Benghazi: Responsibility, Rumors, Geopolitics


The weekend brings new postings about the deadly firefight in Benghazi on 11 September 2012.  Some of them appear to be going off the rails a bit; others will require vetting.  Time to try to do a little sorting.

On Friday, Fox News’s Jennifer Griffin reported that requests for help from the CIA Annex in Benghazi, where dozens of Americans were holed up during the firefight at the US mission compound some distance away, were denied by the CIA chain of command.

In a local interview in Denver on Friday, President Obama declined to answer questions about this, stating that “We are finding out exactly what happened.”  CIA’s spokeswoman told media that “no one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need.”  Whether you believe the CIA spokeswoman implicitly on this matter boils down to whether you are a Democrat and/or Obama voter, or not.


However, a retired Army Special Forces officer (a lieutenant colonel), who called the Rush Limbaugh show on Friday, pointed out that if the US ambassador was under attack, the president would have known everything that was going on.  I can affirm from my own knowledge that this is correct.  The Special Forces officer’s statements are valid in every particular.  If a US mission is under attack, “flash”-precedence reports go directly to the White House and the president is notified immediately, regardless of what he is doing.

His relevant cabinet heads – e.g., Defense, State – are being notified by their people at the same time.  Each one has a 24-hour watch, like the watch in the White House Situation Room, whose senior officers are charged precisely with ensuring that such notifications are made, that inter-agency coordination starts immediately, and that a running assessment of the situation is maintained for briefing and decision-making at the drop of a hat.

If that did not happen on 11 September, and if it really takes two months to reconstruct what did happen on 11 September (the administration’s investigative report is due to the Senate on 17 November), then that itself is a serious breach of national-security protocol.  One would be driven to wonder how things could have gotten so bad.  It is simply not the case that the chain of command falls apart and no one can tell what’s going on, or who’s giving orders, and that it all has to be sorted out later.  (This is especially true, incidentally, in the era of instantaneous emails, voice communications, and live Predator video being fed to command centers in Europe and the Washington, DC area.)

One thing that is always known is what the president ordered – because it is recorded in logs and other official documents.  And again, if it wasn’t, that is not an excuse but an indictment.

We can say for sure what Obama should have known; we can’t say for sure what he did know.  But what he should have known is enough.


Other postings have generated much discussion in the last 24 hours.  One is the suggestion, now widely reported, that there was, in fact, an AC-130U gunship over Benghazi during the attack.  Lending credence to this supposition is Blackfive’s account of his discussion with a former Delta Force operator, who observes that if one of the ground personnel was “painting” a target near the CIA Annex in Benghazi – as Jennifer Griffin reported – then there must have been an aircraft or UCAV in the vicinity that could use the laser-designation information against a target.

On the other hand, two AC-130Us that were put in Libya for Operation Unified Protector would be gone now, at least as assets for that particular operation.  NATO Operation Unified Protector was terminated on 31 October 2011.  The US may have kept a pair of AC-130s in Libya, but there’s no public information available on that.  Assuming that someone was, in fact, painting a target in Benghazi with a laser designator, it’s possible – and more likely, I think — that one of the Predators flying over Benghazi was an armed CIA Predator.

In either case, it is correct to say that if a target in Benghazi was laser-designated for attack by an air asset, the choice to hit it or not was the president’s.  That doesn’t mean Obama was presented with a movie moment in which he was asked to give a thumbs up or down on that particular target.  It probably means that he did not give a general authorization to engage targets on the ground.  I doubt that he was presented, inside the White House, with any yes-or-no, “Shall we hit this, Mr. President?”-type choices.  That’s probably not how his senior advisors were talking to him, partly because of who they are, and partly because of their experience with who he is.  You learn how to talk to the boss.

A rumor flying around is that General Carter Ham, commander of US Africa Command (which is headquartered in Vaihingen, Germany, alongside US European Command), was summarily relieved the night of 11 September.  Reportedly, he defied a stand-down order from the Pentagon and was planning to take military action in support of the Americans in Benghazi anyway – but was intercepted by his deputy, LTG David Rodriguez, and told he was relieved of command.

