Benghazi: A Success Story

This week, a Republican-led commission question Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for hours about the Benghazi attacks. While their goal is certainly to find politically-useful failures, all they’re accomplishing is the resurrection of the most important diplomatic and national security success stories in the last 20 years.

Four American diplomats lost their lives in Benghazi, and nothing makes that less tragic. As found by the Accountability Review Board, the incident was the result of inadequate security precautions stemming from interagency communication issues. In short, no one knew who was responsible for adequately protecting the Consulate. This is of course inexcusable. However, “The interagency response was timely and appropriate, but there simply was not enough time for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference.”  This is the important dividing line: while mistakes allowed the attack to be successful, the response was swift and effective.

Rumors and accusations have been thrown around, so lets first clear the timeline up.

Sept 12

09:41p A Local CIA annex receives a call that the Benghazi Consulate is under attack.

09:56p Six CIA Security Operatives leave for the consulate and encounter heavy resistance as the entered the consulate compound.

??:?? Sean Smith succumbs to smoke inhalation after a fire bomb hits the consulate. The injured Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens is rescued by Libyan civilians and taken to a local hospital where he too passes away.

11:11p An unarmed drone arrives on location, diverted from an ongoing mission elsewhere in Libya.

11:30p All American’s other than Ambassador Stevens are evacuated from the consulate under fire.

01:00a The initial attacked is dispersed and another six-man CIA security team arrives onsite having just been charted in from Tripoli.

05:15a Two CIA Operatives (the former Navy Seals) Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods die in a mortar attack on the CIA annex. That attack is repelled after only eleven minutes

06:00a The annex is evacuated with the help of the Libyan militar

Sept 13

             Obama promises a full investigation into the apparently coordinated attacks           

 Sept 14

           Four people arrested in Libya in connection to the attacks

 Sept 22

Hundreds march in Benghazi against radical Islam and take over the headquarters of a group tied to the attack. Later that evening another Radical Islamic organization loosely tied to the attack has it’s headquarters peacefully occupied by protesters.

Oct 24

          One suspect arrested in Tunisia, one suspect killed in a firefight with police in Egypt.


What this timeline shows is isn’t a view into a failed security system, it shows us that sometimes bad things happen and you can’t always stop it. The response by local CIA security was swift, Libyan civilians risked their own lives to save the American Ambassador and then took to the streets against radical Islam, the Libyan military helped repel the attack, and suspects have been quietly arrested in 3 different Middle Eastern countries. 

What strikes is the international cooperation in apprehending the perpetrators. In 2009, Obama gave a speech in Cairo titled “A New Beginning”. It was a speech not to those in the Cairo University hall, or those in Egypt, but was regarded as a message to all the Middle East. This new beginning is what we saw after Benghazi. Rather than invading or deposing uncooperative powers and hunting down unknown enemies ourselves, The White House reached out and asked our newly-found allies to  use their resources, their knowledge, their security forces to help us police the issue together.

Gone is the Hubris that told to solve everything ourselves. Gone is responding in anger and sacrificing our diplomatic relations. I struggle to think of a a more successful example that highlights Obama’s patient, quiet approach to change.

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