Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, himself a Republican, mocked Republicans on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday for their criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of Benghazi, saying they had a “cartoonish” impression of military capabilities. Gates also scoffed at the idea that the State Department engaged in a cover up to protect Hillary Clinton. When asked, his answer was a definitive, “No.”
He continued, “I worked with Secretary Clinton pretty closely for two and a half years, and I wouldn’t want to try and be somebody… trying to convince her to say something she did not think was true.”
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Gates, who was appointed by George W. Bush but stayed on for two years at Obama’s request, said that some critics of the administration have a “cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces.”
Gates was not impressed with Republican criticism, “It’s sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces. The one thing that our forces are noted for is planning and preparation before we send people in harm’s way, and there just wasn’t time to do that.”
Since the only people screaming about Benghazi are Republicans with a political agenda, Gates was calling Republican ideas about the military “cartoonish.”
Gates fiercely defended the administration. He shot down the many Republican suggestions for how things should have been handled during the Benghazi attack, “Frankly, had I been in the job at the time, I think my decisions would have been just as theirs were. We don’t have a ready force standing by in the Middle East, and so getting somebody there in a timely way would have been very difficult, if not impossible. I would not have approved sending an aircraft, a single aircraft, over Benghazi under those circumstances.”
Gates made the critics look like children playing war games when he pointed out that their suggestion to send a small number of special forces troops in without knowing what the threat is would have been “very dangerous.” Gates explained that the critics’ suggestions were ridiculous, because sending special forces in without “knowing what the environment is, without knowing what the threat is, without having any intelligence in terms of what is actually going on on the ground, would have been very dangerous.”
As a Republican, Gates strident defense of the administration and scathing dismissal of the Republican criticism carries more weight than if he were a Democrat. As a Democrat, fair or not, he could be dismissed as playing the partisan. This is a moment when Obama’s strategy of reaching across the aisle to Republicans and appointing or keeping on several key Republicans is paying off.
Gates, a former Air Force Officer, is an unimpeachable source for how to handle a situation like Benghazi. In 1974, he served on the National Security Council. He worked for 26 years in the CIA and he served under President George H. W. Bush as the Director of Central Intelligence. In 2008, U.S. News & World Report named him one of America’s Best Leaders. He knows more than the Congressional pipsqueak chicken hawks whinging about how their G.I. Joe would have handled Benghazi. He’s actually been in charge in similar situations, he understands the complexities of gathering intelligence.
Any day now, someone is going to ask House Republicans about their strutting talk of defunding of Libya, which led to their own party rebuking them. Or maybe they’ll be asked about their defunding of security. Or maybe someone will ask John McCain if he knew ahead of time about the security issues in Benghazi as he claimed, why didn’t he say something. Or maybe someone will ask Republicans how the sequester is impacting our ability to protect ourselves at home and abroad, given their efforts to defund the government on the day of the Boston bombing.
It’s called overplaying your hand.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.