Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Why the Slow Response Time in Benghazi?

Amid the burgeoning controversy over what the administration–and who in the administration–knew what, when about Benghazi, Marc Thiessen raises an important point: “the more serious scandal” is “the Obama administration’s utter failure to respond.”

As he notes, it took less than a month for the Bush administration to respond to 9/11 with an invasion of Afghanistan and less than a month (two weeks to be exact) for the Clinton administration to respond to the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya with cruise missile strikes on al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and on a suspected chemical-weapons plant in Sudan. The latter strikes were utterly ineffectual–but at least the U.S. did something.

In the case of Benghazi, it has taken the FBI three weeks merely to get to Benghazi to investigate the attack which left our ambassador and three others dead, even though reporters had no problem getting to the site of the consulate immediately after the attack. The administration appears to be confused about whether to treat this as a criminal investigation or an act of war and seems, at least for the time being, to be leaning toward the former option. In this, the Benghazi attack resembles the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which both the Clinton and Bush administrations allowed to pass without a military response. Those unwittingly setting the stage for 9/11.

Admittedly, a response in the case of Libya is complicated by the fact that it has a friendly government, thus the U.S. is under pressure not to undermine that government’s standing with a unilateral military response. But the U.S. has an overriding interest in showing that attacks on our diplomats will be met with an overwhelming response–and that response has been utterly lacking so far.

It is possible, of course, that the administration is patiently collecting intelligence and waiting to strike. Admittedly action between now and the election will inevitably be criticized in some quarters as a “wag the dog” scenario but, just as they did with the 1998 strikes on Afghanistan and Sudan (which occurred in the middle of the Monica Lewinsky scandal), Republicans are likely to support any military action against terrorists. Politics aside, it is imperative for the U.S. to show that this attack will not be lost in a morass of dead-end criminal investigations.