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Gates Defends Obama Administration on Benghazi, Calls Republicans ‘Cartoonish’

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates blasted Republicans who have been critical of the Obama administration’s response to the attack on the American facility in Benghazi last year, saying they are exhibiting a “cartoonish” knowledge of the American military.

Gates, a Republican who served in both the Bush and Obama administrations, appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

He also said that further involvement by the U.S. military in Syria’s civil war would be a “mistake” because it would be unpredictable and messy, and full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would be “a disastrous mistake.”

Speaking about Benghazi, which the Republicans have exploited to hurt President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Gates said if he had been at the Pentagon at that time, “Frankly … I think my decisions would have been just as theirs were.”   Four people were killed, including American ambassador Christopher Stevens, during the Libyan attack in September.

While some Republicans have said a Special Forces team or U.S aircraft based in Italy might have prevented the deaths — or at least frightened off the attackers — Gates said such a response “without knowing what the environment is, without knowing what the threat is, without having any intelligence in terms of what is actually going on the ground, would have been very dangerous.”

“It’s sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces,” Gates 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.”

 Some Republicans have also criticized the special panel that investigated the Benghazi incident for not questioning Clinton. 

Thomas Pickering, who headed the Accountability and Review Board along with retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said  the panel focused on officials who had direct roles during the course of  the attack.

“We knew where the responsibility rested,” Pickering said. “They’ve tried to point a finger at people more senior than where we found the decisions were made.”

Republicans are trying to hurt Clinton as much as possible before the next presidential election, since she is seen as one of the strongest candidates.

On Syria, Gates said stepping up military support for rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad was not a good idea.

“I thought it was a mistake in Libya, and I think it is a mistake in Syria, even if we had intervened more significantly in Syria a year ago or six months ago. We overestimate our ability to determine outcomes. …Caution, particularly in terms of arming these groups and in terms of U.S. military involvement, is in order,” he said. “Anybody who says, ‘It’s going to be clean. It’s going to be neat. You can establish safe zones, and it’ll be just swell,’ well, most wars aren’t that way.”

Gates was defense secretary in 2011 when the United States joined a NATO-led air operation in Libya that helped rebels topple leader Moammar Gaddhafi.
As for Afghanistan, Gates, who was an intelligence officer involved in the U.S. support for Afghan insurgents fighting the Soviet Union in the 1980s, said a residual U.S. force should remain in the country after 2014, when U.S. troops are scheduled to leave.
“I will tell you this: For us to leave lock, stock and barrel at the end of 2014, and abandon Afghanistan as we did after the Soviets left, would be a disastrous mistake,” he said.
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