In the escalating war of words over the Benghazi attacks, former Defense Secretary gave his opinion of what he thought to the media. Speaking on CBS's Face the Nation, Gates said that he believes that he would have not acted any differently in the situation and that the critics' perceptions of the U.S. military were "cartoonish."
Gates spoke on Sunday, in the aftermath of last week’s testimony where Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission in Libya who was present during the Benghazi attack, made several comments about the military response. Gates's comments are sure to add to the discussion, where Republicans have vowed to continue their investigation and prove that wrongdoing occurred. Watch the video below:
Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense under Republican and Democratic presidents, took issue with a statement widely reported in the media, that a flyby by a fighter jet would have stopped part of the attack. He said that it ignored a, "number of surface to air missiles that have disappeared from [former Libyan leader] Qaddafi's arsenals. I would not have approved sending an aircraft, a single aircraft, over Benghazi under those circumstances."
Another common criticism is that the Obama administration should have allowed special forces to fly a rush mission into the area. Hicks claims that a small four-man team lead by Lieutenant Colonel Wilson was on their way to board a C130 transport plane, but was denied permission to leave and could have made a difference. The Pentagon has repeatedly said that the team would have arrived too late, and would not have been able to engage until after the battle was over.
Gates criticized this view as well; noting the U.S. military is known for its planning and that sending a team with no information about what was going on "would have been very dangerous."
"It's sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces," he said. "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."
Gates was asked about the possibility of a political cover-up to protect former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and responded with a definitive "No."
Gates’s comments illustrate the divide between popular perception of military leaders and actual reality. Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations found this passage from Gates’s memoir:
"It was my experience over the years that one of the biggest misimpressions held by the public has been that our military is always straining at the leash, wanting to use force in any situation. The reality is just the opposite. In more than 20 years attending meetings in the Situation Room, my experience was that the biggest doves in Washington wear uniforms. Our military leaders have seen too many half-baked ideas for the use of military force advanced in the Situation Room by hairy-chested civilians who have never seen combat or fired a gun in anger."
Although Gates served under both Republican and Democratic administrations, his words are unlikely to carry much weight with Republicans, who are determined to get something from the continuing fallout. But his years of experience and service provide a unique perceptive into the complicated situation that arose during the Benghazi’s attacks.