There is, it appears, plenty of blame to go around for the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, and while much of it is concentrated on the State Department, itself, Congress also played a leading role.
The independent report by the Accountability Review Board cited systematic failures of leadership, senior management weaknesses in two bureaus of the State Department, inadequate funding by Washington, the actions of Libyan guards who had been hired to protect the outpost and, tragically, Stevens himself. The report suggests that he put himself at risk by traveling to Benghazi and by making many decisions on his own.
Any U.S. personnel working in the world’s hot spots are at risk, and they understand that. Months after rebels killed former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, that nation remained unsettled and dangerous, even to a man as broadly admired there as Stevens was.
Knowing that, the State Department, President Obama and Congress should have been reluctant to settle for security on the fly, pinching pennies in a part of the world where American officials pose tempting targets for al-Qaida and other terrorists.
The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli had asked Washington for additional security in Benghazi, but the requests were ignored. The report did lay to rest the politically motivated accusations that CIA and other personnel were prevented by the administration from responding to the attack in a timely manner. It also noted that there were no protests outside the Embassy that day, as the administration first reported.
Although the report did not single out any individuals or recommend disciplinary action, it had immediate consequences. Hours after its release, three State Department officials resigned. That may have been appropriate, but it will be insufficient if that ends the consequences.
Congress, which has been on cost-cutting autopilot, made a terrible decision. Indeed, the report specifically calls on Congress to fully fund security. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is reportedly planning to ask Congress to transfer $1.3 billion in money earmarked for Iraq to pay for additional Marine guards and other security improvements.
The State Department and Congress need to examine security in other regions of the world where American personnel are at risk, and decide what the lives on the line there are worth.
It’s difficult to propose more spending in a time of soaring deficits that pose their own threat to the country, but it must be done to protect our personnel.
That’s why Congress needs to be serious about its business. A little less grandstanding on complex issues might save some lives.