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Benghazi as metaphor: More lessons for our politicians

Hillary Clinton
REUTERS/Jason Reed
As Secretary Clinton noted in her hearing, what happened in Benghazi is less important than what we will do in the future to secure and defend our diplomatic corps.

The recent appearance of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before Congress resurrected the issues surrounding the tragedy at Benghazi, Libya, and the deaths of four stalwart Americans. This isn't more commentary on the facts concerning that debacle — they have been vetted already. And the final details are yet to come. Additionally, Secretary Clinton needs no help in defending herself. This is more about how dysfunctional our government is, how disingenuous our politicians are, and how hypocritical those in our Congress are.

Benghazi is a metaphor for each of these qualities. I hope we've learned some lessons from that tragedy.

First a bit of background. The dangers our diplomatic corps faces daily are well known, and have a well documented history. Congress should know them well. We have thousands of men and women who staff the more than 260 embassies, consulates and missions we maintain in 180 countries. Since the 1980 burning of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, a total of 88 U.S. diplomatic personnel have died in the diplomatic service of the their country. Military personnel accounted for 23 and central intelligence personnel accounted for 14 more. But most of these fatalities were in the U.S. Foreign Service, U.S. Agency for International Development, or staff from other departments and agencies assigned to U.S. embassies overseas.

So, when it comes to funding the security of our diplomats, there should be no surprises. Nevertheless, Congress, in its lack of wisdom, decided differently – and disingenuously as well. In 2009, House Republicans voted for an amendment to cut $1.2 billion from State operations, including funds for 300 more diplomatic security positions. Democrats enacted a budget of $1.803 billion for embassy security, construction and maintenance for fiscal 2010, when they still controlled the Senate and House. However, in fiscal year 2011, after Republicans took control of the House and picked up six Senate seats, Congress reduced the enacted budget, and shaved $128 million off of the administration's request for embassy security funding.

More draining of funds

House Republicans drained off even more funds in fiscal year 2012 – cutting back on the department's request by $331 million with a budget of $1.537 billion – well below what the administration had requested including added security proposals. If $1.5 billion seems like a generous sum for funding our most critical Cabinet department (with a clear and proven need for high security), recall that our venture in Afghanistan runs about $150 billion per year. To invest 1 percent of that amount on building and maintaining stronger relations with nations around the world seems to me to have a better return on investment.

Again, last February, the Obama administration actually requested modest increases in funding for the State Department and USAID for fiscal 2013 when it released its budget. While the Congress doesn't divide up the accounts the same way as the administration, in an apples-to-apples comparison, the House Appropriations Committee's allocation for State and foreign operations for fiscal 2013 was a 12 percent cut from the administration's request, including a 14 percent cut to the administration's request for non-war related diplomatic and development activities such as embassy security.

So, what is Benghazi really about? As Secretary Clinton noted in her hearing, what happened in Benghazi is less important than what we will do in the future to secure and defend our diplomatic corps. Money alone likely would not have saved the four Americans at Benghazi, but clearly more security is demanded in the future. That will take money. That will require more robust funding. That will take some honest introspection on the part of those who approve security appropriations, and much less excoriating of those who are attempting to provide that security.

Tired of politicization, confrontation

Moreover, most Americans are tired of the politicization of tragic events such as Benghazi. They are tired of members of Congress who would rather seek confrontations than develop mutually beneficial solutions. They are fed up with nonproductive political posturing. They are tired of seeing the hypocrisy that is rampant in Congress people (of both parties) in recent years. And finally, they are tired of a Congress that is dysfunctional rather than working in a collegial manner to push forward an agenda to make our country better.

Those should be the true and more useful lessons from the Benghazi tragedy.

Myles Spicer of Minnetonka has spent his business career as a professional writer and owned several successful ad agencies over the past 45 years.

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Comments (12)

Blue Mountain a rich brew or private security profiteering?

Been awhile since I sipped the brew: Blue Mountain is a rare and expensive coffee bean. Makes a rich cup that probably still costs a pretty penny...

But Blue Mountain Group is another brew; a security group out of UK, Welsh outfit who were hired to guard The Benghazi compound...untrained locals paid four bucks an hour ? And one guard hired locally...a school teacher who spoke English but didn't know anything about a gun? Are these only careless rumors from the blogo-sphere sans substance?

Reuters, Asia Times online, BBC, Wash Post etc. validate the story but which 'facts' legitimize any story that creates a scandal embracing insecure security contractors who can make a buck and yet whose credibility does not pass through some form of regulatory system before being registered as a legitimate security contractor?

Who invests in military security contractors...who makes the profit; the buck stops where?

Blue Mountain

Some more on Blue mountain at:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/17/us-libya-usa-bluemountain-idUS...

Security services purchased for $783,000. Value as a political football---priceless.

However, Blue Mountain was one of few companies that had approval to work in Libya and was very restricted in the type of people it could hire:

(quote)

....The State Department has long been understaffed for the unprecedented mission the U.S. has pursued in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Its in-house security provider, Diplomatic Security, is ill equipped to do its job in three war zones simultaneously. Currently, less than 1,000 DS agents guard 275 American embassies and consulates. The State Department has tried to stretch its coverage by hiring armed contractors to keep its diplomats out of harm’s way.

