Smith: Why Benghazi is important

Last weekend was the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Almost 3,000 people were killed and over 6,000 injured in these attacks. It was the single deadliest terror attack in history.

Life in America changed for all of us after 9/11. We could no longer ignore or be oblivious to events in other parts of the world; nor could we feel completely protected from them, even here at home. As a country, we refocused with vigor on our obligation to protect our citizens.

So why, given the lack of equivalence to the massive attack on our homeland, has there been so much attention on the terrorist attack at the diplomatic compound and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans on Sept. 11, 2012?

Some will immediately say politics. And perhaps politics does explain some of the attention. But to many, especially to those that serve our country in dangerous places throughout the world, Benghazi isn’t about politics; it’s about failing to honor our obligation to protect our citizens. Worse yet, it’s about our country abandoning Americans in need.

What actually happened at the diplomatic compound and CIA annex is often lost amidst the finger pointing of who is at fault. In Benghazi, a small contingent of Americans were left to fend for themselves. Trapped and surrounded, they were forced to repel multiple waves of attacks from terrorists. They called for assistance, especially air support, but none came. For almost 13 hours, they were left on their own.

The entire diplomatic and CIA contingency in Benghazi could have been killed had it not been for the bravery of a few Americans standing their ground during fierce fire fights and in the good fortune of mortar rounds failing to penetrate the roof of a building where most Americans sought protection. Tragically, four Americans did die. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and communications officer Sean Smith were killed at the diplomatic compound, and former Navy Seals and members of the CIA’s protection team, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, were killed at the CIA annex.

Why is Benghazi important? Because we ask those who serve our country to do incredible and sometimes dangerous things, often in faraway places, but in return our country vows to provide the protection and resources necessary to keep them safe. In Benghazi, we failed to do that. A bond was broken between those who serve in dangerous spots and superiors in Washington who were responsible for their safety. Nowadays, Americans serving their country in dangerous places are no doubt wondering if higher-ups in Washington are truly committed to protecting them.

So who’s at fault?

By most accounts, the State Department failed adequately to protect its diplomatic compound in Benghazi, especially after numerous requests were made by American officials in Libya to beef up security. The State Department also failed to coordinate a proper and timely response to events happening on the ground once fighting broke out. Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, must bear responsibility. She was the person in charge. But others were slow to react. Pentagon brass equivocated, especially when military assets were badly needed in that area. The military command structure needs to be worried about these types of failures. Morale can plummet when troops begin wondering if the top echelons of the military are more interested in making the politically correct decision in order to protect their own career advancement rather than making the decision that best protects their troops, or, in this case, American diplomats and CIA operatives and personnel.

We should not allow politics to let us forget the lessons learned from the terrorist attacks in Benghazi. Political attempts to erase the impact or diminish these important lessons, or attempts to embellish events, only serve to feed the notion that this is indeed all about politics. We must seek ways to honor our obligation to protect Americans and to ensure that another Benghazi doesn’t happen, and in doing so, honor those who died. After all, they too were victims of a 9/11 terrorist attack.

Mike Smith is the host of the radio program, “Open Mike with Mike Smith,” on WDEV 550 AM and 96.1, 96.5, 98.3 and 101.9 FM. He is also a political analyst for WCAX-TV and WVMT radio and a regular contributor to The Times Argus and Rutland Herald. He was the secretary of administration and secretary of human services under former Gov. Jim Douglas.



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