Will Republicans Stand by the Benghazi ‘Stand-Down Order’ Conspiracy?

The most recent revelations from nine military officers should make it more difficult.

Chaffetz: A "definite maybe."
National Journal
Lucia Graves
Add to Briefcase
Lucia Graves
July 11, 2014, 7:06 a.m.

One of the many threads in the tapestry of Benghazi con­spir­acy the­or­ies is the con­ten­tion that, faced with a ter­ror­ist at­tack on the U.S. Con­su­late there, the Amer­ic­an mil­it­ary didn’t do what it could have to save lives. Spe­cific­ally, that a “stand-down or­der” was is­sued from on high that pre­ven­ted the use of mil­it­ary as­sets that could have saved the four Amer­ic­ans who died the night of Sept. 11, 2012.

But hours of tran­scribed in­ter­views with nine mil­it­ary lead­ers, con­duc­ted by the House Armed Ser­vices and Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form com­mit­tees — and made pub­lic for the first time Wed­nes­day night — have yiel­ded some news. Namely, that this con­ten­tion ap­pears to be a bunch of hooey, ac­cord­ing to a close ex­am­in­a­tion by the As­so­ci­ated Press.

“The seni­or mil­it­ary of­ficer who is­sued the in­struc­tion to ‘re­main in place’ and the de­tach­ment lead­er who re­ceived it said it was the right de­cision and has been widely mis­char­ac­ter­ized,” the re­port found. (More de­tails about why that’s the case are laid out nicely in the AP’s re­port.)

The White House is pleased with the news, be­cause it backs up the view that the mil­it­ary’s de­cision to re­main in Tripoli and pro­tect Em­bassy per­son­nel there, rather than fly to Benghazi after all the Amer­ic­ans had already been evac­u­ated, made a whole lot of sense. What’s more, it makes GOP Rep. Dar­rell Issa, who has sug­ges­ted Hil­lary Clin­ton per­son­ally gave this al­leged con­spir­at­ori­al “stand-down or­der,” look par­tic­u­larly silly. (As sec­ret­ary of State at the time, Clin­ton wasn’t even in the chain of mil­it­ary com­mand.)

But it isn’t just Issa and pun­dits on Fox News who’ve bolstered this the­ory. It’s also been pro­moted by ser­i­ous-minded Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chair­man of the some­what newly min­ted se­lect com­mit­tee in­vest­ig­at­ing Benghazi, along with the ma­jor­ity of Re­pub­lic­ans serving on it.

Rep. Jason Chaf­fetz of Utah, who has dis­cussed the “stand-down or­der” as if it were fact, is per­haps the most pro­nounced ex­ample of this. “We had prox­im­ity, we had cap­ab­il­ity, we had four in­di­vidu­als in Libya armed, ready to go, dressed, about to get in­to the car to go in the air­port to go help their fel­low coun­try­men who were dy­ing and be­ing killed and un­der at­tack in Benghazi, and they were told to stand down,” Chaf­fetz said over a year ago. “That’s as sick­en­ing and de­press­ing and dis­gust­ing as any­thing I have seen. That is not the Amer­ic­an way.”

Poli­ti­fact rated that claim as pat­ently false in May of 2013.

But it didn’t stop Gowdy, who has been praised by House Speak­er John Boehner for his “zeal for the truth,” from al­lud­ing, al­beit more cryptic­ally, to the same un­sup­por­ted points later that same month. “I think I’m asked about [Benghazi] be­cause it kind of in­volves what we be­lieve about our Re­pub­lic,” he ex­plained in an in­ter­view with the Daily Caller, “which is that we’re not gonna send any­body in­to harms way, un­der our flag without ad­equate pro­tec­tion, and if they get in trouble we are gonna go get ‘em. We’re gonna save ‘em. Or at least we’re gonna make a heck of an ef­fort to do it. So Benghazi kinda un­der­cuts that.”

And it didn’t stop Rep. Mike Pom­peo, R-Kan­sas, from sug­gest­ing to Hugh He­witt that the mil­it­ary “had the op­por­tun­ity” to take ac­tion, but didn’t. Nor did it dis­cour­age Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois from sug­gest­ing in a press re­lease that the mil­it­ary was up to something fishy.

“We all want to be­lieve that our gov­ern­ment would do everything to come to the aid of Amer­ic­ans un­der threat abroad,” said Roskam, be­fore trans­ition­ing to why he couldn’t.

An­oth­er mem­ber of the Benghazi se­lect com­mit­tee, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, sug­ges­ted that dur­ing the at­tack, there was little ef­fort to fight back, ac­cord­ing to The Colum­bus Dis­patch. “Why wer­en’t we run­ning to the sound of the guns?” he asked.

Nev­er mind that a House Armed Ser­vices sub­com­mit­tee re­port from sev­er­al months earli­er had  found there was no way the U.S. mil­it­ary could have re­spon­ded in time to save the four Amer­ic­ans killed in Benghazi. GOP Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama still de­livered the sub­com­mit­tee’s re­port — which, by the way, also found that no “stand-down or­der” was is­sued — with a hint of con­spir­acy. “We did a very thor­ough job,” she told the Mont­gomery Ad­vert­iser, “but we did leave the door open when we said this was an in­ter­im re­port and that if in­form­a­tion sur­faced that there were oth­ers we needed to talk to, we would.”

Ask­ing wheth­er these new mil­it­ary testi­mon­ies (which largely just con­firm what’s been found pre­vi­ously) will change these Re­pub­lic­ans’ rhet­or­ic feels something akin to ask­ing what it takes to end a con­spir­acy the­ory. A bet­ter con­spir­acy, per­haps?

Cor­rec­tion: An earli­er ver­sion of this story mis­stated the state rep­res­en­ted by Mike Pom­peo. 

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