The Benghazi scandal has been treated by critics of the Obama administration as an example of extreme administrative malfeasance up to this point. Given the swift appearance of a photo showing President Obama seemingly embroiled in discussing matters with his advisers on national security after the attack, such an interpretation is not at all surprising.
But what if it's wrong? What if the problem on the night of Benghazi was not extreme incompetence, but simply extreme negligence? What if, in fact, the people treated as the two most relevant actors in this drama -- President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton -- weren't made aware and didn't do anything about it?
That is the interpretation that has emerged from a series of shocking admissions by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday. Each of these admissions -- breathlessly reported by the Weekly Standard and CNSNews -- paints a picture of a White House that was perilously disengaged from the crisis as it was happening in real time.
First, there was the bombshell that not only was President Obama not involved in the process except for a single phone call, but he was absent entirely from the White House during the attack. Video (all videos courtesy of the Weekly Standard) and reporting follows:
Panetta and Dempsey had a pre-scheduled meeting with Obama at 5:00 p.m. Washington, D.C. time on Sept. 11. The meeting lasted about thirty minutes. After it was over, they did not hear from Obama again or anybody else at the White House.
"Did you have any further communications with him that night?" Ayotte asked Panetta.
"No," said Panetta.
"Did you have any other further communications? Did he ever call you that night to say how are things going, what’s going on, where’s the consulate?" asked Ayotte.
"No," said Panetta. "But we were aware as we were getting information about what was taking place there, particularly when we got information that the ambassador, his life had been lost, we were aware that that information went to the White House."
"Did you communicate with anyone else at the White House that night?" asked Ayotte.
"No," said Panetta.
"No one else called you to say: How are things going?" asked Ayotte.
"No," said Panetta.
Barely twenty minutes later, under questioning from South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, General Dempsey and Defense Secretary Panetta admitted that military assets had not been used at all in the attack. Why? Watch and read on:
"Was any DoD asset--aircraft or individual soldier--ever sent or put in motion to help these people before the attack was over?" asked Republican senator Lindsey Graham. "My question is did anybody leave any base anywhere to go to the aid of the people under attack in Benghazi, Libya, before the attack ended?"
"No," Panetta responded. "Because the attack ended before they could get off the ground."
"Okay, and we didn't know how long it would last," Graham added.
Ten minutes later, Dempsey admitted to being shocked that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hadn't known about the diplomatic cable from Ambassador Chris Stevens pleading for help prior to the attacks, once more under questioning from Graham:
And speaking of Clinton, after another 30 minutes, another bombshell emerged: Secretary of Clinton hadn't corresponded with the military or Department of Defense at all about the Benghazi attacks. In fact, neither Dempsey nor Panetta had any conversations with Clinton.
Republican Ted Cruz asked both Leon Panetta and Martin Dempsey, "In between 9:42 p.m., Benghazi time, when the first attacks started, and 5:15 am, when Mr. Doherty and Mr. Woods lost their lives, what converations did either of you have with Secretary Clinton?"
"We did not have any conversations with Secretary Clinton," Panetta responded.
"And General Dempsey, the same is true for you?" Cruz asked. Dempsey confirmed this.
Given these revelations, one wonders in what possible context the previously photographed meeting between President Obama and his advisers on national security could have taken place. Or, if that meeting did concern Benghazi, why the President showed such little interest in responding to the crisis in real time.