Saturday, October 13, 2012

Embassy security a complicated question

Posted By on Sat, Oct 13, 2012 at 6:00 AM

benghazi.JPG

The Republican Party, with little else with which to work and preferring not to answer questions about its tax/budget/safety net destruction plans, is working hard to make death of Americans in Libya and State Department security in general a defining campaign issue. It's a fair topic. But it doesn't readily reduce itself to yes/no, right/wrong answers, the sort of which the Republican Party is so fond of declaring.

Good illustration of that this morning in the New York Times.

Lost amid the election-year wrangling over the militants’ attack on the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya, is a complex back story involving growing regional resentment against heavily armed American private security contractors, increased demands on State Department resources and mounting frustration among diplomats over ever-tighter protections that they say make it more difficult to do their jobs.

Add to this sovereignty of the nations that open doors to our embassies. We are not free to place unlimited numbers of troops, even if we could afford security worthy of, say, a U.S. airport.

We also have multiple locations in volatile countries. In Libya, for example, the requests for additional security focused mostly on Tripoli, not the Benghazi diplomatic compound 400 miles away where Americans were killed.

While it is unclear what impact a handful of highly trained additional guards might have had in Benghazi were they able to deploy there, some State Department officials said it would probably not have made any difference in blunting the Sept. 11 assault from several dozen heavily armed militants.

“An attack of that kind of lethality, we’re never going to have enough guns,” Patrick F. Kennedy, under secretary of state for management, said at Wednesday’s hearing. “We are not an armed camp ready to fight it out.”

A senior administration official said that the military team, which was authorized by a directive from Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, was never intended to have an open-ended or Libya-wide mission.

“This was not a SWAT team with a DC-3 on alert to jet them off to other cities in Libya to respond to security issues,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter.

Let the investigations continue. Does the U.S. provide enough security? How much security can it provide, both in terms of host countries' sovereignty and cost? What does creation of an armed camp signal host citizens? How high up the chain of command must staffing at the hundreds of U.S. installations worldwide be considered — mid-level State Department, secretary of state, vice president, White House?

The conclusion might be that the Libyan deaths resulted from clear shortcomings in threat assessment and staffing. Or it might be more complicated. Facts don't matter here to Republicans any more than they ever do. They have already decided that whatever the U.S. did abroad must be wrong and must be criticized — instantly, even, in the fog of confusion hours after a lethal attack in a country in turmoil. Our country — wrong or wrong. (If a Republican had been president, it would have been traitorous to do or say anything that wasn't construed as rallying around our leader and the flag.)

Please note that House Republicans, led by vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, have pushed for cuts in embassy security spending to pay for their tax cuts for the wealthy.

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