It's Benghazi redux: As they secured the U.S. embassy in Yemen, the final Marines to leave the country handed their weapons over to Iran-friendly Houthi rebels, on orders from some Obama administration bureaucrat. That's the right-wing blogosphere's story, anyway, even though the Marine Corps calls it bullshit.
If this all sounds familiar, it's because a precedent has been set: Every time an overseas U.S. embassy is in extremis, the conservative-fantasy carousel kicks up a rumor about how our wonderful Marines could have handled everything, if only Barack Hussein Obama's State Department bureaucrats hadn't de-nutted them. When protests outside the Cairo embassy got ugly in 2012, conservatives floated a rumor that the U.S. ambassador had taken away the Marines' ammunition—on Obama's orders, of course—even though it's against standing military and diplomatic policy. The Marine Corps quickly dispelled that rumor.
Central Command reportedly is furious over a State Department order that Marines guarding the U.S. Embassy in Yemen were told by the State Department to turn their rifles over to Yemeni officials before boarding a private plane to evacuate the country, Fox News reports.
The order is humiliating to Marines, who are essentially being told to break an oath they take during training, Pete Hegseth, CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, told Fox News Channel's "The Kelly File."
Now tonight a senior defense official confirming to Fox News that Marines were directed to turn over their weapons before they were allowed to leave. According to one source the order came from the U.S. State Department. That is generating some serious outrage tonight especially among Marines who are taught from day one never surrender your weapon. At least one Marine telling Fox News, 'Blank yeah, it pissed me off.' Pardon me, his term. 'I'm not giving up my weapon to anyone.'"
What really happened? Well, there clearly was a rushed egress from Yemen for the Marines, so much so that the Pentagon's press briefer, Col. Steve Warren, went out to talk to the media yesterday without really knowing what had happened:
The Pentagon said the Marines destroyed heavy weapons in their embassy arsenal, including machine guns, before leaving for the airport but remained armed with smaller weapons until the end to ensure a safe exit from the country.
"The movement from the embassy to the aircraft required armed Marines," Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said at a briefing...
Asked whether the Marines turned over their weapons to Houthi fighters, Warren said: "It's unclear, frankly. We believe they turned them over to government officials at the airport, prior to boarding the aircraft."
"As everyone knows, weapons are generally not authorized on commercial aircraft," Warren said. He said the Marines were probably carrying handguns and assault rifles until their departure.
Such is the stuff that crazy conspiracy theories are made of. Warren's shaky answers certainly made the fate of the Marines' weapons worth investigating. It's unclear who Fox News' unnamed sources were, but they were so compelling that Kelly and her hawkish guests were shrieking about their implications at 9 p.m. last night... three hours after the Marine Corps had debunked the whole cruddy rumor, twice.
The Marine security detachment guarding the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen left no operational weapons behind as troops evacuated the country, a senior Marine official with knowledge of the movement told Marine Corps Times.
...the Marine official, who asked that he not be identified because he was unauthorized to discuss the situation, said no working Marine weapons, whether crew-served or personal rifles and sidearms, were seized or handed over as the troops departed.
"No Marines handed over a functional weapon to anybody," the official said.
Clarity On Yemen Departure
No Marine handed over his weapon to a Houthi; all weapons destroyed before departing: http://t.co/PgSSqEjSur
— U.S. Marines (@USMC) February 12, 2015
CLARITY ON MARINE SECURITY FORCE DEPARTURE FROM YEMEN
February / 11 / 2015
HEADQUARTERS MARINE CORPS, WASHINGTON — The Marine Security Force left the American embassy in Yemen for the movement to the airfield as part of the "ordered departure" with only personal weapons. All crew served weapons were destroyed at the embassy prior to movement. None of them were 'handed over' in any way to anyone. The destruction of weapons at the embassy and the airport was carried out in accordance with an approved destruction plan.
Upon arrival at the airfield, all personal weapons were rendered inoperable in accordance with advance planning. Specifically, each bolt was removed from its weapons body and rendered inoperable by smashing with sledgehammers. The weapons bodies, minus the bolts, were then separately smashed with sledgehammers. All of these destroyed components were left at the airport — and components were scattered; no usable weapon was taken from any Marine at Sana'a airport.
To be clear: No Marine handed a weapon to a Houthi, or had one taken from him.
Office of U.S. Marine Corps Communication
So how come Kelly was letting her Fox News guests hold forth on a debunked rumor, three hours later? "We're surrendering our embassy," Hegseth told her. "And now we're asking U.S. Marines to surrender their dignity, give up oaths they made, creeds that they lived by, and surrender their rifle." Retired Gen. Jack Keane added: "This is a mindless stupid bureaucrat making a decision like that offensive to military culture, offensive to procedures."
It's probably helpful to know a little bit of background about those guests. Hegseth, who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for Senate in Minnesota awhile back, is an ex-Bear Stearns banker whose way through Princeton was paid in part by the conservative Family Research Council. Since 2008, he's made six figures chairing astroturfed veterans' groups for GOP causes, and has been a seven-figure bag man for political donations from Republican billionaire Sheldon Adelson. He's on call whenever Republicans need a military vet to blast liberals, even though his own track record of strategic prognostications includes this gem: "eliminating Saddam and liberating Iraq could be the 'Normandy Invasion' or 'fall of the Berlin Wall' of our generation… and there is equally encouraging evidence that republican principles could thrive there."
Keane, for his part, cofounded and chaired a neoconservative propaganda front, the Institute for the Study of War, with some of Dick Cheney's top geopolitical advisors, using it to rally support for the " troop surge" in Iraq. Since leaving the service in 2003, he's been a paid consultant for military contractors, including the company formerly known as Blackwater. He's never met a costly military engagement he couldn't make costlier.
Confronted with a combined force like this, the Marine Corps didn't stand a chance.
[Photo credit: Cpl. Christopher A. Green/U.S. Marine Corps]