Secretary Gates on Benghazi Critics’ ‘Cartoonish’ View of Military Capability

Robert Gates

One Republican whom I have always admired — there are others — is Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Even on issues that I disagreed with him — such as his refusal to approve the Medal of Honor for Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta — I have continued to respect him.

Today, among the cabal that is Benghazi, there rose one Republican voice that has steadfastly refused to join the circus and the feeding frenzy and who spoke truth and reason: Secretary Gates.

On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Gates told it like it is: That some critics of the administration have a “cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces.”

He said, “Frankly, had I been in the job at the time, I think my decisions would have been just as theirs were…We don’t have a ready force standing by in the Middle East, and so getting somebody there in a timely way would have been very difficult, if not impossible.”

Countering those who suggested that we could have flown a fighter jet over the attackers to “scare them with the noise or something,” Gates said that such ignores the “number of surface to air missiles that have disappeared from [former Libyan leader] Qaddafi’s arsenals” and that he “would not have approved sending an aircraft, a single aircraft, over Benghazi under those circumstances,” according to CBS News.

On another criticism by many Republicans, Gates said, “send some small number of special forces or other troops in without knowing what the environment is, without knowing what the threat is, without having any intelligence in terms of what is actually going on on the ground, would have been very dangerous.”

He added, “It’s sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces…The one thing that our forces are noted for is planning and preparation before we send people in harm’s way, and there just wasn’t time to do that.”

Gates said he could not speak to allegations that the State Department refused requests for additional security in the months prior to the attack. However, when asked whether he thought it might be possible that that the State Department engineered a coverup to protect Hillary Clinton’s political future, Gates replied flatly, “No.”

Watch the entire interview covering other critical issues, such as Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea, here

Source: CBS Face the Nation

  

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

Share This Post On

26 Comments

  1. I watched my brother’s career in F-14s over twenty years. Our military is rightly very protective of the pilots and RIOs lives as well as the tactical aircraft. Their planning is meticulous. Even when they scrambled they usually know what they are getting into.

  2. Tea party pundits and the buffoons working for News Corp tend to have a simplistic, unrealistic comic book view of the world in general.

  3. My guess Gates comments won’t make it onto Fox or other right wing sources or they will try to discredit him.

  4. I agree that “cartoonish” is an apt description of the republican leadership worldview. As for Gates, he has always impressed me as having a level of maturity above the standard GOP mentality – which Dorian appropriately describes here as a “feeding frenzy”.

  5. Dorian, two thumbs up on the Peralta reference. As a reminder to readers, Peralta and his family immigrated from Mexico City, Mexico. He graduated from high school in San Diego and joined the Marine Corps as soon as he held a green card. He became a US citizen while in the Marine Corps. He is universally held as a hero in San Diego and is burried locally in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.

  6. I agree that the entire Benghazi scandal has been overplayed by relying on a cartoonish notion of what the military is capable of. It’s often said that even if a fighter Jet had been sent in immediately, it would have taken at least two hours to get to Benghazi, and with proper planning involved, it would have taken many more hours than that.

    Beyond the issue of whether terrorist groups would have had a number of surface-to-air missiles on hand that could have taken down the jet, one also has to ask whether a violent attack on the embassy could have been prevented by a simple fly over scare alone? Once people have the blood lust to attack in their veins, I don’t know if the simple presence of a fighter jet would motivate them to stop. Correct me if I am wrong but,isn’t it true that the close proximity of attackers to the actual embassy compound would mean that any attack on them would have also taken out or seriously damaged the embassy and its officials also? Knowing that, would terrorists in the midst of an attack, who are not unknown for employing suicidal strategies, have been deterred at all by that display of power in the first place?

    I know very little of the militaries capabilities, but I have always admired Gates also—as someone who isn’t afraid to speak truthfully. It seems that the military in general is uncritical of the administration, and, I doubt that we could automatically expect such loyalty unless the Military brass approved of the President’s handling of the War on terror.

    No doubt some mistakes in communicating the events are on the hands of the State department, but were the situation reversed, Democrats might well have made the same kind of criticisms against Republicans.

    This controversy is largely a typical propaganda move that can be used by either party to politically destroy the reputation of the other—particularly that of the President and the State dept.—in this case particularly Hillary’s role. The drama, might go on for quite a while, but, will eventually return to a less prominent place in the news. Scandals like this are part of what Washington’s politics thrives upon, and they will not go away soon—most likely not deciding anything new, or earth shattering, anyway!

  7. Thanks, KP.

    I have been following the story — trail of tears might be a better description — of Rafael Peralta’s (posthumous) struggle for the Medal of Honor which he so rightly deserves for three or four years now, and have probably written about five or six articles on it.

    Most of them focus on the act of valor that made him deserving of the Medal and on the subsequent struggles.

