Editor’s note: We owe Matt Bracken an apology. This article was originally sent to Chris Hagerman who re-posted his piece without clear credit given to the original author. Matt’s article originally appeared on PJ Media, and there’s a link to the full article at the bottom of this post. We’re not perfect, and when we screw up we admit it, so apologies again Matt. -Brandon, Editor-in-Chief
The entire Benghazi debacle boils down to a single key factor – the granting or withholding of “Cross-Border Authority or CBA.”
Once the alarm is sent—in this case, from the consulate in Benghazi—dozens of HQs are notified and put into the planning loop in real-time, including AFRICOM and EURCOM, both located in Germany. Without waiting for specific orders from Washington, they begin planning and executing rescue operations, including moving personnel, ships and aircraft toward the location of the crisis. However, there is one thing that they cannot do without explicit orders from the president: cross an international border on a hostile mission.
That is the clear “red line” in this type of crisis situation. No administration wants to stumble into a war because a jet jockey in hot pursuit (or a mixed-up SEAL squad in a rubber boat) strays into hostile territory. Because of this, only the President can give the order for our military to cross a nation’s border without that nation’s permission. For the Osama bin Laden mission, President Obama granted CBA for our forces to enter Pakistani airspace.
On the other side of the CBA coin: in order to prevent a military rescue from happening in Benghazi, all the President of the United States “(POTUS)” needs to do is not grant cross-border authority. If he does not, the entire rescue mission (already in progress) must stop in its tracks. Ships can loiter on station but airplanes will fall out of the sky, so they must be redirected to an air base (Sigonella, in Sicily) to await the POTUS decision on granting CBA. If the decision to grant CBA never comes, the besieged diplomatic outpost in Benghazi can rely only on assets already “in country” in Libya—such as the Tripoli quick reaction force and the Predator drones. These assets can be put into action on the independent authority of the acting ambassador or CIA station chief in Tripoli. They are already “in country,” so CBA rules do not apply to them.
How might this process have played out in the White House? If at the 5:00 p.m. Oval Office meeting with Defense Secretary Panetta and Vice President Biden, President Obama said about Benghazi: “I think we should not go the military action route,” meaning that no CBA will be granted, then that is it. Case closed.
Another possibility is that the President might have said: “We should do what we can to help them, but not utilize military intervention from outside of Libya.” Those words would constitute “standing orders” all the way down the chain of command, via Panetta and General Dempsey to General Ham and the subordinate commanders who are already gearing up to rescue the besieged outpost. When that meeting took place, it may have seemed as if the consulate attack was over, so President Obama might have thought the situation would stabilize on its own from that point forward. If he then went upstairs to the family quarters, or otherwise makes himself “unavailable,” then his last standing orders will continue to stand until he changes them, even if he goes to sleep until the morning of September 12.
Nobody in the chain of command below President Obama can countermand his “standing orders” to not send outside military forces into Libyan air space. Nobody. Not Leon Panetta, not Hillary Clinton, not General Dempsey and not General Ham in Stuttgart, Germany—who is in charge of the forces staging in Sigonella.
Perhaps the President left “no outside military intervention, no cross-border authority” as his standing orders and then made himself scarce to those below him that might be seeking further guidance, clarification, or modified orders. Or perhaps he was in the Situation Room watching the Predator videos in live time for all seven hours. We don’t yet know where the President was hour by hour.
But this is 100% sure: Panetta and Dempsey would have executed a rescue mission order if the President had given those orders. And like the former SEALs in Benghazi, General Ham and all of the troops under him would have been straining forward in their harnesses, ready to go into battle to save American lives.
The execute orders would be given verbally to General Ham at AFRICOM in Stuttgart. They would have then been immediately backed up in official message traffic and be on the official record. That is why cross-border authority is the King Arthur’s Sword for understanding Benghazi. The POTUS and only the POTUS can pull out that sword.
We can be 100% certain that cross-border authority was never given. How do I know this? Because if CBA was granted and the rescue mission execute orders were handed down, there would be evidence of these orders. Irrefutable records exist today in at least a dozen involved component commands, and probably many more. No general or admiral will risk being hung out to dry for undertaking a mission-gone-wrong that the POTUS later disavows ordering, and instead blames on “loose cannons” or “rogue officers” exceeding their authority. No general or admiral will order U.S. armed forces to cross an international border on a hostile mission unless he is certain that the National Command Authority, the POTUS and his chain of command, have clearly and explicitly given that order: verbally at the outset, but thereafter in written orders and official messages. If they existed, they could be produced today.
Read the rest on PJ Media here.