BU Professor, Retired Colonel: Benghazi Blown Out of Proportion

Friday, 08 Feb 2013 02:18 PM

By Cyrus Afzali and Kathleen Walter

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The author of a new book on the United States’ drone program has told Newsmax that the political reaction to the Benghazi attacks is “wildly out of proportion.”

“I don’t mean to minimize the significance of four Americans being killed, but we’ve had thousands of Americans killed over the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said retired Col. Andrew Bacevich, author of Washington’s Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War
“In my mind, there’s a striking gap between the howls for accountability with regard to Benghazi and the apparent absence of any interest in accountability when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

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In hearings on the Benghazi attack Thursday, both Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey testified that President Barack Obama wasn’t heavily involved in the response to the attack. Panetta said he only spoke to Obama once.

Speaking on Newsmax TV, Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, said the focus on Benghazi has been disproportionate.

He said that military resources could have been deployed faster, potentially saving lives, but given the number of Americans stationed around the world, it’s difficult to have an appropriate level of assets that might be needed everywhere.

“It’s a great big world. U.S. military resources are, as great as they are, nonetheless limited,” said Bacevich. “So it’s a little bit silly to think that whenever something bad happens anywhere that we’re supposed to have AC-130 gunships hovering over the scene of the activity.

“It’s not surprising that we didn’t have the assets in place and it’s unrealistic to think that the military is always going to have the assets in place to deal with a contingency.
“Let us remember that on 9/11, when we had the assault on our homeland, not in Benghazi but in Manhattan, the Pentagon wasn’t able to respond.”

Speaking on America’s drone program, Bacevich said the program is significant because it illustrates a dramatic shift in the United States’ approach to warfare.

“(Obama’s) predecessor thought it was a grand idea to invade and occupy countries and that produced disastrous results. Now President Obama has decided that using drones as an instrument of assassination is a lower risk of continuing what we used to call the global war on terror and to include Americans on that list,” Bacevich said.

He calls the shift “constitutionally disastrous.”

“The claims that some form of due process is being exercised . . . those claims are completely bogus and the whole notion of (drones) as a way to deal with whatever threat is posed by violent Islamism is strategically suspect because it doesn’t necessarily lead anywhere,” Bacevich said.

“There’s no clear indication of how many people we’re going to be able to kill and have to kill before we say ‘OK, the job’s done. The mission’s complete.’”

Bacevich believes more review of the drone program is needed, although he’s skeptical that additional Congressional oversight would accomplish the goal.

“These days, when Congress gets involved, almost inevitably, the results are less productive. But there does need to be some kind of oversight. The notion that the President of the United States should exercise the authority consulting only with his advisors and that the president should have the authority to kill Americans on his own is exceedingly dangerous.”

For drones to be an effective part of U.S. military strategy, Bacevich believes they need to be used in a broader context to support a clear strategy. He believes Obama counterterrorism chief John Brennan, who has been nominated to succeed Leon Panetta as CIA chief, should have to answer additional questions on the drone program.

“The real question here that ought to be directed to people like Mr. Brennan is to explain the strategic framework in which these attacks are being carried out. There needs to be some other purpose other than simply knocking off bad guys one at a time,” Bacevich said.

Concerning the potential defense budget cuts that could come if sequestration kicks in, Bacevich believes the impact has been overestimated.

“There’s a lot of posturing going on by the Pentagon to make it sound as if it’s going to be disastrous. It’s not $1.2 trillion in cuts in the present year, but cuts that are spread over the next decade or so,” he said. “The fact of the matter is the Pentagon has grown enormously fast over the past decade and given the Iraq War is over and Afghanistan is heading to a conclusion, they’re going to have to cut back and need to find ways to do it in a responsible way.”

When asked whether Brennan and Chuck Hagel, Obama’s pick for defense secretary, should be confirmed, Bacevich said he believes a president should be able to pick his own team and those nominees should be confirmed unless there’s a pattern of personal misconduct or a record of criminal activity.

“There’s nothing about either of these guys that somehow puts them — even with the charges made against Hagel — outside the mainstream of U.S. national security thinking,” Bacevich said.

“There are both, in fact, very conventional figures. I say that acknowledging that Hagel may have a certain reluctance about committing U.S. ground troops. But it’s not as if he’s some kind of crazy, left-wing peacenik.”

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