Monday, September 17, 2012

Diplomatic Security in Libya

I am no expert on international security, but Susan Rice's appearance on This Week seems to cast a pretty unfavorable light on the administration's handling of security for the American diplomatic mission in Libya in a pretty poor light.

First, the administration's claim that the attacks at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and at other American diplomatic facilities around the world last week were totally spontaneous and uncoordinated is contradicted by a variety of independent reports. The UK's Independent reports that the United States received specific warnings about attacks in Eqypt and Libya at least two full days before the riot in Cairo and the assault in Benghazi. CNN reports that Libyan officials had warned American diplomats that the security situation in Benghazi was unstable. The president of Libya claims that post-attack investigations leave little doubt that the assault on the consulate was planned.

If the administration's line is not correct, then the United States either failed to act on (general or specific) warnings about emerging danger in Benghazi or failed to detect a serious security threat to its diplomatic mission in Libya.

Even if the administration's line is correct, it's attitude toward security in Libya seems pretty flip. Ambassador Rice admitted that there was no military security at the consulate in Benghazi  or the embassy in Tripoli, claiming that the "circumstances" didn't indicate that level of security and that the Libyan diplomatic mission was "relatively new."
Unlike other embassies around the world, Rice said there were no Marines present last week to protect the consulate in Benghazi, or the main U.S. embassy in Tripoli, saying the U.S. presence there is “relatively new” since the revolution that overthrew former dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

“There are not Marines in every facility. That depends on the circumstances. That depends on the requirements,” Rice said. “Our presence in Tripoli, as in Benghazi, is relatively new, as you will recall. We’ve been back post-revolution only for a matter of months.”
Again, I am not a security expert, but Libya is obviously a country under a tremendous amount of stress. It deposed its long-time dictator only a few months ago and a variety of internal and external forces have been jockeying for influence and power ever since. So, we have an unstable country with lots of heavy weaponry from a revolt floating around and foreign and domestic Islamists trying to stake out claims on the new Libyan state and the "circumstances" don't justify Marine guards for U.S. diplomatic missions? Or, maybe they did and the State Department just didn't have time to get around to it over the last few month?

The claims that the circumstances didn't justify military security and that the mission was too new to have set such security up are not necessarily exclusive, but Ambassador Rice's statements imply that there was a determination that no such security was necessary and that there was a failure to setup such security in time. Together, they leave me wondering exactly how military security is allocated to U.S. diplomatic missions in general and what didn't work in Libya.

All told and the presidential campaign aside, there are serious questions still unanswered about the attack in Benghazi and the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

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