Although sickening and heartbreaking, the tragedy of the Sept. 11 raid on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, wasn’t just the murder of four good men, but that those losses were easily preventable.
Unclassified documents released by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform include cables from Ambassador Chris Stevens and his staff indicating safety concerns at Benghazi. Their repeated requests for beefed-up security were ignored again and again.
The cables described specific incidents of violence in the region, including attacks by mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices directed at Western targets.
In one June 25 document titled, “Libya’s Fragile Security Deteriorates as Tribal Rivalries, Power Plays and Extremism Intensify,” Stevens wrote, “From April to June, Libya also witnesses an increase in attacks targeting international organizations and foreign interests.” He went on to describe attacks on U.N. officials, International Red Cross buildings and a rocket-propelled-grenade attack on a British diplomatic convoy.
After reading the cables, even the most amateur of laymen would have to conclude that the situation in Libya was critical and required increased security at a bare minimum, if not outright withdrawal from the region.
On Friday, President Barack Obama said in a radio interview that he did not know any such requests had been made.
“I was not personally aware of any request,” he told MSNBC political analyst Michael Smerconish. ”We have an infrastructure set up to manage requests like that, but we’re going to find out what happened. Ultimately, though, any time there is a death of an American overseas, I want to find out what happened because my most important job as president is to keep the American people safe.”
The conclusion that the American people are supposed to draw from this, I can only imagine, is that the president should be absolved of any guilt in the matter. If he didn’t know, he can’t be blamed.
Of course, such a conclusion ignores a statement Obama made early in his term, in what I expect was an attempt to sound Truman-esque: “The buck stops here.”
We haven’t heard that statement repeated by the president — certainly not since Benghazi. We did, however, hear it from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Although I don’t profess to be a huge Hillary fan, her falling on the sword was noble, and given the circumstances, someone had to do it. By that time, it was clear the president wasn’t about to do it himself. He, after all, had a re-election campaign to run.
I believe there is plenty of blame to go around: Stevens’ immediate superiors, possibly, for not directing his pleas up the chain of command; Clinton, possibly, for not taking the warnings seriously enough to act on them; and the president, definitely, for both his hubris and his naiveté that words and negotiations with terrorists will solve everything.
In short, we can cast blame on pretty much everyone in positions of power, anyone except those four brave Americans we sent into harm’s way and who paid the ultimate price.
However, no matter where the responsibility finally falls, and no matter how the story gets spun, one thing is certain — it wasn’t Bush’s fault.