    Since you seem to be familiar with him, if you have any information on his pre-military life, it would be fantastic if you could write about it.

    For what I have written, just Google ‘Dorian de Wind Rafael Peralta Medal of Honor’

    Thanks

  8. I also respect Gates and as a cartoonish Rep I hope to hear this on September 11, 2013 from the military, SD and intelligence: that there are contingency plans for providing enhanced protection for our embassies, consulates, and facilities in as many of the “hot spots” all over the world as possible. If Gates was assigned the task, I’m sure he could get it done, especially if a new anti-Islamic video is being ballyhooed.

    I am sorry that he sees no aspects of a coverup, but I respect his opinion.

  9. I agree with what you say, Petew, except with “it would have taken at least two hours to get to Benghazi.”

    Most military experts — including former Secretary of Defense Panetta — say that it would have taken from nine to 20 hours (the latter is somewhat steep in my opinion) to get to Benghazi from the nearest U.S. fighter base at Aviano, Italy.

    Factors involved are not only the distance but also the facts that no fighters were on hot alert; crews would have to be alerted and brought in; mission briefings and planning done; aircraft fueled and armed for the type of mission; refueling tankers alerted, launched and put on station (remember, the fighters need to return to base after any action over Libya); if these are NATO fighters, necessary coordination performed, etc., etc.

    I am sure I am leaving other factors out.

  10. I am sorry that he sees no aspects of a coverup, but I respect his opinion.

    Just out of curiosity, why are you sorry?

    I’m going to take a stab in the dark here and say that – as a former member of Obama’s Cabinet – Gates is one of the very few people in a position to speak authoritatively on the subject. As a former member of the Bush Cabinet and a high ranking CIA officer under Reagan and Bush 41, it is hard to argue that Gates is a partisan Democrat seeking to defend his liberal friends.

    He was certainly circumspect in his comments, but it was pretty clear to me after watching the interview that he thinks the implication of a cover-up is absurd.

    So what, exactly, is there to be sorry about?

  11. The “cover up” is being framed incorrectly by conservatives. As Gates said, the idea that there is a cover up of possible failures by the administration during the crisis is absolutely cartoonish. What happened on the ground is by far the real issue here.

    Now, what happened afterwards is and should be in question. The State Dept did clean the report. Why that happened should be investigated.

    Reps are trying to pin the crisis on the admin (particularly Hillary) … and American deaths… and that is BS.

  12. Well said cjjack and Shannon. Most of us know the GOP prefers their own version of events rather than the reality and it’s an old M.O. The tragedy is bad enough without political exploitation by people who have so little credibility. As for the question cj raised? It’s a good one.

  13. I respect Gates too and I think his comment about the surface to air missiles makes sense. I’m struck by the fact that I haven’t heard anyone previously mention this though. If the risk of planes being shot down figured into the decision, why didn’t they just say so? It would certainly be a defensible command decision to feel that the risk outweighed the potential benefit.

    I’m also struck by some inconsistencies that the military should somehow try to reconcile. On one of the Sunday shows I heard a Congressman who was former military commenting on the principle that they are taught in training, to do everything possible to survive if they go down behind enemy lines because they should always know that their country will move heaven and earth to come and get them. So, is this valid, or not? How do you tell people that they should try to survive as long as possible in hellish conditions, if the reality is that help may not be forthcoming if it is deemed too risky?

  14. Too bad events in Benghazi couldn’t have been handled with the luxury of hindsight we have now eh?

  15. CJ, my words have less value around here so I’ll go with what SL said: “Now, what happened afterwards is and should be in question. The State Dept did clean the report. Why that happened should be investigated.”

    It is so obvious, that is why I am sorry BG said what he did about this aspect which IS NOT his field of expertise. He is a military expert, and perhaps not a political expert, I don’t know, but and is merely expressing an opinion about the, I won’t call it a coverup, but a “cleaning” of the original CIA report which was scrubbed so hard that only the video emerged from the bleach. We really don’t know why “whomever” did what they did, although Maureen Dowd has voiced her OPINION:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05......html?_r=0

  16. CS says:

    “I respect Gates too and I think his comment about the surface to air missiles makes sense. I’m struck by the fact that I haven’t heard anyone previously mention this though. If the risk of planes being shot down figured into the decision, why didn’t they just say so? It would certainly be a defensible command decision to feel that the risk outweighed the potential benefit.”

    Thanks, CS.

    The “fact” that the surface-to-air-missile threat (there are thousands of them “circulating” in Libya) may or may not have been publicly mentioned before (and I doubt that it has not been) does not mean that the military and administration officials did not consider such in their decision making.

    As to this threat and risks involved, “way back then:”

    (The) basic principle is that you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on; without having some real-time information about what’s taking place,” Panetta told Pentagon reporters. “And as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, Gen. Ham, Gen. Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation.”

