The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 24, 2012

Accountability for Benghazi


Daily Item

---- — Much of the debate over the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi has been mired in a puzzling fixation over semantics with Republican arguing that the White House tried to mislead the public about the true nature of the attacks.

The administration's account did change over days, and oddly, the initial accounts appear to have been more accurate than later descriptions of what happened.

The only reason any of this matters is that the security in place at the time of the attacks was insufficient. The lapse cost four American lives, including ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who became the first American ambassador killed by terrorists since the 1970s.

News accounts make it clear that Stevens had warned his superiors in the State Department that the diplomatic security in Benghazi was inadequate and that tensions in the area had been building.

In a series of reports beginning in March 2011 and continuing right up until the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks, Stevens and others tried unsuccessfully to convey that the vacuum created by the ouster of Muammar Qadhafi was being filled by dangerous elements including terrorists with ties to Al Quaeda.

The last warning came from Stevens on the day he died.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted responsibility for the lapse in security. Clinton argued that the president does not have time to examine the specifics of security requirements for all diplomatic missions so he could not be blamed. Clinton's comments inspired President Barack Obama to assert that as the chief executive, he holds ultimate responsibility.

That's all fine. Leaders must take the responsibility for failings of their organizations. To correct these problems, there has to be a more specific revelation of who determined that Stevens' warnings ought to go unheeded and why they reached that conclusion.

It is easier to know that security was inadequate after the attack. The Department of State was struggling to manage staff while dealing with budgets severely cut by Republicans in Congress. Arguing over what motivated the attackers is easier than addressing what the American government did wrong when it came to protecting its diplomats in a dangerous area. We need leaders to tackle the real problems not dwell on distractions.