Why didn’t Obama order troops to Benghazi to protect what remained of our diplomatic delegation and their security staff? The only known communication between the president and the Defense Secretary during the attack took place about one and one half hours after the assault began. Why didn’t Obama call for reinforcements?
More to the point, as the attack escalated and its dimensions became clearer, why didn’t Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ask him for authority to order relief for the beleaguered mission? Why didn’t he even ask?
Clearly, the president must have been pretty firm in his one meeting with Panetta that he did not want to send in more troops to rescue those already on the ground in Benghazi. He must have made it so plain that the Secretary did not think it necessary — and perhaps didn’t dare — to ask if his hands-off instruction still stood.
What was the president’s motivation?
It comes as no surprise that eight weeks before an election, it was political, but how and why?
To grasp Obama’s state of mind at the time, we have to realize that he had to win the vote of every last supporter in order to prevail. His campaign was not about swing voters, but about a 100% turnout of his base. Every last African-American, Latino, single mother, and gay voter had to come out and vote or he would not win.
Another key part of his base was the anti-war voters. It was, after all, his opposition to the Iraq War which propelled him into contention against Hillary Clinton in 2007-2008. From the start of his Libyan intervention, he must have worried that he would alienate his supporters by starting another war.
In a profile of President Obama by Vanity Fair’s Michael Lewis suggested that he was obsessed with avoiding any casualties as he sought to lead the war “from behind.” Lewis noted that casualties in Libya might create a narrative about how “a president elected to extract us from a war in one Arab country got Americans killed in another.”
So Obama must have felt he had to lean over backwards not to put more boots on the ground lest they lead to the dreaded casualties. At the time of his meeting with Panetta, Obama did not know that the ambassador was dead and the others who would fall that day had not yet been hit.
So the bottom line is this: President Obama was so anxious to preserve his reputation as a peace candidate that he resisted calls for intervention which might have saved — and, to be fair, could have cost additional — American lives. He certainly put politics first.
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