Update at 5 pm EST, Nov. 8
After a day paling around in Hurricane Sandy disaster areas with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, President Barack Obama got an unexpected defense today from an even more surprising corner of the Republican Party.
In a blog post, George W. Bush administration deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who helped lead the 2003 U.S. charge into Iraq in search of non-existent weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi links to al-Qaeda, declared that “the U.S. did almost everything possible to protect our people” from the attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
In his post on the Web site of the American Enterprise Institute, the neo-conservative equivalent of the Vatican, Wolfowitz said that after “talking with someone who has spoken directly with key general officers and others involved in the U.S. response to the Benghazi attacks,” he concluded that:
— “The Consulate was overrun in a matter of minutes, before any help was possible.”
— “Decision makers in Washington appear to have been leaning forward, as they should have been. The military’s most capable rescue force, based on the East Coast, was deployed immediately (something that is very rarely done), but –- given the distances involved –- arrived” at the U.S. Naval Air Station at Sigonella in Sicily “only after the crisis was over.”
— Contrary to claims on numerous conservative Web sites: “There was no AC-130 gunship in the region.”
(Defense Department spokesman George Little told Bloomberg the same thing yesterday in an e-mail.)
— Shooting down another conservative attack line: “The only drone available in Libya was an unarmed surveillance drone which was quickly moved from Darna to Benghazi, but the field of view of these drones is limited and, in any case, this one was not armed.”
— In yet another counterattack on Benghazi conspiracy theorists: “The only other assets immediately available were F-16 fighter jets based at Aviano, Italy. These aircraft might have reached Benghazi while the fight at the Annex was still going on, but they would have had difficulty pinpointing hostile mortar positions or distinguishing between friendly and hostile militias in the midst of a confused firefight in a densely populated residential area where there would have been a high likelihood of civilian casualties. While two more Americans were tragically killed by a mortar strike on the Annex, it’s not clear that deploying F-16’s would have prevented that.”
“If all of this is true,” Wolfowitz concludes, “then it would appear that the U.S. national security team was doing everything they thought possible to protect the Americans in Benghazi.”
“I did defend Obama officials against the charge that they knowingly abandoned Americans who were in danger, but I also said in the same article that they deserved to be criticized for `persistent misleading comments about the motives of the attackers.”’ Wolfowitz wrote in an email to us after this posting appeared. “That was a reference not only to the comments of our U.N. Ambassador but also to the Secretary of State and the President himself.”
In the article Wolfowitz still blames the Obama administration for its credibility problem, calling it “the result of a general lack of transparency and particularly of the fact that senior officials, including the president and the secretary of state, persisted for so long in offering the American people misleading suggestions that the attacks in Benghazi were a response to an obscure anti-Islamic video.”
He also faults the administration for failing to respond to requests for better security in Libya, for assigning a low priority to the military’s Africa Command, and for failing to move quickly to bolster Libya’s security forces after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi — although he confesses that the Bush administration made the same mistake in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It remains to be seen, though, whether even one of the architects of the neo-conservative movement that’s foursquare behind Mitt Romney in the presidential contest can shoot down the Internet buzz about drones, gunships, rapid reaction forces and stand-down orders.