Clinton Escapes Damage From the Benghazi Report, but the Pentagon Takes a Hit
Policy + Politics

Clinton Escapes Damage From the Benghazi Report, but the Pentagon Takes a Hit

© Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

The Select Committee on Benghazi, convened more than two years ago by House Republican leaders to investigate the 2012 attacks on two U.S. facilities in that Libyan city, issued its proposed final report Tuesday, and along with it a number of embarrassing new details. Despite being seen by many as a partisan effort to damage the presidential campaign of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the revelations in the report (download a list of “new facts” from the committee here) will likely hit the reputation of the U.S. military and intelligence community hardest.

The report found extraordinary delays in the response time of three different military units that were directed to deploy to Libya during the attacks, which killed four U.S. citizens, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

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Members of the Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, a specially-trained contingent of U.S. Marines based in Spain, waited hours for air transportation to arrive, because appropriate aircraft for the team were located not in Spain but hundreds of miles away, in Germany. Once on board, they waited hours more before takeoff as officials dithered about details.

“So we were told multiple times to change what we were wearing, to change from cammies into civilian attire, civilian attire into cammies, cammies into civilian attire,” the FAST platoon commander told Congressional investigators.

“There was also some talk of whether or not we could carry our personal weapons. I was basically holding hard and fast to the point where we were carrying our personal weapons. Like, we’ve got a very violent thing going on the ground where we’re going, so we’re going to be carrying something that can protect ourselves. But as far as what the Marines were wearing, that continually changed, and we had to make those changes inside of the aircraft.”

Investigators found that a different team, deployed on a training mission in Croatia when they were ordered to respond to events in Libya, was also delayed for up to nine hours because of a lack of air transport. A special operations team deployed from the U.S. also faced delays.

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“None of the relevant military forces met their required deployment timelines,” the report found.

By the time the last of the four Americans to die in the attack were killed, eight hours had passed since the White House, State Department and Defense Department had been made aware of the attacks. At that point, not only had no military assets reached Benghazi, the report notes, none had even left their bases.

Other new revelations in the 800-page report are less surprising and focus mainly on the details of the public response by the Obama administration to the attacks. The Republican line, reinforced by the report, is that there was a concerted effort on the part of the administration to hide the fact that the attacks were perpetrated by an organized terrorist group. The suggestion is that, with the presidential election looming, the Obama administration did not want word to get out that there had been a major terrorist attack on the president’s watch.

The Democrats countered that conflicting statements by the administration in the days and weeks after the attack were the inevitable result of incomplete intelligence and the “fog of war,” further complicated by the fact that the attack took place at the same time protests were erupting across multiple cities in the region.

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The results of the committee’s two-year, $7 million investigation will likely do little to change any minds on the issue of the administration’s public messaging in the wake of the attacks. However, the report appears to deepen Congress’s understanding of the intelligence failures and lack of military preparedness that other investigations into the attacks had already revealed. Those investigations have already resulted significant security increases at U.S. facilities around the world, and redeployment of forces trained to respond to attacks like the one in Benghazi.

Whether the cost of the investigation, in both dollars and manpower, was justified by the results will likely never be a settled question. Republicans have a vested interest in insisting that the investigation, which ran longer than the inquiry into President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, was a worthwhile endeavor aimed at revealing security failures and vulnerabilities. Democrats will just as loudly claim that the effort was a wasteful witch-hunt, aimed at digging up dirt on Clinton in advance of her presidential run.

If the Republicans’ claim is true, the committee can be characterized as a minor success, helping to shine a spotlight on the failures of the Obama administration’s preparedness and immediate military response to the attacks. If the Democrats are right, it was largely a failure. While the panel certainly inconvenienced Clinton and kept the nearly four-year-old event surrounding the attack in the news, it producing no significant revelations likely to convince anyone who wasn’t already convinced of her culpability.