The Profound Moral Failure of Benghazi


David French

May 8, 2013

3 min read




I hope military and civilian policy makers carefully read Bing West’s post responding to various excuses advanced for failing to aid embattled Americans in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. I could never improve on a Bing West military analysis, but let me also add that September 11, 2012, was a profound moral failure. The degree of courage displayed that night was apparently inversely proportional to the decision-maker’s distance from Libya. The Americans on the scene fought valiantly, outgunned (by a rag-tag band of terrorists, no less; thanks to inexcusably negligent decisions to drawdown before the attack), with men giving their lives in a successful effort to prevent even greater carnage. Other Americans in Libya made desperate efforts to reach the embattled compound in time. The Americans in Washington? In Italy? Elsewhere in our vast and expensive military/civilian national-security apparatus? They failed.

As I noted in Patheos last November, the peace and prosperity of the great mass of Americans depends to a large degree on the willingness of a certain, small number of their fellow citizens to forgo that peace and prosperity, to stand “on the wall” as warriors or — in the case of Ambassador Stevens and those lost last September — as diplomats in harm’s way. We need men and women who are ready to lay down their lives to defeat our enemies when they must and risk their lives to extend the hand of friendship when they should.  

We can never adequately repay these individuals, but one thing we must do: promise that we’ll never leave them behind. This is the heart of the Soldier’s Creed: “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” In the military, it is difficult to overstate the sense of betrayal – of anguish – if any soldier feels this sacred pledge has been violated. Absent the most compelling of circumstances, if you violate that pledge, you commit a grave injustice. If you later lie, seek to cover up your failure, or fail to “man up” and explain why you didn’t send help, then you have no shame.

If the most current reports can be believed, after depriving our men and women on the ground of the security they begged for, our leaders didn’t just stand by and watch as a tiny band of courageous but out-gunned Americans gave their last full measure of devotion to try to save an ambassador, save their fellow diplomats, and save themselves against an overwhelming terrorist force, those same leaders told potential rescuers to “stand down.” This isn’t just a tactical failure, or a failure of process. It’s a failure of character, and if there is any honor left in Washington, those responsible should resign.

This article is crossposted at National Review Online.