    Panetta was referring to Gen. Carter Ham, the head of U.S. Africa Command, and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

  17. Dorian, my issue is that the statement you quoted is very different than what Gates postulated, in terms of specificity and what that implies about our military capabilities. What Panetta and Ham implied is that we can’t do rescue missions at all because it’s too risky, based on the fact that we will never have a complete picture of what is happening on the ground. What Gates said has much different implications because it is about specific knowledge we had about this incident and environment, regarding the prolific number of surface to air weapons that were known to be floating around in Libya.

    I just think it’s much more defensible to say that we sadly had to make a decision not to attempt a rescue in this case because of known facts, than to say that we didn’t know enough (especially since we know thwy had a live feed from a drone at the time.) the first explanation means that people in these situations in the future can still hope for backup, and know that reasonable attempts will be made if possible. The second suggests that it’s much more likely that they will be on their own.

  18. “I just think it’s much more defensible to say that we sadly had to make a decision not to attempt a rescue in this case because of known facts…”

    The fact that 20,000 surface-to-air missiles went missing after the overthrow of Qadaffi and that thousands may have fallen into the hands of terrorists in Libya was a very well known, public fact almost a year before Benghazi.(even Fox knew about it :) )

    So, there’s no need to keep alleging that this is just a recent concern (i.e. Gates’ over-the-weekend mention of it). Believe me, for military considering any kind of air action over a country with hundreds if not thousands of deadly surface-to-air missiles on the loose is always a very serious concern — a concern that even a layperson can understand.

    Added:

    As to, “the first explanation means that people in these situations in the future can still hope for backup, and know that reasonable attempts will be made if possible. The second suggests that it’s much more likely that they will be on their own.,” I would not rush to such a conclusion about our military.

  19. So perhaps, in the future, there will be more coordination between the potential military responders and the State Dept., so we don’t set up facilities without the possibility for timely support.

  20. Dorian,

    Thanks for giving me a bit more information about the technical aspect involved in sending a jet to fly over the Libyan embassy. Maybe this is not a good analogy, but there are so many things in life that we assume should be easier than they are i.e. Just because a Dr. knows you need your gall bladder operated on, doesn’t mean that he can bring together all of the specialists and technical equipment needed to perform the operation in thirty minutes. He can’t just lay you on a table and grab a scalpel to do the job right! Very few technological undertakings can be done in such a simple way.

    Maybe my analogy is overly simplified, and would be more aptly called a hypothetical example, but I think most people will get my point.

  21. Thanks, Petew.

    Pretty good analogy

    I don’t know if my comments were really “technical aspects.” Most reasonable people, I believe, can think of most of those time, planning and “technical” requirements to launch a risky mission at extremely short notice from afar to a place not quite in control yet of the central government and brimming with deadly surface-to-air missiles….

  22. So, do we agree that the logistics needed to protect our people should be figured and and implemented for all future hot spots and if that is not feasible then said hot spots should not be set up.

  23. The brave men and women who volunteer to serve their country in diplomatic, intelligence, military services know that there are risks involved and do not expect one hundred percent assurances that they will not be placed in harm’s way.

    They do expect their country to take reasonable precautions to maximize their safety.

    There is no way for the United States to predict all future “hot spots” and to take “fail safe” measures to “protect” those hot spots a priori all over the world.

    Just my dos centavos.

  24. I guess we disagree.

  25. “So, do we agree that the logistics needed to protect our people should be figured and and implemented for all future hot spots and if that is not feasible then said hot spots should not be set up.”

    Let me draw a scenario for you. We helped Libya overthrow their dictator. One of the key selling points for this on the domestic front was that our involvement was limited, and did not involve “boots on the ground”. After the overthrow, an unavoidable period of uncertainty exists while the new govt coalition tries to stitch back together a nation. As a side effect of this, there are lots of loose weapons around and a great deal of extremists and fighters suddenly with a lot less to do on their hands.

    Libya has little desire for any significant American military presence. It will undermine the new govt, and will also seem on the American side as a commitment and escalation, which again wasn’t in the selling points of taking action. However, obviously the situation needs intel. We don’t want a pack of guys showing up with Libyan weapons and the CIA says we got nothing because we never thought to get any assets into the region to monitor things. So the CIA sets up a standard mission via the State Dept. Those going know the risks. In addition to regular embassy/consulate staffing you include special forces assets, experienced operatives to help with the program of tracking weapons. Again, the goal is to get intel without violating the rules of undermining the new govt in Libya.

    Now, knowing those weapons are out there and that the region is in flux, but with the condition that you can’t have Seal Team 6 stationed down the road, do you simply not monitor the situation? Obviously the answer to that is no, you do monitor the situation because that’s the CIA’s job. With or without overwhelming and local military support.

  26. OK, I think.

Submit a Comment