“I know there will be an attempt to shift the responsibility for this tragedy to a shortage of resources,” Ros-Lehtinen said in her opening remarks. “But budgetary constraints were not a factor in the Department’s failure to recognize the threats and adequately respond to the situation in Benghazi. The problem was and is about misplaced priorities.”
Specifically, she pointed to department funds “being lavished on global climate change, culinary diplomacy programs, and other favored projects.”
And Rep. Christopher H. Smith, R-N.J., noted at the hearing that “when it comes to resources, authorities and funds have been increased . . . over the past dozen years” for diplomatic security.
Undersecretary of State Thomas R. Nides testified Thursday that the State Department and the Pentagon have teamed up to begin a worldwide review of the United States’ security posture at its embassies and other facilities around the world. They have deployed five teams to assess security at 19 posts in 13 countries considered particularly high risk, and plan to update Congress about what sort of additional funds and authorities may be needed as soon as that assessment is complete.
One key shift both Nides and Undersecretary of State William J. Burns highlighted was that going forward, the State Department is preparing to shoulder more responsibility for its security in certain host nations that are either incapable or unwilling of guaranteeing it themselves, as they are obligated to do under international law.
“For more than 200 years, the United States — like every other country around the world — has relied on host nations to provide security for our embassies and consulates. But in today’s evolving threat environment, we have to take a new and harder look at the capabilities and commitment of our hosts,” Nides testified on Thursday.
“We’re dealing with a new normal,” he added.
One of the main issues in Benghazi was the failure of the weak Libyan government and a loosely affiliated Libyan militia that the State Department was relying on for additional security to protect the consulate. The country, fresh off an Arab Spring-inspired revolution, is still deeply fragmented and has had trouble reigning in its many independent militias into one centralized, government-run armed force.
“The world’s really changed over the last 200 years,” Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said Thursday morning. “You get a real sense of incompetence” from the local guards tasked to guard U.S. embassies in many locales.
“Generally those people are confused, most of them you wouldn’t meet going into a theater here in the United States,” Risch said. “We really need to discriminate amongst countries as to what kind of effort we put forward.” He also said he hoped that in the future, U.S. Marines could be tasked with protecting diplomats, not just U.S. documents and other assets overseas, as they are now.
“A big chunk of the responsibility is on the Libyan government,” Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., added Thursday afternoon. “The fact is, this is a government that is a coalition that includes, or at least countenances, some of the most evil jihadist elements imaginable.”
Posting more Americans Marines or other security guards to protect U.S. facilities and personnel abroad, however, will involve greater costs.