On Thursday May 1, the House Government and Oversight Committee held its fourth investigative hearing over the armed assault upon our diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya that occurred on the night of September 11. 2012. It was a continuation of the jurisdictional boundaries of the committee in that the focus was of the “What went wrong and how do we not have it occur again?” vein, along with some testimony from witnesses as to the condition of the governmental structure currently in Libya.
The main witness appearing before the committee was Brigadier General Robert Lovell, USAF (retired), who was Deputy Director for Intelligence and Knowledge Development of U.S. Africa Command, also known as AFRICOM, at the time of the compound attack. His testimony was not compelled by he chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), but rather Gen. Lovell contacted committee staff to volunteer information and insight he possesses.
As I listened to the members putting questions to the general and the other witnesses, whose appearance and testimony seemed to be for the purpose of describing current conditions, our lack of support for the developing government and communities post-Ghaddafi, the inquires and answers kept leading me back to the one question I and a good many others have never had sufficiently answered: Where was Obama while this assault was taking place? Why was the Commander-in-Chief not on hand to make the decisions and give orders necessary for the situation? Why did he not make an appearance in the Situation Room at all, but leave the Oval Office after learning Ambassador Stevens, his personal representative to Libya, was missing, whereabouts unknown? Just where was he for all those hours sovereign U.S. soil was under attack?
There was testimony provided at an earlier Senate hearing from the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta that he and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, that they had one meeting with Barack Obama at 5:00 p.m. for 30 minutes, but neither had any further conversation or contact with the president during the rest of the attack, which ended about 11:15 p.m., some six and a half hours after that one meeting between them.
Why is this so important, you may be asking? During Thursday’s hearing much of the discussion centered upon the military response, the lack of it to the actual scene; why was no defense ordered to the compound for the American lives in mortal danger there? As the questioning and answers ensued, I learned some troubling information I had not had previously. I was under the impression that orders for troop movement, military defense and rescue would come from the Department of Defense, that Obama would give orders to Panetta and Dempsey, they in turn would send those orders down the chain-of-command, but this was not the case in Benghazi. While indeed, troops in Spain were ordered to ready to deploy, counter-intelligence forces in Croatia ordered the same, and Special Forces from America were sent to Italy to be ready to deploy from there, no order to deploy was ever issued by military command because, according to Gen. Lovell, they were all waiting for the State Department to make a decision, give the order. At one point in the hearing, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) asked the general if he had ever encountered in his 33 years of military service this same or similar situation, “We have soldiers down, people under attack, but they’re waiting for someone at State to finally decide?” There was a good deal of explanation as to how the State Department was concerned about deference to the Libyan people, how it would look to have our troops in uniform come in, to the point State ordered the FEST Team to take an extra hour of emergency time to change from their military uniforms into civilian clothes, according to Rep. Chaffetz. Really? A United States Ambassador is missing, in danger along with other Americans, the compound is on fire but someone is concerned over sartorial considerations?
If the Commander-in-Chief were in the Situation Room where he belonged, at the very least in the Oval Office, he would have been able to resolve this jurisdiction-problem and simply give the order to move. Rather than Howard Baker’s iconic Watergate question, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” my question for the night of the Benghazi attack is “Where did the president go, and why did he go there?”