What is it like to spend your last moments on earth fighting for your life?
To have devoted your life, and your life's work, to a great nation -- to serve it well and honorably -- and serve for it with courage and distinction, to all come down to a last, frantic few seconds, spent defending you and your fellow Americans and call for the cavalry to come help, and no cavalry comes--and you die.
This is what the two former Navy SEALs, under the employment of CIA, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, faced in their final moments in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.
It is not a question of could we have sent forces in to help.We could. We could have sent forces to help as they were within a few hundred miles. This battle of Benghazi was a protracted fight - covering at least six to eight hours (depending on when you start the clock). And, if the forces were not there, on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, then there is an additional level of leadership failure that must be examined. However, the appearance is that there was forces available.
This is what we now stand for now, as a nation? To have invested billions in intelligence and special operations forces to hang back, play it safe?
To have general officers serve NOT as "Monday morning quarterbacks" but as "Monday morning apologists" for the WH saying "it was just too hard" or "the uncertainty was a key factor" - are you kidding me? Conventional thinking obtains you conventional (and in this case tragic) results - four dead Americans.
It is a shame that senior leaders have such little faith in the extraordinary talents of our special operations forces...they are the best and can do extraordinary work - they should have been trusted (and used) in the case of Benghazi.
The request for help was sent by these brave, now dead, men - at least three times. The answer was "no".
Someone made the decision to not send help. Who?
The decision would have been that of one man - the president.
There was a similar decision profile in October 1983, regarding a little place known as Grenada.
The Cubans were making inroads on the island and there was evidence that U.S. students attending a medical school there were endanger and likely to become hostages of the Cubans and Grenadian government. These Americans were in immediate danger.
There was a tense meeting in the White House situation room of President Reagan's cabinet. After a short debate on the issues, Reagan called for a vote to use military force to rescue the Americans.
Only three of his cabinet voted to yes to take action...SecDef Cap Weinberger voted no. One of the three "yes" votes was Ronald Reagan.
I am told he said something to the effect "Gentlemen, I appreciate your vote - but unfortunately, my vote counts more than yours - we are going". And we went.
Operation Urgent Fury was born - and over a six hour (that is right six hour) planning process, the first U.S. forces arrived in Grenada - lead by the US Marine Corps and the Army's Rangers and 82nd Airborne.
There was huge uncertainty -- we had just come off of the 1980 failed attempt to rescue the U.S. hostages in Iran that ended badly at a staging area called "Desert One".
There was also a lack of intelligence - it came to individuals calling via a phone-booth into the Pentagon to be patched into the Navy to coordinate artillery fire.
Oh, yeah- and President Reagan did not even inform our closest ally, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, of the invasion. Grenada was a British protectorate. He apologized later.
The students were rescued, preventing another hostage crisis similar to the one that had hobbled the Carter Administration.
Lives were saved. Leadership was shown.
So, thirty years later, are we that diminished as a global power that we cannot defend our own citizens?
Are we that risk adverse we would sooner see our men and women we put in harm’s way made to be sacrificial lambs to political correctness and political optics? Is this what we've become?
So, do we want four more years of "it is too hard to do"? Can we afford four more years of leading from behind, or worse, failure to lead at all? This failure has cost four US lives, a burned out consulate, damage and diminished respect. What is next?
We need clear answers -- real leadership. Hope and change is not a strategy, it is a tragedy.
Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer (ret.) is a CIA trained former senior intelligence officer and the New York Times bestselling author of Operation "Dark Heart: Spycraft an Special Operations on the Frontlines of Afghanistan - And The Path to Victory." His latest book is The Last Line. He is a senior fellow with both the London Center for Policy Research and the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. The opinions reflected here are those solely of Lt. Col. Shaffer -- and are not the opinion of the London Center for Policy Research (LCPR), the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (CADS) or of any other group or organization with which Lt. Col. Shaffer is affiliated.