Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a Republican who was appointed to the position by George W. Bush, told CBS News on Saturday that he would have handled the situation in Benghazi the same way that the Obama administration did last September.
During an interview that aired on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday morning, Gates defended the administration’s reaction to the attacks in Libya and dismissed many of the criticisms leveled by his fellow Republicans as “cartoonish”:
“Frankly, had I been in the job at the time, I think my decisions would have been just as theirs were,” said Gates, now the chancellor of the College of William and Mary.
“We don’t have a ready force standing by in the Middle East, and so getting somebody there in a timely way would have been very difficult, if not impossible.” he explained.
Suggestions that we could have flown a fighter jet over the attackers to “scare them with the noise or something,” Gates said, ignored the “number of surface to air missiles that have disappeared from [former Libyan leader] Qaddafi’s arsenals.”
Another suggestion posed by some critics of the administration, to, as Gates said, “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, would have been very dangerous.”
“It’s sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces,” he said. “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.”
Gates also defended former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has increasingly become the subject of Republican criticism. Gates responded with a simple and emphatic “no” when asked if he believed Clinton could possibly be involved in any sort of a cover up, as some Republicans have baselessly suggested.
Republicans have refused to put their Benghazi obsession to rest, focusing on discrepancies between talking points and agency infighting rather than addressing ways to prevent future attacks and finding out who was responsible for the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other colleagues. Critics have accused Republicans of turning their Benghazi hearing into a political circus, trying to hang the attack on Hillary Clinton to hurt her chances of a possible run for the White House in 2016.