Monday, October 15, 2012

What Didn't the President Know and Why Didn't He Know It?

The consulate in Libya was attacked by terrorists. The ambassador and three other Americans were killed. The attack was made by a local affiliate of Al Qaeda and was monitored in real-time by the State Department.

The attack came after several pleas for more security at the consulate and after the Ambassador had expressed fears that he was being targeted personally. Benghaze had been getting more dangerous in general. The Red Cross pulled out of the city. The State Department admits that Al Qaeda has growing influence in Libya and there are larger areas that are friendly to them than to the US.

And the attack came on September 11. The first September 11th since the death of Osama bin Lauden.

So, why didn't the government issue warnings to the State Department staff? Why was the Ambassador traveling without sufficient guards? Why did the White House and the Ambassador to the UN insist for days that the attacks were nothing more than an out-of-control demonstration over a YouTube video?

The current excuse is "We didn't know any better. No one told us."

This is also the excuse given for Operation Fast and Furious. That involved allowing guns to be sold to people who would "walk" them across the border and sell them to drug gangs. Guns sold through this program have been used in the death of hundreds of Mexicans and at least one American. When asked about this, President Obama claimed that the program had been started during the Bush administration and ended as soon as Attorney General Holder was made aware of it. This combines an outright lie (the program started nine months after Obama's inauguration) and a prevarication (Supposedly no one though that the deaths of hundreds of Mexicans was important enough to inform Holder of the program. He wasn't informed until after Congress began asking for details.)

President Truman was know for the plaque on his desk that read, "The buck stops here". This meant that he took responsibility for everything that happened under his administration. The same is true in the military. An officer is responsible for the actions of his men.

Granted, there is too much information for anyone at the top to know everything. Part of being in command is prioritizing the flow of information. What is important and what is not?

How is this handled in the Obama White House? While we don't know specifics, we do know that Obama dislikes briefings. He prefers to be handed a stack of memos. On policy decisions he is given options and he places check marks or minuses beside his choices. On rare occasions he will pencil in a one or two line question.

There is no direct feedback, no way for subordinates to know what issues the President is interested in and no subtlety. Just checks and minuses.

Since the President reads these papers by himself at night there is no way of knowing if he even reads security briefings.

The whole system is designed to discourage the flow of information to the President. It is quite possible that the White House is being truthful when they say that they did not have any information about the attacks. But that raises the question, "Why didn't they know?"

We can get some indication of the President's priorities by his actions on September 11 and 12. He was informed that the consulate was under attack and the Ambassador missing at 10 pm. He then disappeared into the residential portion of the White House and went to bed. The following day he cancelled a security briefing to announce that the ambassador was dead then he flew to a fund raiser at Las Vegas (remember when he threatened banks that had accepted TARP funds to avoid Las Vegas?).

The President did not want to know. How far down does this attitude extend? Are the people who can make decisions like authorizing more guards getting the requests?

During the Bush administration, Democrats complained that he was exaggerating the threat of al Qaeda attacks on the anniversary of September 11. Did this attitude cause the State Department to downplay real threats?

The Obama campaign is insisting that we should not care about these issues and that anyone who asks these questions is just playing politics. This is a shameful response. The death of Americans overseas is always an issue. The death of an ambassador elevates it.

Obama is asking for four more years so it is only right that we be allowed to ask if the security of America is being adequately addressed. This is not a question of politics, it is a question of competence and it needs to be answered.

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