May 14 2013

Who Gave the Order to Stand Down?

Charlotte Hays

I wish somebody had just asked the venerable Ambassador Thomas Pickering—who helped prepare a not-so-hard-hitting report on Benghazi and who made the rounds of the talk shows Sunday—“So who gave the order to stand down?”

Benghazi watchers will know that the order to stand down was given to would be rescuers in Tripoli, who were preparing to go to Benghazi and try to help our beleaguered Americans on the ground.

The order not to go to Benghazi may have been based solely on a belief that rescue was impossible, though it would still be reprehensive not to try. It is difficult to predict when an attack will end.

But we can’t make a judgment about the order until we know who gave it. We can't ask why until we know who. We can speculate on who gave the order. But we don’t know. This is something high ranking members of the administration know. We deserve to know, too.

Pickering would no doubt have said that the question of who gave the order was outside the purview of the Benghazi review he coauthored.

It is interesting that this is a question that has not been answered. National Review’s Jim Geraghty knows why we don’t know more:

 When there is evidence of scandalous or bizarre behavior on the part of a political figure, and no reasonable explanation is revealed within 24 to 48 hours, then the truth is probably as bad as everyone suspects.

Nobody withholds exculpatory information. Nobody who’s been accused of something wrong waits for “just the right moment” to unveil information that proves the charge baseless. Political figures never choose to deliberately let themselves twist in the wind. It’s not the instinctive psychological reaction to being falsely accused, it’s not what any public communications professional would recommend, and to use one of our president’s favorite justifications, it’s just common sense.

If the decisions made the night of the Benghazi attack are as bad as they are likely to be, I am afraid that the issue of character of our high public servants will come into play. Mark Steyn waxed dishearteningly eloquent on this subject:  

Shortly before last November’s election I took part in a Fox News documentary on Benghazi, whose other participants included the former governor of New Hampshire John Sununu. Making chit-chat while the camera crew were setting up, Governor Sununu said to me that in his view Benghazi mattered because it was “a question of character.” That’s correct. On a question of foreign policy or counterterrorism strategy, men of good faith can make the wrong decisions. But a failure of character corrodes the integrity of the state.

That’s why career diplomat Gregory Hicks’s testimony was so damning — not so much for the new facts as for what those facts revealed about the leaders of this republic. In this space in January, I noted that Hillary Clinton had denied ever seeing Ambassador Stevens’s warnings about deteriorating security in Libya on the grounds that “1.43 million cables come to my office” — and she can’t be expected to see all of them, or any. Once Ambassador Stevens was in his flag-draped coffin listening to her eulogy for him at Andrews Air Force Base, he was her bestest friend in the world — it was all “Chris this” and “Chris that,” as if they’d known each other since third grade. But up till that point he was just one of 1.43 million close personal friends of Hillary trying in vain to get her ear….

Are murdered ambassadors like those 1.43 million cables she doesn’t read? Just too many of them to keep track of? No. Only six had been killed in the history of the republic — seven, if you include Arnold Raphel, who perished in General Zia’s somewhat mysterious plane crash in Pakistan in 1988. Before that you have to go back to Adolph Dubs, who died during a kidnapping attempt in Kabul in 1979.

So we have here a once-in-a-third-of-a-century event. And at 3 a.m. Libyan time on September 12 it’s still unfolding, with its outcome unclear. Hicks is now America’s head man in the country, and the cabinet secretary to whom he reports says, “Leave a message after the tone and I’ll get back to you before the end of the week.” Just to underline the difference here: Libya’s head of government calls Hicks, but nobody who matters in his own government can be bothered to.

President Obama said yesterday that the talk about the altered talking points, the false message that was given to the public by the administration after Benghazi, is a “side show."

Okay, so come clean, Mr. President. Tell us about that night. What were you doing? Where were you?

The "side show" dismissal could end up being President Obama’s “depends on what the meaning of is is” moment.

In a nation where character counts less than it once did, Clinton’s “is is” line became the punch line of a joke.

But even now it is impossible to laugh when four Americans lost their lives.

    

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