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May 22, 2013

Benghazi and Little Big Horn

Patrick W. Allen

Separated by 136 years, two men made three decisions each, singularly and selfishly, which cost them their lives. Given the same outcome for each man, the number “three” holds historical significance and an eerie connection between Benghazi, Libya, and the Little Big Horn.


To fully understand and accept the coincidental facts regarding each of these cases, one has to put aside, albeit reluctantly, ideological influences. Without exception, Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and General George Armstrong Custer each developed a false sense of their own security and well-being. This resulted in a fatal character flaw for each individual, ultimately leading to their own self-inflicted demise and the deaths of those who accompanied them.


Ambassador Stevens: (April 18, 1960 – September 12, 2012) was an American diplomat and lawyer who served as the U.S. Ambassador to Libya from June 2012 to September 12, 2012. He arrived in Tripoli in May 2012 as ambassador.


General Custer: (December 5, 1839 – June 25, 1876) was a United States Army officer and cavalry commander in the American Civil War and the Indian Wars. Raised in Michigan and Ohio, General Custer was admitted to West Point in 1858, where he graduated last in his class.


Benghazi, Libya. Ambassador Stevens, who was killed with four other people in the Benghazi terror attacks, twice declined a senior U.S. military official’s advice and offer to accept added security assistance. Mr. Several sources have said that it’s still unclear why Ambassador Stevens turned down the recommendations and offers.


In August, officials at the mission had drafted cables to Washington requesting “security upgrades, and staffing.” However, shortly after the cable was sent, Ambassador Stevens spoke by phone with Army Gen. Carter Ham, the then-chief of U.S. Africa Command, who personally offered additional security assistance, which Mr. Stevens declined. Several weeks before the attack, he met face-to-face with General Ham in Germany where the general once again told Ambassador Stevens he could provide him additional military security. It was during the meeting in Germany that Ambassador Stevens again declined the general’s offers of assistance.


In the weeks and months following the attack on the Consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya, President Barack Obama’s administration, along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have come under heavy fire for their handling of the Benghazi attack. Much of the criticism following this tragedy has been focused on the lack of security that was present at the time of the attack.


Initial reports claimed that the attack was a spontaneous response to an online preview of a movie considered offensive to Muslims, but the attackers' use of military-grade weapons and apparent knowledge of the locations of the secret safe house sites within the compound perimeter led to speculation that the raid was pre-planned.


Following a direct hit by a round from a RPG (rocket propelled grenade), which started a significant fire in the building, Ambassador Stevens apparently became separated from his staff while trying to escape to the roof and was ultimately overcome by smoke. Local civilians found Mr. Stevens and transported him to the Benghazi Medical Centre in a state of cardiac arrest. Medical personnel tried to resuscitate him, but he was pronounced dead at about 2 A.M. local time.


According to The Daily Mail News Online, Ambassador Stevens had sent out a diplomatic cable expressing concerns, on the day he was killed, that security at Benghazi was compromised.


Ambassador Stevens was given two opportunities to upgrade security, with American forces, prior to the attack on September 11, 2012. Mr. Stevens repeatedly declined the recommended security upgrades … two decisions down.  And the third decision? The third and final decision resulted in the departure from a secured embassy compound in Tripoli to an unsecured destination without requisite security accompanying the ambassador or any idea of what would be waiting at and/or near the Benghazi consulate.



Little Big Horn, Montana. The history as recorded at the time, combined with folk lore over the ages, states that the Battle of the Little Bighorn – commonly referred to as Custer's Last Stand – was an armed engagement between the combined forces of Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, against the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army, led by General Custer.


The battle, which occurred June 25 and 26, 1876, near the Little Bighorn River in eastern Montana Territory, was the most prominent action of the Great Sioux War of 1876. It was an overwhelming victory for the Native American forces, led by several major war leaders, including Crazy Horse and Chief Gall, inspired by the visions of Sitting Bull. The U.S. Seventh Cavalry, including the Custer Battalion, a force of 700 men led by General Custer, suffered a severe defeat. Five of the Seventh Cavalry's companies were annihilated; General Custer was killed, as were two of his brothers, a nephew, and a brother-in-law. The total U.S. casualty count, including scouts, was 268 dead and 55 injured.


The eventual conflict resulting in his death, but for three decisions made by General Custer himself ahead of his departure to the Indian Nations, could very possibly – and most likely – have resulted in a different outcome and historical record.


President Ulysses S. Grant bluntly criticized Custer's actions in the battle of the Little Bighorn. Quoted in The New York Herald on September 2, 1876, President Grant said: "I regard Custer's massacre as a sacrifice of troops, brought on by Custer himself, that was wholly unnecessary."


General Custer was given two Gatling guns, each weighing 800 pounds and requiring a team of horses/mules, feed and extra personnel to manage the ordinance and animals. General Custer declined to take each of the Gatling guns … two decisions down.


And the third decision?


The third and final decision resulted in the departure from Ft. Lincoln with men, rifles and pistols to a generalized destination in far south central Montana without the Gatling guns or any idea of what would be waiting at the end of that trail. Three foolish and fateful decisions – two bad ones followed by a third which led to the death of General Custer and hundreds of others.


Summary. Each of these men, Ambassador Stevens and General Custer, when viewed through the polished lens of uncontaminated analysis, demonstrated serious errors in judgment. This is an indisputable fact regarding these men and their individual/collective histories. It is not who we wished them to be, but it is who they were.


Whether their individual stories and circumstances have been reported via Telegraph or Twitter, responsibility and accountability has been focused away from where it actually belongs. Two men, 136 years apart, made individual and disastrous decisions which placed them in complete control of their own destiny. The words of President Grant bear repeating insofar as they apply to both men: "I regard Custer's massacre as a sacrifice of troops, brought on by Custer himself that was wholly unnecessary."


Given that Ambassador Stevens’ death is recent and fresh in our minds, there are those who will feign outrage at the assertions and facts in this document, throwing false accusations that the ambassador’s name is being disparaged. Nothing could be further from the truth. The legacy for Ambassador Stevens, as proven by that of General Custer, will blossom over time as distance is gained between the decisions he made, which led to the day of his last breath and today.


The agonizing reality regarding Benghazi, is why Ambassador Stevens, a well educated, well seasoned and well respected diplomat, fully aware of the risks involved, made a series of foolish and highly questionable decisions to decline repeated offers for additional security to protect himself, persons he was responsible for, and then traveling to the unsecured consulate and high risk environment at Benghazi.

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