Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told CBS News that Republican lawmakers who are blasting President Barack Obama’s administration for failing to take military action during last September’s surprise attacks in Benghazi have a “cartoonish” view of the military.
“I listened to the testimony of [Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta] and [Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey],” Gates explained to CBS host Bob Schieffer in an interview that aired on Sunday. “And, frankly, had I been in the job at the time, I think my decisions would have been just as theirs were.”
“We don’t have a ready force standing by in the Middle East — despite all the turmoil that’s going on — with planes on strip alert, troops ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. And so, getting somebody there in a timely way would have been very difficult, if not impossible.”
He continued: “And, frankly, I’ve heard, ‘Why didn’t you just fly a fighter jet over and try and scare them with the noise or something?’ Well, given the number of surface to air missiles that have disappeared from [former Libya dictator Muammar] Gaddafi’s arsenals, I would not have approved sending an aircraft, a single aircraft, over Benghazi under those circumstances.”
Gates pointed out that others had suggested that the military could have sent in Special Forces or some other small group.
“Based on everything I’ve read, people really didn’t know what was going on in Benghazi contemporaneously, and to send some small number of Special Forces or other troops in without knowing what the environment is, without knowing what the threat is, without having any intelligence in terms of what is actually going on on the ground, I think, would have been very dangerous,” the former defense secretary observed. “And personally, I would not have approved that.”
“It’s sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces. The one thing that our forces are noted for is planning and preparation before we send people in harm’s way. And there just wasn’t time to do that.”
Watch this video from the CBS’ Face the Nation, broadcast May 12, 2013.