I think Goldberg has it about right:
It seems obvious that Panetta is trying protect Obama from responsibility for the administration's Benghazi response. I don't think that works. The decision to outsource the call is still a presidential decision.
But there are two problems bigger problems with the Panetta doctrine. First, Panetta says they didn't have real-time information. Uh, if having a live video feed and real-time reports from assets on the ground for hours doesn't count as real-time information, what does? And if, as rumors suggest, the drones monitoring the situation were armed, the idea that the administration was trying to avoid some kind of "black hawk down" situation seems incomprehensible.
Which brings us to the second, I think bigger, problem with the Panetta doctrine. If the circumstances in Libya didn't meet the "enough information" threshold for a rescue attempt or some other form of intervention, then what does? And, note, Panetta & Co. make it sound as if the decision to let the Americans on the scene twist in the wind was sort of a no-brainer, not a difficult decision. So what happened in Libya didn't even come close to the threshold for intervention.
What does that mean? Well, it seems to me that any embassy or consulate subjected to a surprise attack will likely catch the administration off guard. That's why they call them "surprise attacks," after all. According to the Panetta doctrine, the very essence of what makes a surprise attack a surprise attack likely precludes any commitment of U.S. forces to repel it. The message to our diplomats and troops: You're on your own. The message to terrorists: As long as you keep your attacks minimally confusing, you win.
No doubt there was concern about killing innocent civilians in any military assistance we would have sent. But seriously, how many civilians were hanging around when the terrorists were firing mortars, launching RPG's, and firing with automatic weapons at the CIA Annex - or the consulate for that matter?
As for our soldiers walking into a trap, we're talking about a dozen special forces operators; they are trained to avoid traps and even turn the traps back onto their attackers. Besides, we probably wouldn't have needed boots on the ground at that point. Some close air support would have probably worked out fine.
The "Panetta Doctrine" doesn't pass the smell test and would appear to be a transparent attempt to excuse administration inaction in trying to rescue our diplomats.