With a little internet sleuthing, Ace of Spades discovered the same thing I did: that General Ham continued to perform the duties of Commander, Africa Command, for weeks after being “relieved.”  Ace also found that the strike group of a Navy commander who was relieved on Saturday – Read Admiral Charles Gaouette of the USS John C Stennis carrier strike group – was not in or near the Mediterranean Sea on 11 September, and that Gaouette’s removal from command was undoubtedly for some reason unrelated to Benghazi.  (John C Stennis was in the South China Sea in mid-September, heading for the Persian Gulf from the West coast.)


Another aspect of the Libya debacle is not so easily dismissed.  While I believe the case is somewhat overstated here, the Canada Free Press author, Doug Hagmann, is following up on information previously reported by Business Insider: that Ambassador Stevens met with a Turkish official at the US mission in Benghazi the evening of the attack, and was discussing the shipment of Libyan arms to the Syrian rebels.

The suggestion in the CFP piece that Syrian rebels or their terrorist henchmen were being instructed in the use of Libyan chemical weapons, in order to perpetrate a “false flag” attack and pin it on Bashar al-Assad, is pure speculation.  There’s nothing very useful to do with that proposition.

But Hagmann reports, as information from his source, that at the meeting in Benghazi, the Turkish official showed Stevens “overhead satellite images, taken by the Russians, of nefarious activities taking place in Turkey.”  Hagmann correctly points out that Russia considers it a national security issue that the US may be arming Assad’s opponents. Whether the meeting in Benghazi unfolded as described or not, that point is valid, and the concern of the Russians is fully credible.  The Russians would, In fact, strenuously oppose a massive transfer of arms from Libya to the Syrian insurgents.  They wouldn’t leave their fingerprints on an attack against Americans.  But we ought not to dismiss the possibility that the Iranians would.

I stress at the outset that Hagmann’s reasoning is deductive and not based on direct evidence.  It’s also important to note that we need not add complexity to our assessment of the Benghazi attack: we know al Qaeda and at least one affiliated Sunni group were involved.  It doesn’t necessarily aid the analysis or our immediate purpose of clarification for the American people to add the factor of Iranian shenanigans to the mix.

But that factor is not to be dismissed.  Iran is at least as concerned about US support to the Syrian rebels as Russia is.  Iran also has more than one way into Libya.  In September of 2011, the US Telegraph reported that Iran’s paramilitary Qods Force had smuggled former-Soviet surface-to-air missiles out of Libya through Sudan.

And in September 2012, Claudia Rosett summarized the activities of a suspect Iranian commercial ship  – one on the US Treasury Department’s blacklist – which had visited Benghazi on 30 August and operated up and down the Libyan coast in the days following.  As Rosett reported in October, M/V Parmis is one of three Iranian cargo ships that have been making a regular circuit between Iran, Egypt, and Libya in the last year.  It’s also one of several dozen Iranian ships that appear to be faking Tanzanian registry, although the Tanzanian authorities state categorically that these ships are not registered with them.

Several points must be made.  First, the evidence is growing that the Russians and Iranians have reason to believe the US has been sponsoring the shipment of Libyan arms to the Syrian insurgents.  It appears the US has been colluding with Turkey on this.  It would be too much to call this arms trade “secret” at this point, but it would not be too much to call it backhanded.  Why do things this way?  There has been support in Congress for options that would entail a more open US posture.  I don’t favor a no-fly zone for Syria myself, but that alternative, as well as directly arming certain rebel factions, have both had support in Congress and in some of the media.

Why state in public that the US would not arm the rebels, and then broker the shipment of arms to them from Muammar Qadhafi’s stash?  The credibility and good faith of the United States are eroded by adopting this posture.

Another point is that the Russians, as I have written on several occasions now, do regard Syria as a national security issue.  They aren’t going to stand by passively and let other outside powers tilt conditions – even by proxy – against their client Assad.  Neither are the Iranians.  Regardless of whether the attack in Benghazi was related to Syria, we surely don’t think we can arm the rebels with Libyan weapons without provoking some kind of reaction from Iran or Russia.

Better to lead outright in these situations than act behind the scenes, without political bona fides, and incur the same bitter opposition.

The point must also be made that Iran has had lots and lots of opportunities to supply any clients she may have ashore in Libya – or, for that matter, introduce her own operatives there.  Incident to a separate issue, I had occasion to locate the Iranian ships in question back in May, and sure enough, M/V Tandis was anchored off Misrata, Libya, on 20 May.  On 19 October 2012, Tandis was sitting off Benghazi, her last known port listed as Misrata.  These ships are spending an awful lot of time going back and forth along the Libyan coast.

