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Sunday, Nov 23, 2014
Commentary

Help wasn’t coming in Benghazi: The new reality

Special to The Tampa Tribune
Published:

During a Senate hearing on Benghazi, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously asked: “What difference at this point does it make?” My answer is this: After Benghazi, America changed.

You see, the worst part of this tragedy wasn’t the failure to protect our own, and it wasn’t the Obama administration’s efforts to cover up that failure, as seen in the disturbing emails between top officials at the State Department and other agencies.

The worst part about the assault on our consulate in Benghazi and what we’ve learned since is this: When terrorists attacked our people, the cavalry never came. And it was never going to come.

As a former Army officer, I had the privilege of serving alongside some amazing human beings. They wear the uniform knowing they may lay down their lives for their country. Their charge is to fight and win this country’s wars. Our service members live by the motto, “Leave no one behind.” This is in our DNA.

Or at least it was.

On dates like 9/11, we know our enemies want to make a statement with terror. What better target on that date than an unguarded embassy, in the midst of the Arab Spring? To those of us who opposed our involvement in Libya from the start, Libya’s failure to become a wellspring of a burgeoning democracy was no surprise. Benghazi was a ticking time bomb, and Ambassador Chris Stevens knew it. And so the terrorists attacked, and hours went by before the terror would end.

Secretary Clinton talked to embassy officials during the siege. During one of these calls, two of our men who would ultimately give their lives were still alive. As they defended their ground in the middle of the night on hostile territory, far away from home, one thought was surely racing through their minds: Help is on the way. Backup will be here soon. They must have repeatedly looked to the sky expecting an American aircraft to arrive carrying Marines or Special Forces. As more hours went by, no one came. I can only imagine what they were thinking before they died: Where are they?

When the dust settled, the administration claimed there wasn’t enough time to send a rescue team, a claim repeated countless times. I want to know: How did they know that when they first decided not to send help?

The attack went on for more than eight hours. How did the Obama administration know when the assault was going to end? What if it lasted for 10 or 20 hours? Why not send a rescue team or aircraft at hour two or four or six? Wouldn’t it have been worth it to try?

Politically, Obama could say he tried to save their lives but there just wasn’t time. Tactically, we would have reminded the world that if you mess with the United States, your actions will not go unanswered. Sending help would show Americans serving in harm’s way around the world that we still look after our own.

But the truth is, help was never coming in Benghazi. That is a new reality in this country. Our government wants to portray to the world that everything is fine. They want to show how progressive and open-minded we are. Shows of strength and security at the consulate before the attack wouldn’t fit that mold.

Yet the president was comfortable establishing a consulate, with a real live ambassador, in the middle of one of the most dangerous places in the world without real security. Why? To portray to the world that the Arab Spring was working and President Obama was far removed from the mistakes of the Bush administration. The thinking inside the administration goes: Obama helped the Arabs overthrow oppression where Bush went to war with them.

When the initial attack disproved this notion, the administration did everything it could to protect the narrative. They refused to send help. Sending in military support would have constituted “boots on the ground,” a responsibility the commander in chief did not want to bear. Isolated drones strikes and NATO-led missions are the crux of the Obama Doctrine, and both are worthless against a sudden attack.

In the aftermath, they falsely blamed the attack on a video, then claimed ignorance, and then when caught in a campaign of misinformation, claimed to have acknowledged it was a terrorist attack all along. Confused? That’s the idea.

To cap it all off, no one has been arrested. You burn our consulate? You kill our ambassador? What’s the ol’ U S of A going to do about it? Well, nothing actually. That sends the wrong message not just to the world, but to our troops, and to our kids who may want to serve someday.

Whenever someone raises concerns about Benghazi, the other side cries “politics.” I really don’t care about the politics. I don’t care about what this means for 2014 or 2016. This is bigger than Benghazi, and it’s certainly bigger than election cycles.

I care about the moment those men knew they were alone and would die, and the sinking feeling they must have experienced when they realized help wasn’t on the way. I care about the new reality, where Americans under attack can’t expect relief to come. And that breaks my heart. The “shining city on the hill” is a little dimmer after Benghazi.


Congressman Tom Rooney is a member of the House Intelligence and Appropriations Committees and a veteran of the U.S. Army. A Republican, he represents Florida’s 17th district, which includes part of Hillsborough County.

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