Robert Gates is calling out conservatives for the “cartoonish impression of the military” they promote when baselessly criticizing the Obama administration for not sending additional support during the September attack on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Right-wing media have often criticized the administration for what Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan termed their decision to “do nothing” in the face of the attack, with some suggesting that by failing to send additional troops or fighter jets to respond, President Obama had deliberately “sacrificed Americans” as a “political calculation.”
But Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense during the Bush and Obama administrations, debunked these claims and explained that he would have made the same decisions, during his May 12 interview on CBS' Face the Nation.
Gates explained that he “would never have approved sending an aircraft” due to fears it would get shot down, and that he would not have approved sending Special Forces due to a lack of information about what was happening on the ground:
GATES: I think the one place where I might be able to say something useful has to do with some of the talk of the military response. And I listened to the testimony of both Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey, and frankly had I been in the job at the time, I think that my decisions would have been just as theirs were. We don't have a ready force standing by in the Middle East, despite all the turmoil that's going on with planes on strip alert, troops ready to deploy at a moment's notice. And so getting someone there in a timely way would have been very difficult if not impossible.
And frankly I've heard, well, why didn't you just fly a fighter jet over there to scare 'em with the noise or something. Given the number of surface to air missiles that have disappeared from Qaddafi's arsenals I would not have approved sending an aircraft, a single aircraft, over Benghazi under those circumstances.
And with respect to sending in Special Forces or a small group of people to try and provide help, based on everything I've read people really didn't know what was going on in Benghazi contemporaneously, and to 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, I think would have been very dangerous and personally I would not have approved that because we just don't -- it's sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces. The one thing our forces are noted for is planning and preparation before we send people in harm's way, and there just wasn't time.
The Pentagon has said that fighters could not have been sent to Benghazi because they lacked the refueling tankers that would have been needed to get them there and that Special Operations Command Africa instructed a team of Special Forces not to leave Benghazi because they would be needed to provide security in Tripoli. That second team would not have reached Benghazi before the attacks were concluded.