Libya’s poorly patrolled coastline may be a convenience for the Iranian ships, which would find no welcome in most other parts of the Mediterranean.  But they are cargo ships, and Iran wants to operate them in the Med, and has kept them offshore from Libya’s major coast cities on a near-constant basis.  It would be very foolish to dismiss these facts.

We could call for more intelligence here, but what is needed is leadership.  Five minutes’ worth of geopolitical leadership can obviate the need for five years’ worth of intelligence.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.

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23 thoughts on “Benghazi: Responsibility, Rumors, Geopolitics”

  1. Thanks for the clarifications, esp about General Ham, and why Amb Stevens was in Benghazi. Except, maybe it was a buyback of Strela’s? Turkey had major business interests in Libya, and would be interested in getting the loose weapons under control, without such a buyback being about Syria.

    Hope you correct your post to UK Telegraph, a far more reliable source than most US newspapers.

  2. I have been waiting to read what you thought of this; very good take.

    The rumors are not helping. They could even have the opposite effect, which would be good for no one.

  3. Great work! You do a really good job of sorting through all the rumors and making sense of some of the parts of this story that are baffling to me. Still, nothing explains Obama allowing not just the four dead, but the 30 some other people who were there, to be sacrificed. Are they all locked up like the guy who made the video? I’d like to hear from the survivors.

  4. I was hoping to see your analysis at the HotAir Greenroom, because you always add so much that does not show up in other blogs, but will be happy to check back here instead. I very much appreciate your sifting the wheat from the chaff of rumors swirling around; not that the “wheat” isn’t bad enough by itself!

  5. “now, we are hearing that the president of the United States, based on his own words, issued a directive immediately after he found out about the firefight, saying that he wanted to be sure those people on the ground were safe and they were getting what they needed. It didn’t happen. This means either that the president’s order was not followed… or, it means the order wasn’t issued.” Ohio Senator Rob Portman

    ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN…all had prominent Republicans today speaking directly to the issue of Obama’s claimed directive and the impossible position it puts Panetta in, he either countermanded Obama’s order or Obama’s lying. Gee, guess which one’s the case?

    Obama’s lying, Panetta’s lying, Clinton’s lying. It’s all going to come out.

    This is too big to cover-up, the lies too clumsily implemented.

    Too many people know what happened and whistle blowers will emerge. General Ham may yet find a way to ‘speak truth to power’ 😉

    I don’t believe that Obama will be reelected, I don’t think it will even be close but if Obama is reelected, he will be the first President impeached.

    No administration can survive the intentional sacrificing of four Americans, tantamount to murder and, blatant lying on this scale. This easily clears the bar for “high crimes and misdemeanors”.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg and the only plausible reason why Obama and his administration would be so desperate and clumsy in their attempts to keep the truth concealed.

      1. Thank you, I did mean that. I had forgotten that impeachment is analogous to indictment in regular court proceedings, while trial by the Senate is analogous to the trial before judge and jury in regular courts. The House impeaches, while the Senate conducts the trial.

        In Obama’s case, even with a democrat Senate majority, Benghazi’gate’ is so serious that enough would vote to support impeachment as to result in Obama’s removal from office.

  6. This incident, in the long term, will re-enforce and continue to paint Obama as the part time American he wishes to be.
    I particularly enjoyed the State Department spokesman (several weeks ago) throwing Ambassador Stevens under the bus (just a corpse of course, it doesn’t really count). “Ambassador Stevens knew how dangerous it was to be out front in this situation”.
    Obama’s overiding foreign policy message “please don’t hit me again, I promise not to tell anyone”.

  7. I find that the whole presidential/administration competency case can hang on the “should have or did have” the pertinent information in real time measures. Everything else is just the compounding elements that thieves and liars throw out to fog the information and buy time.

    Amazingly, our elected president was able to recruit co-conspirators from Foggy Bottoms, the Agency, Defense, etc. to help him bury this failure come embarrassment. If that is found to be true, however, it points to a degree of corruption within our most elevated offices that bears further analysis and a very close scrutiny.

    We are starting to sound like a dime-a-dozen banana republic instead of the leaders of the world because. The confusion and the apparent blatant lies that are being thrown at this thing have made sure of that. It makes Watergate look like a high school prank. At least in that case nobody died.

    Not in this case. If Hillary Clinton lied, she should be charged criminally and she should be black-balled from ever practicing politics again. The same thing could be said for Panetta and all the other officials that have looked at the American public and the world in the eye and lied to them openly and knowingly.

