Commentary: The crux of this problem lies in a diplomatic culture that firmly believes too much protection inhibits the ability to do the job.
Iwould hate to meet Hillary Clinton in a dark Senate corridor, especially when she was on a tear about when she knew that the tragedy in Benghazi that killed four Americans had been carried out by an organized terrorist group.
The former first lady, U.S. senator, presidential candidate and soon-to-be former secretary of state showed she is no one to mess with. Her former lawmaker colleagues won’t soon forget her testimony. She put to rest the entire silly question about the difference between a protest gone awry and a planned attack. At least let’s hope so.
As she pointed out, there isn’t any difference in this case. The four victims — including the U.S. ambassador to Libya — are just as dead, no matter who was responsible. Anything else is irrelevant and has been from the start of this debacle, notwithstanding United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice’s forced withdrawal from consideration to succeed Clinton.
Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson found out the hard way that the official misstatements about who was responsible immediately following the attack were no longer a viable line of questioning. Clinton made no bones about her disdain for his questioning, dismissing it as politically motivated without actually saying so.
The important, relevant questions are: How did U.S. intelligence fail to anticipate such a shootout at a base containing a CIA safe house, despite warnings? Why wasn’t the request for additional security — made before the attack — fulfilled? How do we prevent such an attack from happening again?
The request apparently wasn’t brought to Clinton’s attention. And although Congress did not fully fund the department’s request to safeguard the nation’s diplomatic missions, money could have been transferred from other endeavors.
The crux of this problem lies in a diplomatic culture that firmly believes too much protection inhibits the ability to do the job, that a fortress mentality at our far-flung embassies is bad for our foreign policy. In areas such as the Middle East, there is danger everywhere. Most diplomats posted to front-line assignments understand this perfectly.
Recent history has taught us that some events are unavoidable. The Iran hostage crisis and the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania are good examples.
But that doesn’t mean we should tolerate scrimping on security to the point of irresponsibility or ignoring obvious appeals and warnings. That happened in the Benghazi affair, and that is where Clinton and her staff are vulnerable.
To Clinton’s credit, she understands this and accepts responsibility. It’s problematic whether Congress does.
Clinton failed to outline what’s needed. This may have been in deference to her successor, Sen. John Kerry, who faces confirmation and with whom she appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after her Benghazi testimony in both houses.
One thing seems clear.
She controls a situation like this about as well as anyone might. If she has a weakness, it is an almost imperious attitude at times brought on by her confidence in her own intellectual ability.
Kerry will have to deal with what comes next in preventing more Benghazi incidents in a volatile region where local authorities often can’t be trusted to protect foreign diplomats, particularly those representing the U.S. Expanded Marine detachments are an obvious step, but rethinking private contract security also should be a top priority in the aftermath of these failures. Beefing up the Bureau of Diplomatic Security is another option.
Probably the best way to lessen the threat is to listen to those onsite and respond with common sense and prudent action.
Dan K. Thomasson is the former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.