In testimony before the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will have an opportunity to show Washington what it means to “take full responsibility” for the Benghazi disaster. At a very minimum, it should mean providing real answers.
As the Obama team from the day of the attack itself chose obfuscation and blame shifting over accountability, it is hard to imagine that Clinton today will make real news. It will be recalled that from President Obama to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, for several weeks the Administration peddled the line that the well-orchestrated terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi was the result of offense taken to a silly YouTube movie trailer. In the Rose Garden, on the Sunday talk shows, at the United Nations, the Administration’s line was repeated almost verbatim. The message they sent Americans—and the world—was not only factually wrong, but also failed to defend American principles like freedom of expression.
Senators and Representatives have had time to digest the Accountability Review Board’s (ARB) report on Benghazi, which at least fleshed out the failings within the State Department that left the U.S. ambassador so woefully underprotected. The report pointed to inadequate diplomatic security stemming from Congress’s supposed cuts to the State Department budget, Libyan militias charged with defending the facility, and Ambassador Chris Stevens’s own determination to make the visit to Benghazi. It also highlighted the stark lack of leadership and bureaucratic stove-piping within the State Department, for which Clinton surely has to account.
The congressional hearings still need to seek answers to the following four questions regarding systemic failures in intelligence and security:
- What counterterrorism and early warning measures were in place to proactively address security threats? The report states that “intelligence provided no immediate, specific tactical warning of the September 11 attacks.” However, it did not provide an assessment of the counterterrorism measures that were in place to address the threat of extremist activity.
- What risk assessments were performed and what risk mitigation measures were adopted prior to the attack? While the report urges a review of risk mitigation, it omits what, if any, measures were already in place in the area of eastern Libya, which has long been a haven for extremist activity. The instability on the ground obviously created a significant risk to U.S. personnel.
- What contingency planning was undertaken and exercised to respond to armed assaults against U.S. facilities in Benghazi? The report indicates that when the mission came under attack, security personnel moved swiftly to take defensive positions and evacuate to the mission’s annex. However, the report fails to examine what, if any, contingency planning was present and if it was implemented.
- How was the interagency response to the incident organized and managed? When a crisis erupts that puts the lives of U.S. personnel as well as U.S. interests at risk, the whole of government should respond with alacrity and with all of the resources that are reasonably available. A complete examination of the U.S. response, therefore, should address the command, control, and coordination of efforts to organize and integrate interagency efforts after the threat in Benghazi became evident.
And finally, critically, no one has ever explained fully why Ambassador Stevens was so determined to open an American Corner—a U.S. public diplomacy function—in such a dangerous environment and in a “consulate” that was not even officially on the books at the State Department. There is still a long way to the bottom of the Benghazi affair.