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January 27, 2015

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Sun Editorial:

Lessons from Libya

Congress shouldn’t pander on the issue of embassy security

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Conservatives in Washington have been loudly complaining about the Obama administration’s response to the attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed in the September attack.

Sensing a campaign issue, Republicans trumpeted the attacks as a sign of the administration’s weakness. Although their candidate lost and the election is over, Republicans in Congress have continued to pursue this in a way that shows they are trying to gain a political advantage. There have been serious allegations about how the Obama administration responded, and Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have gone so far as to call for Watergate-style hearings.

That demand is stunning because it suggests that the president was involved in a nefarious cover-up. It’s a baseless and dangerous claim, and it’s the type of rhetoric that has encouraged conspiracy theorists over the past four years to press their insatiable demand for “proof” — and the facts be damned — to refute rumor, speculation and innuendo. (Remember, President Barack Obama’s birth certificate and the word of Hawaii’s Republican governor as to its authenticity weren’t enough to prove his citizenship to some of the people the GOP counts in its base.)

It is a shame that McCain and Graham would cater to the tin-foil hat crowd, especially in a situation of this magnitude.

Of course, the Obama administration did itself no favors with its muddled public statements in the days after the attack. However, according to reports from the congressional hearings this past week, those statements appear to reflect the different and conflicting lines of intelligence that developed after the chaotic and tragic event.

Instead of taking the Republican tack by looking for facts to support their conclusions, lawmakers investigating the Benghazi attack should carefully consider the situation in context and figure out how to improve intelligence and security. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

Despite the Republican hyperbole, this was not the first attack on an American diplomatic mission. The University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism has catalogued hundreds of attacks against American diplomatic targets since 1970. According to an analysis of the consortium’s data by Mother Jones magazine, attacks on American diplomatic targets peaked under Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. In George W. Bush’s two terms in office, there were 64 attacks. Did we miss McCain and Graham’s calls for Watergate-style hearings then?

The questions about security are real, and Congress should consider how the nation protects its embassies and consulates. There’s a sense that Marines guard all of the United States’ foreign missions, but that isn’t the case. About 1,200 trained, armed Marines are stationed at about 150 of the nation’s embassies and consulates — about half of all of the diplomatic missions. Do the math and consider how many Marines that is for each mission.

Also, the Marines’ duty is to provide “internal security.” Although the State Department also provides security officers, the protection of embassies from outside attackers is, by international treaty, the responsibility of the host government.

As Congress considers what happened and how the nation protects diplomats and embassies, it shouldn’t lose sight of its own role. Some of the House Republicans who have been screaming loudest have voted for cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department’s budget for security.

If the country is to learn anything from this and move forward, it is going to have to have a sober conversation about the situation, what can be learned and what should be done. The deaths of a U.S. ambassador and American personnel are a serious matter, and the way they have been bandied about for political gain has been unconscionable.

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  1. If the attack on the consulate was so "well coordinated" why did it take 7 hours to be ended? Security consisted of a couple of lightly armed former SEALS, working as contracted security. What was the actual reason for alleged CIA presence at the consulate? I hope we find out soon, and put this debacle to rest. It took a guy driving a truck bomb about a minute to kill over 200 Marines in Beirut. Seems the same method could have been used in Benghazi. Just sayin'.

  2. There are those among us who, because they are very sore losers, and have so much hate for this particular President of United States, that they will see any perceived 'failure' of the Administration as an 'OPPORTUNITY' to make some political hay...

    and while Americans should know & care about what happens in Libya or any other outpost in which we have a presence, not about THAT...

    It's ALL ABOUT political opportunity for sore loser Right-Wing politicians, & for their lemmings that sit on their ample arses in front of FOX all day and hang on every word like their hearin' the Gospel of Jesus, just a' waitin' to give em' an AMMMMEN!

    Right now, they're all SALIVATING & PANTING.

    Here's video of Joe Heck trying to make HIS political hay, to feed both himself & his herd, and looking just like a GOAT in so doing.

  3. An "embassy" is the formal location of an ambassador's office and staff. An ambassador is the formal representative of one head of state to another. A country will have only one ambassador/embassy in another country. The US embassy in Libya is at Walie Al-Ahed Road -- Sidi Slim Area, in Tripoli. The Benghazi establishment was not an "embassy."

    A US Consulate is a business office dealing primarily with personal, but officially-related, affairs of the citizens of the US as well as such affairs of citizens of the host country affecting the United States: example - issuing passports and visas. The Embassy will also commonly have a Consulate section to deal with such. There may be multiple consulates in the host country. A consulate is headed by a consul-general. The US State Department reports no consulates in Libya, other than the one co-located with the embassy. Neither State nor the news media has ever referred to the presence of a consul-general in Benghazi. It appears that the Benghazi establishment was not a "consulate."

    Missions may be established to deal with a variety of specific problems - trade, agriculture, education, etc. Clandestine missions may also be established for various purposes. The US Embassy is in Tripoli; there is no Consul-General in Benghazi; it appears that the installation in Benghazi was no more than a "mission." The fact that its occupants called for CIA help in defense, is indicative of an intelligence mission. Indeed, one early report is that Benghazi was established to coordinate responses by the US government (particularly the CIA) and various Middle East governments to the events of the "Arab Spring" uprisings. As such, there is a valid argument that it constituted a legitimate target: that military intervention to defend the place was not desirable to avoid exposing it to too much publicity. Additionally discussions of the events would be highly classified, controlled, and spun by the intelligence apparatus: information reaching the public would be highly censored and unreliable. In those circumstances, release of factual data, even if such were available on the spur of the moment, would be blocked, and politicians of BOTH parties would argue that ANY failure to do so would be a major risk to national security.

    No matter WHAT MS Rice said, someone was bound to sic a dog on her.

  4. renorobert,

    Thank you for your informative comment. Very good points on reality.

  5. Since we have posters here who have all the answers, then try this question. President Obama, the Commander-in-Chief, said numerous times, we don't abandon Americans. He says he gave the order to his Sec Def Leon Panetta to do whatever is necessary to save the Americans in the Consulate and CIA Annex. Right? Tell me what exactly was done was done to help the 4 American heroes who were murdered? That's why we have Congressional hearings and investigations. And like it or not these have consequences.


  6. <<renorobert,

    Thank you for your informative comment. Very good points on reality>>

    <<Your posts lately have been brilliant>>

    Agree with Peacelilly's and JefffromVegas' (11/19 7:31am) comments.

  7. "The republican members of congress see this as yet another way to take the heat off themselves for the dismal job they have been doing.." @antigov

    Senator Feinstein from California, Chair of the Senate Intel Committee and heading up the Senate Intel investigation/hearing, is a Democrat.