But State didn’t have this option in Libya. Many news media reports mistakenly identified the two Navy SEALs who perished in Benghazi as security contractors for the State Department. They were not. In early 2012, Libya’s new government had expressly banned the use of foreign or domestic armed security contractors on Libyan soil.

The State Department thus had no choice; if it wanted to behave diplomatically, it had to rely on the nascent Libyan police, unarmed locals under contract, its own DS service and an assist from the Pentagon. When the chief security officer at the American embassy in Tripoli requested a third extension of that U.S. military support and was denied by his colleagues in Washington, ostensibly for cost reasons, this created a security vacuum that terrorists were able to exploit.....

http://www.ohio.com/editorial/allison-stanger-when-our-diplomats-outsour...

(end quote)

It seems to be a patchwork quilt for a number of reasons.

...and the people don't have the will to know "what's up next?"

...So like a dominant figure waiting in the shadows, US world policy antics creep into the macrame of mixed messages as the dust rises beyond Benghazi failures to Mali, to the African country of Niger... as the Wash Post detailed a few days ago,"Here come the drones!" to a base being established in Niger....so what's next as American involvement escalates?

Another Vietnam on the horizon?

Or think of it this way...'Question" is an active word or should be; whatever be our present or future world policy scenarios?

The cover-up continues

Come on Myles - hundred million – a billion. After all, “what difference does it make?”

The issue about Benghazi is not just about money, budgets and congress – it is about honesty and the spinning of the Obama political narrative.

Wrong

This is more about spinning the Republican narrative ON Obama.

Let Us Not Forget

That the reason behind the Republican's desperate search for a scapegoat to blame for the Benghazi tragedy is quite simple,...

the public must NEVER, EVER be allowed to connect that tragedy with the ("cut fraud and waste") budget cuts the GOP forced on the State Department.

It is sad that the mainstream media participates in the continuous efforts, on the part of the GOP, to blame the victims of their budget cuts for their own misfortune (in this case the State Department),...

while continuing to perpetrate the lie that all the problems suffered by the general public over the past 30+ years have NOTHING, to do with the policies the GOP has enacted or concessions they've pushed.

The public must NEVER be allowed to realize the they're increasingly poor, can't find well-paying jobs with benefits, lost their homes and their retirement accounts in the crash of 2008, etc, because of GOP policies. The public MUST be convinced that these problems are because their fellow Americans are lazy, greedy, and don't want to work.

an unanswered question

When SOS Hillary Clinton said, "What difference, at this point, does it make?" it appeared she was answering a question we already knew the answer to. (Why the Embassy in Benghazi was attacked?)
What we still don't know is why she, President Obama and Susan Rice and others in the Obama administration misled the public for several days by insisting the attack was the result of a video trailer, when Clinton and Obama already knew right off the bat that it was a terrorist attack.. It is the deliberate misinformation that is being questioned, not the cause of the attack. No one has ever fully explained why the public was misled.

The Public MAY Have Been Misled

We STILL don't know who knew what, when (any claims to the contrary are clearly without supporting evidence),...

we don't know who exactly, may have been doing the misleading (if we can even call giving out the best information we had at the time an attempt to mislead),...

nor do we actually know WHY Benghazi was attacked, WHO, exactly did the attacking, nor WHO may have ordered such an attack.

Why some of us expect absolute and instant clarity regarding events in isolated places (and insist on drawing conclusions based on nothing BUT speculation),...

says far more about those asking the impossible than about those of whom they are asking it.

Maybe, but...

I see no evidence of "stonewalling"; there are several entities seeking answers. And, I believe they will unfold and we will know more, if not all the facts surrounding this tragedy. But, the House is not really seeking information, they are more interesting in excoriating Clinton, the adminsstration State Dept, and scoring some points with the public. The hearing was not a Q/A -- it was an attack assembly. The wierdest was when Paul asked Clinton "are we sending arms to Turkey"? She looked at the camera a bit like Oliver Hardy used to do and responded: "TURKEY?????"

Seems to me we forget the conditions in Lybra or

we are ignorant of them - In a country that has just undergone a revolution and thus is without an infrastructure or intelligence and most of the other governmental organizations we expect, gaining intelligence is very difficult at best. Most things can fly below the radar, simply because the IS NO radar. That is why, trying to find out exactly what happened took time. And to get any accurate answers did just that. Really now, people. Enough of this 'should have' business for political purpose.

Sorry Ron..

I think you miss the point, this is not about "budgets", it is about hypocrisy, and how those qualities interfere with sound leadership of our nation. Congress will never become functional, useful, or productive while this kind of "gamesmanship" carries on. And also (to satisfy your defense of the Republican House) it will have to be ameliorated in a NON-PARTISAN way. Hypocrisy is not the ownership of just one political partyp

Afterthought

If the raking of Hillary was not enough, the next round of uncivil behavior on the part of our polticians was the acromony and attacks at the hearing of Hagel. Certainly he deserves to be vbetted for a critical job; but not interrogated meanly as he was. More examples of how the environment of Congress has changed in recent years.