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The inquiry led by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee into the slaying of four Americans at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last year has been attention-grabbing, but some senior GOP aides are worried that the partisan overtones are diverting Congress from identifying and addressing the real lessons learned from the attack.
In particular, these aides say key staffers have been overly consumed with chasing down or addressing inaccurate or unfounded accusations emerging from the inquiry.
“We have got to get past that and figure out what are we going to do going forward,” a GOP aide stressed. “Some of the accusations, I mean you wouldn’t believe some of this stuff. It’s just — I mean, you’ve got to be on Mars to come up with some of this stuff.”
In this charged political environment, where some on Capitol Hill have accused the president of a possible cover-up related to the attack just weeks before the 2012 presidential election, defense policy Republicans are trying to refocus attention on core issues and create some good out of the tragedy.
One sign of this focus will come when the House Armed Services Committee starts marking up its annual defense authorization bill Wednesday.
“We’re trying to stay on the substance of it,” one senior GOP aide said. “There has got to be some good that comes out of those fatalities.”Steps to Correct Shortcomings
Lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee are drafting provisions, which will be included in the chairman’s mark of the fiscal 2014 defense authorization bill (HR 1960), aimed at pushing the Pentagon to better coordinate with the State Department on plans for embassy and consulate security to address lessons from the attack.
“What you will see is something looking forward perspectively on the status of deployed forces to protect U.S. and economic and diplomatic interests around the world,” said one senior panel aide leading the effort. “Aside from the hyperbole of the debate, the truth of the matter is, had the Department of State put in place sufficient defensive capabilities on the ground, that still doesn’t get you there because I think you look at [how] no embassy or consulate is a castle keep.”
Aides describe embassy and consulate defense as “burn-down plans.” In effect, the State Department’s current security plans are simply aimed at buying time for the destruction of sensitive documents and attempts to keep embassy personnel from harm long enough for support to arrive, particularly from the host government.
“Going forward, we have to have the Department of State have real defensive plans that then match the posture of the Department of Defense,” one senior panel aide said.