Conservatives have claimed — in their quest to politicize the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya last month — that the Obama administration is culpable for the deaths that resulted from assault because it denied field requests for military assistance during the attack. As evidence, many have argued that drones deployed to the area that day could have stopped the attackers.
“You’d certainly agree if [the drones] were armed they…could have been used to try to break up the attack,” Fox News host Chris Wallace said on Sunday.
Fox News confirmed this week that the drones were actually unarmed. That only surveillance drones were used over Libya that night, opposed to sending armed drones of the type used in the Horn of Africa and other counter-terrorism environments, has raised the temper of right-wing commentators.
Even Washington Post’s David Ignatius asked why the unmanned aerial vehicles were sent in without missiles. Members of the right-wing media, including Jennifer Rubin and Fox News, have latched onto Ignatius’ column as proving their point.
However, Ignatius provided an answer to his own question regarding the use of armed drones or other air assets later in the column:
Looking back, it may indeed have been wise not to bomb targets in Libya that night. Given the uproar in the Arab world, this might have been the equivalent of pouring gasoline on a burning fire.
Joshua Foust, a fellow at the American Security Project, also doubts that using armed drones would have had a major impact. “Drones are great for rural conflicts with low population density, like the countrysides of Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Yemen, but are very bad at riot control in an urban conflict,” Foust said in an email interview. “Basically, the calls for armed drones assume that a drone could have meaningfully distinguished between legitimate militant targets and illegitimate targets such as the embassy’s contracted militia guards or normal civilians who were also in the crowds nearby. Additionally, any time you use an aircraft to fire ordinance right near your own compound you take an extreme risk of hurting or killing your own side.” (Even former Bush administration official Paul Wolfowitz agrees on this point.)
The increasing focus on armed drones is part of dangerous narrative emerging on the far right in which the President of the United States and his administration sat idly by while watching people die in “real-time.” There’s already a hashtag in use on Twitter among the far right, labeling Obama as the #ButcherofBenghazi. Allowing the story to run unchecked hinders actual questions into the events on Sept. 11 from getting answers, while simultaneously spreading misinformation.