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Congress should protect diplomats, not just bash Hillary Clinton

By David Horsey

5:00 AM PST, December 20, 2012

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Hillary Rodham Clinton has won consistent praise during her four years as secretary of State, but it looks as if she’ll be leaving her post with one big failure on her record. If she seeks the presidency in 2016, you can bet we will all be hearing the word “Benghazi” in every attack ad Republicans run against her.

A report has just been released by the independent review board looking into the September terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, which cost the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The report charges the State Department with a systemic failure in which "senior officials in critical positions of authority and responsibility in Washington demonstrated a lack of leadership and management ability."

Four of those officials resigned Tuesday. The independent panel stated that blame rose only to the assistant secretary level, but Clinton will still be sporting a political black eye when she steps down from her job as planned at the beginning of President Obama’s second term. Add that to the pain of the concussion she is nursing that seems to be bad enough that her doctor is restricting the travel plans of the peripatetic Madame Secretary.

One stop she has canceled is a visit to Capitol Hill to testify about the Benghazi mess. Instead, two of her deputies will speak to the Senate and House foreign affairs committees on Thursday. Republican members of those committees insist that will not be enough. They want to hear from Hillary before she quits her job, and they say they will not start the confirmation process for her successor – who very likely will be Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry – until she shows up to take the heat for Benghazi.

That is probably reasonable; she is the boss, after all. Nevertheless, there is a heavy load of politics behind the demand. Republicans tried to hang the disaster at Benghazi on Obama in the final days of the election campaign. Having failed to do damage with the issue in 2012, they certainly do not want to miss a chance to cause trouble for someone who might be the Democratic nominee in 2016.

John Bolton, George W. Bush’s U.N. envoy, showed just how nasty the game may get when, in an interview on Fox News, he accused Clinton of faking her concussion to avoid interrogation. “This is a diplomatic illness to beat the band,” Bolton said, alluding to bogus illnesses other officials have supposedly used to play hooky from congressional hearings. Apparently, Clinton will have to bring a note from her doctor when she finally does head to the Hill.

What needs to be discussed in those hearings is not only why American diplomats in Benghazi were left to operate in such a perilous locale with woefully weak protection, but why, for well over a decade, so little has been done to raise the security level at U.S. embassies and consulates in many increasingly chaotic and threatening outposts. A report in 1998 after embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania called for a dramatic increase in security, yet in the years since nothing was fixed, and the disaster in Benghazi is the result.

This is not just a management failure, this is also a political failure that can be attributed to both political parties. Security costs a lot of money, and, while presidents and members of Congress give endless billions of dollars to the military, the diplomatic corps is always pinched for cash. My guess is that one big reason officials at the State Department failed to respond to the pleas for more protection coming from the diplomats in Libya is that those officials could not figure out how to pay for it.

When members of the foreign affairs committees get done bashing Hillary Clinton and scoring political points, it would be nice if they not only come up with a solid plan to protect our foreign service officers, but actually provide the money to pay for it.