    We should all be ashamed that Benghazi ever happened. But we should be even more ashamed that these bums have placed us squarely under the light of world-wide opinion with such blatant disregard for our National honor.

    After all, these liars do represent us in front of not only America but in front of the rest of the world.

    Funny how the left is always pretending to care what the world thinks of us except when it comes time to lie and cheat themselves out of a problem.


  8. Top AFRICOM Commander General Carter Ham Was Never Ordered to Save US Men in Benghazi

    Retired Lt. Col.: My Sources Say Obama Was in the Room Watching Benghazi Attack Happen

    We know that there was a video feed at the time Obama was meeting in the WH at 5pm with Panetta and Biden. No way they didn’t see that feed.

    President Obama told KUSA-TV’s Kyle Clarke, “I can tell you, as I’ve said over the last couple of months since this happened, the minute I found out what was happening, I gave three very clear directives. Number one, make sure that we are securing our personnel and doing whatever we need to.”

    The only person between Obama’s purported order and Gen. Ham was Panetta. Either Panetta illegally countermanded Obama’s order or Obama is lying.

    We know that the laser painting the target means there was a gunship onsite. Someone gave an order denying that gunship its request to assist.

    I’m doubtful of the theory that Obama wanted to trade Stevens for the ‘blind sheik’ as there would be too much political downside to that just before an election.

    At the same time however, if there were not a very important reason otherwise, it would have been greatly to Obama’s political advantage to decisively save Stevens. Arguably it could have meant the difference in the election.

    I think far more likely is that the reason Obama abandoned Stevens was fear of exposure of Obama’s purported middle eastern ‘fast & furious’ gun running operation. Providing Al Qaeda aligned ‘rebels’ in Syria with weapons through Turkey. if the administration knew that some of those weapons were going to go to Al Qaeda then it skirts awfully close to treason.

    That exposure wouldn’t happen at the consulate, so abandoning Stevens wouldn’t threaten that operation. But providing assistance would have permitted Stevens to be evacuated to the CIA annex, which if it fell, might have resulted in exposure of that operation. At this point and IMO, its the most plausible reason, to protect that operation from exposure that led Obama to betray Stevens.

    Tragically and ironically, Obama’s fear was unfounded, those guns were and are ending up in the hands of Al Qaeda and fanatical jihadist groups in Syria. It’s to their advantage to keep quiet and keep the supply of weapons flowing.

    At the very least, it increasingly appears that Obama is guilty of depraved indifference, negligent homicide and dereliction of duty, all high crimes…

    After the election, the Republican House should formally subpoena all relevant parties from State, CIA, DOD, etc. in a full investigation. Then, if the evidence supports it, bring a formal finding of impeachment against Obama, Panetta, Clinton, Rice, etc.

    I realize that the Senate is unlikely to try any of these individuals but that is not the purpose of my proposal, rather it is full exposure that I seek, the transparency Obama lied about, that the MSM will not be able to conceal and the beginning of exposing the left to the American public.

    Destroying the reputations of the foremost representatives of the American left is well worth seeking, if in fact they are guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors.

  9. Night Owl, AesopFan — great to see you here. Your comments will post automatically from now on.

    For those who haven’t seen, Hot Air has changed the nature of the Green Room, and the former GR writers will no longer be posting there. This was a management decision by Salem Communications, which owns Townhall and Hot Air.

    Some of us GR mainstays have discussed starting a new group blog, and there will be more about that in the coming days. I may still have pieces from time to time at the Hot Air main blog, but they won’t be these longer, more analytical posts.

    1. quotey thing: “Night Owl, AesopFan — great to see you here. Your comments will post automatically from now on.” stop quotey thing.

      Lucky y’all, I was on double secret probation for quite a while.

      Qoutey thing again: “Some of us GR mainstays have discussed starting a new group blog, and there will be more about that in the coming days.” end quotey thing, again.

      About dang time!

      I tried getting ahold of some high up mucky mucks at Bain, but for some reason, they are kind of busy right now.

  10. “Libya’s poorly patrolled coastline may be a convenience for the Iranian ships, which would find no welcome in most other parts of the Mediterranean. But they are cargo ships, and Iran wants to operate them in the Med, and has kept them offshore from Libya’s major coast cities on a near-constant basis. It would be very foolish to dismiss these facts.”

