Four Americans dead in Benghazi, Libya, on 9/11/12, and they didn’t have to be. Yesterday’s Senate Intelligence Committee Report makes it pretty clear: the tragedy at Benghazi could have been avoided. For months, Ambassador Chris Stevens had been requesting additional security, to no avail. If only the State Department had heeded warnings about the growing threat. If only the State Department and CIA had had better communication between them. If only the intelligence community and the defense department had better communication between them. While these themes have been in the public domain for months, reading the report drives home how botched this tragic event was.
Prior to the tragedy, there had been “extensive intelligence” about the level of terrorist (Libyan and Al Qaeda-related) activity in the area, and the installation’s security was sketchy, despite previous attacks on Western targets, including two on that very facility in April and June of the same year. Cues that should have triggered the cessation of activities at that mission were ignored. The State Department didn’t respond to the deteriorating conditions to ensure the safety of Stevens and other U.S. Personnel.
The report acknowledges that all risk cannot be eliminated. But there are steps to be taken that are no-brainers, and I’m not sure we have heard adequately from Hillary Clinton about why the State Department didn’t heed requests for more security. (Note: the CIA annex in the compound was more fortified than the diplomatic mission building.) Still, there were times when Ambassador Stevens himself, believing it unnecessary, had declined offers of beefing up the security team. The report also warns about depending on host nation security in a hostile and dangerous region. That certainly has applicability beyond Libya.
Given the partisan domestic politics of the situation, the fact that the United States hasn’t been able to tackle Libya’s lassitude in bringing those responsible for the attack to justice, the persistence of inter-agency communication failures, it seems clear we haven’t heard the last about Benghazi. It will surely come up if Hillary runs in 2016, and it’s a legitimate issue. But, as David von Drehle points out in this week’s Time Magazine, her weak performance there could well be minimized by scrutiny of her overall foreign policy record, which puts her often to the right of the generals. Hillary is, according to one of Drehle’s sources, “a hawk, but a smart hawk.”
As I heard her say in a State Department briefing for editorial writers, defense, diplomacy and development are the building blocks of foreign policy. Unfortunately for those in Benghazi, defense was sorely lacking in that dangerous region in Libya in September, 2012.
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