The AWOL Commander-in-Chief
What was Obama doing while terrorists attacked Americans in Benghazi?
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Well, next to no accounting. We do know that the president was informed about the Benghazi siege only minutes after it began — because military officials, who have felt obliged to account for their actions, have reported telling him about it. We know, as The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol notes, that “while Americans were under assault in Benghazi, the president found time for a non-urgent, politically useful, hour-long call to [Israeli] Prime Minister Netanyahu” — a call made because Obama was wooing Jewish voters unsettled by his notorious disdain for Netanyahu, and thus a call it was in his interest to publicize. We have been told, moreover, that about five hours after learning that Americans were under attack, Obama had a phone call with Secretary Clinton — immediately after which, even as Woods and Doherty were still fighting for their lives, Clinton put out a statement spinning the Benghazi violence as the product of an obscure anti-Muslim Internet video . . . the same fraudulent claim Clinton subordinates had already made about the earlier Cairo violence.

Interestingly, the White House had initially — and apparently falsely — insisted that the president had not spoken on the phone with Secretary Clinton or other senior cabinet and military officials. Obama’s sparse version of events changed only after Clinton felt obliged to account for her activities in congressional testimony. Obviously, the president of the United States perceives no similar obligation.

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I’ve written a book about presidential lawlessness and dereliction of duty, called Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment, which will be released in a few weeks. It is not a call for the president’s impeachment. It is an acknowledgment that impeachment is a political remedy, not a legal one; thus the executive’s provable commission of serial impeachable offenses counts for little unless and until there is broad public consensus that a president should be removed from power. Impeachment is a political case that must be carefully built; partisan hackery is no substitute.

The foundation of any such political case is simply this: The executive branch is designed to make the president singularly accountable. That is why he is the sole official in whom the Constitution vests all executive power — AFRICOM moves, or doesn’t move, based on his orders because it is his authority that the armed forces exercise. The chief executive, James Madison asserted, would be wholly “responsible for [the] conduct” of his subordinate officials. Therefore, it would “subject [the president] to impeachment himself, if he suffers them to perpetrate with impunity high crimes or misdemeanors against the United States, or neglects to superintend their conduct, so as to check their excesses.” When AFRICOM abstains from battle, or Lois Lerner obstructs an investigation, or Eric Holder misleads Congress, or Michael Morell doctors talking points, or Susan Rice serially lies on national television, Barack Obama is responsible. It is his bidding that they do, and by failing to fire or discipline them he implicitly endorses their malfeasance.

Outnumbered and fighting off wave after jihadist wave, Americans were left to die in Benghazi while administration officials huddled, not to devise a rescue strategy, but to spin the election-year politics. The most powerful and capable armed forces in the history of the world idled, looking not to their commander-in-chief but to a State Department that busied itself writing press releases about phantom Islamophobia. The president of the United States, the only constitutional official responsible for responding, was nowhere to be found.

We are left with four dead Americans and an emerging paper trail of dereliction stretching from Benghazi to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Benghazi is not about what Hillary Clinton or Leon Panetta or Susan Rice or Ben Rhodes or Jay Carney or Robert Lovell did or didn’t do. The only question is: What was President Barack Obama doing, and not doing, during the critical hours when his sworn duty required decisive action? Mr. Obama owes Americans a detailed answer. Now.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His next book, Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment, will be released by Encounter Books on June 3.