If, at the 5:00 p.m. Oval Office meeting with Defense Secretary Panetta and Vice President Biden, President Obama said about Benghazi: “I think we should not go the military action route,” meaning that no CBA will be granted, then that is it. Case closed. Another possibility is that the president might have said: “We should do what we can to help them … but no military intervention from outside of Libya.” Those words then constitute “standing orders” all the way down the chain of command, via Panetta and General Dempsey to General Ham and the subordinate commanders who are already gearing up to rescue the besieged outpost.
When that meeting took place, it may have seemed as if the consulate attack was over, so President Obama might have thought the situation would stabilize on its own from that point forward. If he then goes upstairs to the family quarters, or otherwise makes himself “unavailable,” then his last standing orders will continue to stand until he changes them, even if he goes to sleep until the morning of September 12.
Nobody in the chain of command below President Obama can countermand his “standing orders” not to send outside military forces into Libyan air space. Nobody. Not Leon Panetta, not Hillary Clinton, not General Dempsey, and not General Ham in Stuttgart, Germany, who is in charge of the forces staging in Sigonella.
Perhaps the president left “no outside military intervention, no cross-border authority” standing orders, and then made himself scarce to those below him seeking further guidance, clarification, or modified orders. Or perhaps he was in the Situation Room watching the Predator videos in live time for all seven hours. We don’t yet know where the president was hour by hour.
But this is 100 percent sure: Panetta and Dempsey would have executed a rescue mission order if the president had given those orders.
And like the former SEALs in Benghazi, General Ham and all of the troops under him would have been straining forward in their harnesses, ready to go into battle to save American lives.
The execute orders would be given verbally to General Ham at AFRICOM in Stuttgart, but they would immediately be backed up in official message traffic for the official record. That is why cross-border authority is the King Arthur’s Sword for understanding Benghazi. The POTUS and only the POTUS can pull out that sword.