet did nothing.
US Special Operations troops and fighter/attack aircraft were within an hour’s flight time at the NATO base in Sigonella, Italy. The attack lasted for more than seven hours, yet these troops were never called upon to help Americans under assault by known terrorist elements.
Having served at the White House for nine years and been involved in many efforts to prevent or to respond to attacks on Americans, I’m astonished by this failure to come to the aid of Americans under fire. Consider the following. In October, 1985, a cruise ship (i.e. the Achille Lauro) was taken by terrorists in the Mediterranean and Leon Klinghoffer, an American, was killed and pitched overboard. President Reagan immediately focused our full intelligence and military resources on responding and capturing the terrorists. As they made their way to Cairo we learned of their plan to board a chartered aircraft and flee to Tunisia. The Joint Chiefs developed options within hours and when the terrorists took off from Cairo the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs recommended that Sixth Fleet aircraft intercept the aircraft and direct it to land at the NATO base in Sigonella. In approving the plan, President Reagan added, “If they refuse to land, shoot it down.” He
acted a s a Commander in Chief must. We cannot allow terrorists to conclude that they can kill Americans with impunity. That crisis ended with the terrorists being captured and turned over to Italian authorities.
Three conclusions can be drawn from this tawdry episode:
First, on September 11, being aware that Americans, including our Ambassador, were under attack, President Obama did nothing to send nearby forces to their aid.
Second, on the following morning, notwithstanding the mounting evidence of what had happened and knowing that Ambassador Chris Stevens had been killed, he directed his press spokesman to withhold the facts and willfully deliver a portrayal of events that he knew to be false – as he left on a campaign trip to Las Vegas.
Third, this tragic loss of Chris Stevens and others serving our country in Libya,
might well have been avoided had the president responded to the Ambassadors earlier requests for better security in the run-up to 9-11, and threats from known terrorists groups to attack Americans.
Finally, and more broadly, this terrible loss demonstrates that the President has yet to come to grips with the nature of the radical Islamist threat we must face and overcome. Surely one can acknowledge the benign attitude and religious tolerance that characterizes most Muslims while concurrently naming and developing a strategy to eliminate the well-armed, well-financed, intolerant Al Qaeda affiliates that have spread to more than 30 countries during his administration.
On September 11 th , of this year President Obama’s incompetent performance – faced with an urgent need, and the opportunity to send help and perhaps to save lives of Americans under fire– represents the most egregious dereliction of duty by an American official I’ve ever heard of. I cannot imagine a more serious abrogation of his responsibility as president.
Robert McFarlane served as President Reagan’s national security advisor, co-authored Crisis Resolution, Westview Press, 1978, and is currently a Senior Advisor to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies