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Robert Gates: Obama made right decisions night of Benghazi attack

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates says those urging a military response the night of the Benghazi attack have 'a cartoonish impression of military capabilities.' Republicans in Congress want to grill former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as part of a special inquiry.

By Staff writer / May 12, 2013

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates talks with "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer during an interview pretaped Saturday at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. Gates spoke about the terrorist attack on the American Embassy in Benghazi.

Chris Usher/CBS News/AP

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The Obama administration got some backing Sunday for the way in which it responded as terrorists attacked the US diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, last September – a night of violence and confusion during which Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

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Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican who served in both the Bush and Obama administrations, said if he had been at the Pentagon at that time, "Frankly … I think my decisions would have been just as theirs were.”

Republican critics have said a Special Forces team or overflights by fighter aircraft based in Italy might have prevented the US losses or at least frightened off the attackers. Mr. Gates disagrees.

Such actions, he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday, “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, referring to morning-after analysis. "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."

Meanwhile, the veteran diplomat who co-chaired the special board which investigated the US situation at Benghazi before and after the attack said he stands by the panel’s decision not to question then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, focusing instead on officials who had direct roles regarding the attack.

"We knew where the responsibility rested," said Pickering, who headed the Accountability and Review Board that investigated the attack, along with retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Speaking of Secretary Clinton’s critics, Pickering said, "They've tried to point a finger at people more senior than where we found the decisions were made.” The former ambassador, who served under Republican and Democratic administrations for some 40 years, appeared on three TV news shows Sunday.

The politics behind attacking or defending Clinton – one of the most popular politicians in the country today – are palpable.

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