The following is a theory on the apparent disinterested nature and dissonance President Obama had over the Benghazi attack discussed at the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 7, 2013. It's inspired by Secretary of State Colin Powell's Pottery Barn rule on Iraq: 'You Break It, You Own It', as posited by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.
It's also prompted by the question, 'If the President was against a policy of arming the Syrians, why do we have a report that arms were being shipped from Benghazi to Syria by way of Turkey?'. (The question might evoke memories of the 'You Can't Handle the Truth!' scene in a 'Few Good Men'.)
It's only a theory and attempt to connect some very curious 'dots' that have been reported. Like any theory, it can be proven wrong, but history shows that informed speculation has a utility in uncovering the truth.
Theory: President Obama was not intimately involved/engaged with the operational defense of the Benghazi Consulate because he was upset that key members of his National Security Council had circumvented his policy against arming the Syrian rebels. His disengagement was his way of disassociating himself from a policy gone wrong; a policy he originally opposed.
The Facts in Support of the Theory:
- The National Security Council (NSC) includes the Secretary of Defense (Leon Panetta), the Secretary of State (until recently Hillary Rodham Clinton; now John Kerry), the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (General Martin Dempsey), the Director of National Intelligence (James Clapper) whom was reported to by the Director of Central Intelligence (David Petraeus) and the National Security Advisor (Tom Donilon).
- The February 7, 2013 New York Times story 'Senate Hearing Draws Out a Rift in U.S. Policy on Syria' notes the following (emphasis added):
In his first term, President Obama presided over an administration known for its lack of open dissension on critical foreign policy issues.This line of questioning was pursued by both Senators McCain and Graham during the hearing.
But on Thursday, deep divisions over what to do about one of those issues — the rising violence in Syria — spilled into public view for the first time in a blunt exchange between Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and the leaders of the Pentagon.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta acknowledged that he and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, had supported a plan last year to arm carefully vetted Syrian rebels. But it was ultimately vetoed by the White House, Mr. Panetta said, although it was developed by David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director at the time, and backed by Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state...
...Neither Mr. Panetta nor General Dempsey explained why President Obama did not heed their recommendation. But senior American officials have said that the White House was worried about the risks of becoming more deeply involved in the Syria crisis, including the possibility that weapons could fall into the wrong hands. And with Mr. Obama in the middle of a re-election campaign, the White House rebuffed the plan, a decision that Mr. Panetta says he now accepts.
With the exception of General Dempsey, the officials who favored arming the rebels have either left the administration or, as in Mr. Panetta’s case, are about to depart. Given that turnover, it is perhaps not surprising that the details of the debate — an illustration of the degree that foreign policy decisions have been centralized in the White House — are surfacing only now. A White House spokesman declined to comment on Thursday.
The plan that Mr. Petraeus developed, and that Mrs. Clinton supported, called for vetting rebels and training a cadre of fighters who would be supplied with weapons. The plan would have enlisted the help of a neighboring state.
- On October 25, 2012 Fox News filed the following report: 'Was Syrian weapons shipment factor in ambassador’s Benghazi visit?' (emphasis added) (Update 8/2/2013 Second Report from The Telegraph: CIA 'running arms smuggling team in Benghazi when consulate was attacked' and CNN: Exclusive: Dozens of CIA operatives on the ground during Benghazi attack )
A mysterious Libyan ship -- reportedly carrying weapons and bound for Syrian rebels -- may have some link to the Sept. 11 terror attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Fox News has learned.
Through shipping records, Fox News has confirmed that the Libyan-flagged vessel Al Entisar, which means "The Victory," was received in the Turkish port of Iskenderun -- 35 miles from the Syrian border -- on Sept. 6, just five days before Ambassador Chris Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith and former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed during an extended assault by more than 100 Islamist militants.
On the night of Sept. 11, in what would become his last known public meeting, Stevens met with the Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin, and escorted him out of the consulate front gate one hour before the assault began at approximately 9:35 p.m. local time.
Although what was discussed at the meeting is not public, a source told Fox News that Stevens was in Benghazi to negotiate a weapons transfer, an effort to get SA-7 missiles out of the hands of Libya-based extremists. And although the negotiation said to have taken place may have had nothing to do with the attack on the consulate later that night or the Libyan mystery ship, it could explain why Stevens was travelling in such a volatile region on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
When asked to comment, a State Department spokeswoman dismissed the idea, saying Stevens was there for diplomatic meetings, and to attend the opening of a cultural center...
...The cargo reportedly included surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles, RPG's and Russian-designed shoulder-launched missiles known as MANPADS.
- The following two video excerpts from the committee hearings document Senator Graham's inquiry into why President Obama only had one conversation with Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey. Note that Panetta never talked to Hillary Clinton and Hillary Clinton spoke directly with the President and the National Security Advisor, Tom Donilon.
(Update: It appears from Secretary Clinton's testimony (link to C-SPAN video: Sec. Clinton on Her Activities on 9/11/2012) that she also spoke to the President just once during the attack, though she wasn't asked that question directly in the link provided.)
(Update 2: Confirmed that Secretary Clinton only spoke once with the President as well. See the questioning by Representative Dana Rohrabacher from the House Hearings between 1:04:35 and 1:09:45:
Dana Rohrabacher: “When did you see the President?”
Secretary Clinton: “I talked to the president at the end of the day, but I had been in constant communication with the National Security Advisor. I’d been in secure video conferences with high level officials in the White House, in the Defense Department."
Pay close attention to how Senator Graham gets Panetta and Dempsey to state on the record that they only had one conversation with Obama and how he starts his second round of questioning re-confirming the arms shipment policy difference detailed in the New York Times article above:
- An obvious question should come from these facts and reports. With the on-the-record testimony that President Obama was against shipping arms to Syria, why were arms being sent to Syria (transiting through Turkey)...at least according to the Fox News report?
- The arms were being shipped to Turkey, instead of directly to Syria, to provide plausible deniability.
- Somehow, key members of the National Security Council were able to put together a plan to get arms to Syria in spite of the President's objection.
The President may have finally relented but said something to the effect of, 'OK...but if things blow up you're on your own...you get to clean up the mess' to his NSC members that were in favor of the policy. Or in Tom Friedman's words, "You Break It, You Own It".
This may explain the lack of engagement Senator Graham was pursuing above on the operational details of Benghazi, even to the point of continuing with a planned visit to Las Vegas on September 12, 2012.