Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to give their long-awaited testimony on Benghazi. Republicans have been attacking the Obama administration for the inability of U.S. troops to reach Benghazi in the seven-hour window of the two waves of attacks. Panetta insisted that “time and distance” were the factors most to blame, strongly quelling ideas of military omnipresence:
PANETTA: The United States military, as I’ve said, is not and frankly should not be a 911 service, arriving on the scene within minutes to every possible contingency around the world.
Despite this, Senate Republicans repeatedly asked why the U.S. military never swooped in to save the Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues seeming to understand neither the process in which troops are deployed or the vastness of Northern Africa. The Republican Senators berated Panetta and Dempsey for alternately for providing satisfactory answers or outright lying. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in particular hit Dempsey for providing “simply false” testimony on the time it took to move troops:
McCAIN: We didn’t take into account threats to that consulate. [...] We could have placed forces there. We could have had aircraft and other capabilities as short a distance away as Soudah Bay, Crete [in Greece].
Watch a small sample of the GOP’s off-base questions here:
If the Republicans had done their homework, or listened to the testimony given, they would have saved themselves a lot of time. For example, the air base McCain referenced is actually used primarily for NATO operations, and did not house forces that could have been used in response to attacks in Benghazi, requiring military personnel to be flown in from Central Europe and Spain to Sigonalla Air Base in Italy. Likewise the time and difficulty in moving those troops has been discussed by Panetta before.
The argument of Senate Republicans that the military ignored glaring warnings Benghazi has likewise been disproved. As Panetta said in his testimony, in the months leading up to Benghazi the National Counterterrorism Center logged 281 threats against embassies and their personnel. At no time was there an explicit threat flagged in the intelligence gathered that indicated that Benghazi was more threatened than other diplomatic locations in Yemen, Sudan, or Egypt.