    “We could call for more intelligence here, but what is needed is leadership. Five minutes’ worth of geopolitical leadership can obviate the need for five years’ worth of intelligence.”

    They following needs work, but it’s a blog comment…

    It’s not out of the realm of possibility the Iran has also set up ( or is attempting to set up) an alternative supply route to Hezbollah through Libya to Hezbollah, in addition to the one for Hamas through Sinai of Sudanese origin.

    The only things I can plausibly come up with to explain the administration’s lack of geopolitical leadership and the subsequent emboldening of Iranian behavior is, that:

    In addition to the diplomatic support Iran is receiving from Russia and China. The United States has signaled to Iran (in their secret negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program) that Israel’s nuclear deterrent is also on the negotiating table in finding a formula for a regional nuclear free zone. Washington is actually pressuring the Israelis to be more flexible on their nuclear weapons by being soft on Iran. This US position , I believe, is being influenced by the Turks ( the Arab monarchies to a lesser extent). Eventually getting rid of Israeli nukes through preventing Iranian ones is a mainstay of Erdogan’s FP goals. He might have pulled off convincing the Administration that this is the way to go on Iranian nukes (no one would publicly come out and state that of course). If this is the case, I don’t believe it will work.

    The other is that the Iranians have been emboldened by Russian assurances that they have their full backing. I can only see this as a feasibility if the current administration has wantonly ignored or deliberately stepped on Russian red lines in their bilateral issues. If this is the case, it is a sign of more of the Administration’s blundering. Relatively good Russo-Israeli relations show that this might not be the case though. The loosening of the Iranian rein could be a way of Russia counter-pressuring/counter-influencing Washington’s support of the the Turkish/SunniArab Axis on Syria, by using the Israeli conduit as a lever, (We don’t want Iranian UAV’s over Dimona either, but help us convince DC to stop the lunacy in Syria). Jerusalem is capable of causing a lot of grief in DC. The Israelis could be quietly telling the administration there is no realistic alternative to doing what the Russians want in Syria (of course there will be reasonable quid pro quos involved).

    .Basically, the administration has accepted a lot of bad advice from the Turks/GCC and now finds itself in a quandary on the “Arab Spring”.
    The third is everyone is irresponsibly testing the waters to see just how much they can get away with.

    We are being used, by every player, and cannot regain the initiative. The beneficiary is the Iranian theocracy.

    Armed conflict is rapidly becoming the only option to redress the administrations poor diplomacy.

    Of course I cannot provide any proof for this

    1. jgets,

      Regardless of what the Obama administration is promising, there’s not the proverbial ‘snowball’s chance in hell’ that the Israeli’s are going to substantially reduce, much less give up their nukes. It’s their ultimate ‘ace in the hole’. It would be without question, suicidal to do so.

      And the Iranian’s know it, so any administration gambit along those lines is futile and will undoubtedly allow the Iranian’s to duplicitously leverage apparent interest into further concessions from Obama for more time to ‘consider our proposals’.

      The administration’s apparent lack of geopolitical leadership is easily explainable, Daniel Greenfield hits the nail right on its head.
      Why Our Forces Were Told to ‘Stand Down’ in Benghazi

      “From [Obama and the liberal left’s] the post-American diplomatic perspective, the lives of a few Americans, who knew what they were getting into, was a small sacrifice to make when weighed against the [gullible belief] potential of turning the entire Muslim world around.

      The four Americans killed in Benghazi lived and died by the same code [rules of engagement] as thousands of Americans [who’ve died] in Afghanistan. [1700 US deaths under Obama’s term out of the 2000+] And that code overrode loyalty to one’s own people in favor of appeasing Muslims. The two former SEALS broke that code, violating orders by going to protect the consulate and were abandoned in the field by an administration that prioritized Muslim opinions over American lives.

      Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were not the first Americans to be abandoned by their country for diplomatic reasons. They will not be the last. And while we investigate and expose the decisions that their government made, it is important for us to remember that such decisions come out of a mindset that says there are diplomatic goals that are more important than American lives. This mindset did not begin with the War on Terror and it will not end until it is exposed for what it is.”

      1. I was a bit surprised the President did not order all available resources from NASA to smooth out the Libyan
        “non optimal” situation. Making Muslims feel good about themselves is their prime mission is it not?
        Quite sure the Russians would have provided transportation for the event.

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