At the time they met with President Barack Obama on 9/11/2012, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, knew it was terrorists who were attacking our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Mr. Panetta testified Feb. 7.
Their pre-scheduled meeting in the Oval Office took place about 90 minutes after the attack began. The president told them to respond but "left it up to them" as to how, Mr. Panetta told the Senate Intelligence Committee. The fighting would last for six hours more, but neither he nor Gen. Dempsey heard from the president again that night, Mr. Panetta said.
Neither did the State Department, the CIA or the Libyan government, the White House has acknowledged. The Counterterrorism Security Group, "the one group that's supposed to know what resources every agency has" was never convened, CBS News reported.
"In a crisis, the president went AWOL," said former GOP White House aides Bill Kristol and Peter Wehner.
Defense budget cuts slated to begin March 1 will result in the smallest Navy since 1915, the smallest Air Force ever, according to Mr. Panetta, and the smallest Army since 1940, said Gen. Ray Odierno, the chief of staff. In an attempt to force a budget compromise, Mr. Obama proposed the sequester law that's forcing the cuts. Rather than work with Congress last week to head them off, he played golf with Tiger Woods.
Marine Corps legend James Mattis, our best general, is being fired because "he pushed the civilians so hard on considering the second- and third-order consequences of military action against Iran," according to veteran national security correspondent Tom Ricks.
North Korea tested a nuclear weapon Feb. 12. Iran's leading nuclear scientist was present for it.
"If North Korea has the bomb, then for all practical purposes Iran does, too," said Lee Smith of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. "Obama's policy of prevention has failed."
A resurgent Taliban almost certainly will take over Afghanistan when U.S. troops leave, says the Afghan Study Group. The Taliban and al-Qaida are in cahoots again, and the administration is downplaying it, CBS war correspondent Lara Logan said in a speech in October. "There's no happy ending for us."
Al-Qaida controls more territory in Mali than it ever had in Afghanistan. In Egypt, Libya and Syria, the "Arab Spring" has turned to winter. An increasingly bellicose China bullies our allies in the South China Sea. The Chinese military is actively preparing for cyberwar against the United States. Yet of nine issues polled by Gallup Feb. 7-10, only on national defense did a majority approve of the job President Obama is doing.
That's ironic. But it isn't puzzling. The news media's coverage of the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense indicates why.
Senate Republicans oppose their former colleague because:
• They think he is unqualified. Mr. Hagel's bravery as a sergeant in Vietnam is commendable but says nothing about his ability to run a large bureaucracy, at which he has no experience. He's said inflammatory things about Jews and gays. He has opposed sanctions on Iran.
• They want the administration to answer questions about Benghazi: Why was security so lax at the consulate? What was going on there? Since he knew from the get-go that terrorists were to blame, why did Mr. Obama claim a Youtube video caused the attack?
You wouldn't have learned this from most of the news coverage. Republicans are just trying to "jam the president up," said David Gregory of NBC.
The GOP's opposition is "unprecedented," said PBS anchor Judy Woodruff. (Democrats opposed the nomination of John Tower to be secretary of defense in 1989 and filibustered the nomination of John Bolton to be U.N. ambassador in 2005.)
For most in the mainstream media, a bigger story than Mr. Hagel's dubious qualifications and provocative statements is calling attention to them. After Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, asked Mr. Hagel about some of the statements he's made on Iran and noted (accurately) that Iran's state-run press has praised his nomination, The New York Times and MSNBC and PBS commentators said he was a bully who reminded them of the infamous Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
Americans think Mr. Obama is doing a good job on defense because they aren't paying attention, and many in the news media conceal the truth. But soon reality will intrude in ways that can't be hidden or spun.
Correction: Feb. 26, 2013
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the Senate Intelligence Committee that President Obama had "directed both myself and [Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] to do everything we needed to do to try to protect lives there" when told of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. A Jack Kelly column published Sunday said Mr. Panetta had testified that the president had "left it up to them" whether to respond.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (email@example.com, 412-263-1476).