The more we learn about the deadly attacks on our diplomatic installations in Cairo, Egypt and Benghazi, Libya, the more questions arise. Those questions need to be answered — and quickly.
Was the attack in Benghazi really just a spur-of-the-moment response to an obscure, homemade movie posted on the internet, or was it a planned, coordinated attack by a trained group of well-armed men? Why was the security at the Benghazi consulate so inadequate — on 9/11, of all days? Were U.S. security forces really equipped with guns with no bullets? Did the U.S. receive any intelligence that warned us that an attack might be forthcoming? Why didn’t the State Department respond to the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo by immediately increasing protection at our other diplomatic outposts in the Middle East? Was there an intelligence leak that allowed the attackers in Benghazi to determine where the ambassador was? How did the U.S. somehow lose track of where Ambassador Chris Stevens was during the attacks? How much sensitive information was lost when the Benghazi consulate was overrun?
The Justice Department and FBI are investigating and the State Department now is declining to answer questions about what happened in Benghazi because it considers the situation “a crime scene.” The State Department won’t talk, it says, until the Justice Department investigation is concluded. In my view, that’s not acceptable. The Benghazi incident wasn’t a domestic criminal act, it was a foreign affairs fiasco that resulted in the first murder of a U.S. ambassador in more than 30 years. The decisions that produced the death of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans need to be examined publicly, not hidden behind the guise of a “criminal investigation.” The Senate Homeland Security Committee apparently has called for hearings, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee should do likewise. Those hearings should move forward quickly, so that we can determine how to prevent these kinds of incidents from happening again.
What happened in Benghazi and Cairo, and more recently at other U.S. diplomatic missions elsewhere in the world, is not a political issue — it is a crucial, threshold matter of national sovereignty and national security that shouldn’t be swept under the rug or deferred because we are in the midst of a presidential campaign. We need to promptly determine where we fell short and decide what the United States must do to be able to adequately protect its embassies and diplomats on foreign soil.