As the security situation deteriorated in Benghazi, Ambassador Christopher Stevens did an extraordinary thing: He stayed.
Al Qaeda attacked the Red Cross mission in Benghazi in May, and they soon abandoned their post in the city. British Ambassador Sir Dominic Asquith was attacked as he drove through Benghazi on June 11. The British would soon abandon their mission. Islamists staged a show of force in June, and by August it was apparent that al Qaeda-affiliated groups were on the rise and could take over the government. Ambassador Stevens even warned Washington that he had seen the flag of al Qaeda flying on government buildings.
And yet, he stayed. He pleaded for more security, he warned that the situation was getting worse, but Chris Stevens kept the American flag flying above the West’s last outpost in Benghazi.
I was asked that question on the Lincoln Brown radio show this morning, and here’s my answer.
Ambassador Stevens understood the messages that his exit would send. For the American ambassador to pull down the Stars and Stripes and shutter the Benghazi consulate would have told the people of that city that America is an unreliable ally. His exit would have signaled that the forces of freedom had lost the cradle of the Libyan revolution to the forces of terror and tyranny. His exit would have sent a louder political message to the voters back home in America. That message would have been, that the Obama-led “responsibility to protect” driven war in Libya had failed. Gaddafi was gone and dead, but the absence of American leadership in the war’s aftermath had led to an Islamist summer. America’s lack of leadership was a choice. Obama’s decisions to “lead from behind” and his promise to never put boots on the ground in Libya had led directly to Libya’s turn from bad to worse. Stevens, a friend of Secretary of State Clinton, did not want to send either of those messages. He understood how explosive they would be in a close election. So he stayed, out of a mix of patriotism and political loyalty.
How was he repaid for this loyalty? According to Bing West, the United States could have had F-18s overhead within an hour of the battle’s beginning. The United States could have had special forces on the ground to assist the besieged American defenders within another hour or two. The United States could have responded decisively during the six-hour battle, a battle Washington was watching and monitoring in real time.
But though his administration knew that Ambassador Stevens had gone missing in the early course of the assault, President Obama took no action at all. He never scrambled the F-18s from Sicily. He never ordered special forces in to rescue him or defend the American soil and image that the consulate represented. Obama went to bed that night, and after a few brief and deceptive remarks on the assault, he went to a campaign fundraiser in Vegas.
President Obama did nothing at all on the night of the assault, and well over a month later, has still done nothing at all.
Update: I erred when I said that Obama “did nothing” about Benghazi. He did something. The man who made the YouTube that did not cause the attack is still in jail.