In a previous effort - published a few days after the Benghazi consulate tragedy - we rehearsed the principles of diplomatic representation and the nature of the security ‘guaranteed’ to diplomatic personnel. Since then, the situation in Benghazi leading up to the murderous attack has unfortunately become a domestic political issue in this overheated campaign season. Whether or not the consulate asked Washington for additional security personnel, and whether or not the State Department would not, or could not accede to the request, has been used by both political parties to damn or praise their presidential candidate.
Neither party has it right! And, furthermore, the political wrangling has distracted many from the real significance of the deaths.
Based upon my years in American diplomatic service, I believe that the provision of a Marine Security Guard (MSG) detatchment to Benghazi is not likely to have prevented what happened. Nor could some private contractor have provided the necessary security with anything like certainty.
Twice in my career I found myself in a diplomatic mission under attack by murderous mobs. In both cases there was a MSG detatchment in place and in both cases the Marines were the first to fall in their attempts to protect the rest of us. In my experience MSG detatchments, even in a large mission, normally consisted of a senior non-commissioned officer in charge of perhaps a score of young lance corporals and privates. In the attacks I survived, the Marines fought valiantly and did amazingly well considering they faced mobs numbering in the thousands or tens of thousands.
The bottom line on diplomatic security, as I wrote previously, must be to reduce exposure by placing the smallest-possible mission in a location easily defended (i.e., the top floor of the best hotel in town!) and rely ultimately on efforts of the host government’s forces to provide protection. When that protection is not a possibility we shouldn’t be there!
In the case of Libya, the host government has -- at best -- tenuous control of its own security, not to mention that of diplomatic missions. The State Department in DC and the embassy in Tripoli must have known only too well how ‘iffy’ the government’s control was (and is!). To have created the highly visible and accessible consulate in Benghazi so early in Libya’s post-Qadhafi history may have represented a desirable public-relations coup -- but in the tragic end was a logistical nightmare.
It is obvious that the attack on the consulate compound was the work of al-Qaida and/or that organization’s allies. It was not a spontaneous upraising of incensed Islamists reacting to that obscure and rediculous video posted on some social network.
Here at home the attack was mismanaged by the administration at the UN and elsewhere. But then it was even more egregiously exploited by the president’s opposition for its own political advantage. That the deaths of these four diplomats became a political football is unworthy of our system and of the people directly involved.
It is truly a dire shame that after decades of tragic attacks on embassies in Teheran, Islamabad, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and others, we should have learned so little about protecting ourselves. And, that we have refused to acknowledge the world no longer plays by the traditional rules which, for centuries, said: ‘don’t kill the messenger.'