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The Lessons Of Benghazi

The report of the Accountability Review Board investigating the terrorist attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi concisely lays out much that we already knew: this was the premeditated work of terrorists, not a protest about a YouTube video that spun out of control; the attackers employed military tactics and used rocket-propelled grenades and other heavy weapons; they also used simple weapons of opportunity, such as gasoline used to set the fire that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and Sean Smith.

The report also confirmed that the Libyan government was totally incapable of providing security for U.S. facilities in Benghazi and was barely even in control of much of that city and its environs. The State Department’s naïve reliance on local militias of questionable capacity and uncertain loyalty was, in retrospect, a grave mistake. This was especially true given the recent history of high-profile anti-Western attacks in Benghazi, including one against the U.S. compound, as well as a vast body of intelligence that pointed to deteriorating security conditions in eastern Libya.

That we operated with a skeleton staff in such a precarious environment is clear evidence that we failed to connect the dots. That is a mistake we simply can’t afford to make again – in Libya or anywhere else with an American diplomatic presence. The State Department must adjust the security posture of diplomatic facilities in high-risk regions based on responsible, timely analysis of the best information available. We can no longer expect to rely primarily on host nations to protect American diplomats in all parts of the world.

Conducting U.S. diplomacy abroad is not without risks, and I strongly believe we must continue to represent the interests of the United States in difficult regions. In strategically important but volatile countries like Pakistan – or potentially a post-Assad Syria – it is crucial that the U.S. have an active diplomatic presence. We must be clear-eyed, however, about the dangers our people face in these places and, as the Accountability Review Board notes, we must be able to protect our own people. We can do this by reforming the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to ensure that it is agile, responsive and accountable.

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