WASHINGTON -- Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates defended the Obama administration's response to the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Benghazi on Sunday, saying he would not have done anything different militarily if he had still been at the Pentagon.
"Frankly had I been in the job at the time, I think my decisions would have been just as theirs were," said Gates on CBS's "Face the Nation," referring to the role of then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey.
"We don't have a ready force standing by in the Middle East -- despite all the turmoil that's going on, with planes on strip alert, troops ready to deploy at a moment's notice. And so getting somebody there in a timely way -- would have been very difficult, if not impossible."
Republicans have harshly criticized the Obama administration's military response to the Benghazi attack. In recent days, they have been championing the suggestions of Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission for the U.S. in Libya, who testified before a House committee last week.
Hicks said he was furious that the administration did not send in a team of Special Forces or fly a fighter jet over Benghazi to intimidate the attackers.
Gates did not single out Hicks by name on Sunday, but he mocked those sorts of suggestions, saying they painted "a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces."
"And frankly, I've heard, 'Well, why didn't you just fly a fighter jet over and try and scare 'em with the noise or something?' Well, given the number of surface to air missiles that have disappeared from Qaddafi's arsenals, I would not have approved sending an aircraft, a single aircraft -- over Benghazi under those circumstances," he said.
"And with respect to -- sending in special forces or a small group of people to try and provide help, based on everything I have read, people really didn't know what was going on in Benghazi contemporaneously," Gates added. "And to send some small number of special forces or other troops in without knowing what the environment is, without knowing what the threat is, without having any intelligence in terms of what is actually going on on the ground, I think, would have been very dangerous."
Gates served under both Obama and President George W. Bush as defense secretary.