U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill January 23, 2013 in Washington, DC, where she was questioned about the security failures during the September 11 attacks against the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya,(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
We may finally learn the truth about Benghazi. Eight months have passed since the September 11th attacks on the U.S. Mission there, but a moment of reckoning has come. The House Oversight Committee has brought forth whistle-blowers with direct and unique knowledge of the Benghazi attack and the Obama administration’s inept, dishonest response to it.
Today could be politically devastating for the president and his party. Or it could merely solidify that which we already know about the Benghazi debacle.
Either way, here’s a breakdown of some of the key issues that the whistle-blowers are likely to address, and the possible ramifications of the hearings for the Obama administration as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Inaction During the Attack
There is no argument that crucial warnings were missed in the run-up to the Benghazi attack. The security environment was deteriorating, multiple requests for help from Ambassador Stephens went unheeded. Inexplicably, the State Department pulled security resources away from a critical threat post.
This incompetence is well-documented, and unless new information surfaces today to shine a spotlight on then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s direct role in this, the narrative of bureaucratic stupidity is unlikely to change.
The administration’s actions during the hours of the attack itself, however, could be up for a major thrashing. Based on early excerpts of testimony from the Deputy Chief of Mission, Greg Hicks, senior administration officials both failed to act decisively to save U.S. lives, and even stood in the way of an effort to do so.
No Fighter Planes Deployed: Why?
DCM Hicks has stated that, in his opinion, aerial assets such as an F-16 fighter could have been deployed as a show of force over the Benghazi compound. He suggested that “buzzing” the attackers may have caused some to withdraw for fear of being targeted. The U.S. airbase in Aviano, Sicily, or the Naval Base at Souda Bay, in Greece, could have possibly provided fighter aircraft.
If this is true, it portrays a chain of command that not only failed to plan for such a critical contingency, but one that was unwilling to take the risk of deploying manned aerial assets to help those fighting off the terrorist attack.
Bloodstains at the main gate believed to be from one of the American staff members of the U.S. Consulate, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens on the night of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya. (AP)
Was a Stand Down Order Given?
There are also reports that Hicks told House investigators that a Quick Reaction Force from Tripoli was held back despite being ready to deploy to Benghazi. This occurred before the second wave of attacks on the annex facility, and therefore the delay could have cost American lives.
That any U.S. official would hamper a rescue team from deploying with all due haste to assist a U.S. Ambassador and numerous other Americans in jeopardy defies our most basic expectations. If political optics—the possibility that a large, sustained gunfight with Benghazi terrorists may have looked bad on television the next day—influenced the decision to give the stand down order in any way, the American people have a right to know. And someone must be held accountable.
The Cover Up: How Deep and High Up Does it Go?
Anyone with an internet connection can prove that the Obama administration lied about the Benghazi attacks to prevent an election-changing narrative from taking hold in the minds of the American people. The three whistle-blowers today could be in a position to make such an airtight case for a cover up at the top levels of the administration that efforts to downplay or dismiss it will finally become impossible.
Here’s what we already know: It was obviously a terrorist attack from the start. The talking points were changed to avoid calling it that. The claims about the Youtube video were a cynical smokescreen, meant to stall the news cycle. For two weeks, officials obfuscated and lied about the attacks. And the FBI took an astonishing 24 days to get on site—long after news outlets like CNN were able to rummage through the wreckage.
What we don’t know—and what the whistle blowers may be able to tell us—is just who exactly made those decisions. And while we can come to our own conclusion about why, we don’t have hard evidence-- yet.
What’s At Stake for Obama, Hillary, and the Democrats?
The Benghazi hearing could reestablish an old narrative: that Democrats are feckless on national security and place raw domestic political considerations above all else. This would be a disaster, not just for those currently in power, but for Hillary “Benghazi” Clinton in 2016.
To be sure, the Democrats will fight this tooth and nail. They will try to undermine the credibility of the whistle-blowers. If that doesn’t work, they will downplay their testimony as old news, and claim that all of this is a political witch-hunt.
But their primary goal at this point will be to protect Hillary Clinton’s legacy. President Obama will never run for office again, and despite the wishes of some conservatives, Obama will not be pushed from office. The House is very unlikely to impeach him, and even if they did, the Democrat-controlled Senate would not remove him from office.
While Benghazi is much worse than Watergate, the consequences for President Obama will definitely not be.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is another matter. An Ambassador was killed under her watch, a man who was her responsibility. Three other brave Americans died with him. Hillary’s signature, automatic or not, was on cables pulling back security resources. Her previous testimony to Congress could be described as misleading at best.
The Benghazi hearing will not just be a search for the truth—it will inevitably be a preemptive political battle against Hillary Clinton, the presumed next Democratic nominee.
Americans had a chance to enforce accountability for Benghazi at the ballot box last November, and more than half failed to do so. If the whistle-blowers today have their say, and enough of the American people are listening, we may have one last chance to punish—or at least avoid—dishonest leadership in the form of Hillary 2016.
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