Consulates are not Embassies and Other Musings on Benghazi…
Because I’m feeling a bit churlish this morning, I’m inclined to go into nitpick mode.
First, I’m a bit tired of people using the terms “embassy” and “consulate” as if they’re interchangeable and blithely making points about the “embassy in Benghazi.” While a consulate might be a diplomatic mission, it’s on a substantially smaller scale than an embassy. Consulates are there to provide a diplomatic presence in a city of importance and are generally about the size of a small office with a correspondingly smaller staff. Unlike embassies which have grown to become monstrous fortifications after the attacks in the 90s, consulates are meant to be more accessible and are usually located in office buildings or something similarly low key.
Now, there were statements made in the Vice Presidential debates about how Ambassador Stevens didn’t have a marine detachment with him. The reality is that marine detachments at embassies are typically there to protect the embassy building itself and the classified material that’s located there. They are not there to actually protect the Chief of Mission (who is usually the ambassador) and perimeter security itself is ordinarily handled by the Host Nation (for clarification on this see statements by Colonel van Orpdorp here). That is to say, even if a marine detachment did exist in Libya, it would have been at the embassy building in TRIPOLI rather than in Benghazi with the COM.
Josh Rogin’s done a good amount of yeoman’s work in uncovering the actual security arrangements at Benghazi (and Libya more generally). Essentially the Libyan mission was protected by Site Security Teams and Mobile Security Detachments that were hired through a British intermediary (These are evidently also the security forces that ditched their duties when things got hot).
Additionally, the quibbling about whether or not the Rose Garden transcript mentions whether Obama referred to the assassination of Stevens as a terrorist attack is a bit disingenuous. In a statement in Colorado a day later, Obama clearly called the attack an act of terror. Further an Obama Administration official made the point that it was an act of terror by the 19th, even if the official line was still connected to it being an opportunistic attack related to the video protests.
Now with that quibbling out of the way, I’m going to go into a series of little musings on the whole affair.
We know that Chris Stevens was sincerely devoted to helping the Libyan people and was tirelessly advocating on their behalf. Jason Pack’s piece gives us a good sense of the man and his engagement on the ground. As a career diplomat, Ambassador Stevens was well aware of the balance needed between the security consciousness of the American public and the genuine need to engage required by his diplomatic work. If in the end he chose to prioritize the latter at the expense of his own safety, it was a choice he made trusting the Libyan people.
More bluster, more finger-pointing and further isolating US diplomats in hermetically sealed embassies isn’t going to make their mission any easier. The more the US retreats into fortified embassies and the more it rages like a wounded titan, the less influence its soft-power institutions like the State Department will wield. Replacing the current State Department security with more praetorian guards and uniformed military isn’t going to improve that image any, and will just make the job of people like Chris Stevens harder.
Worse, the notion that militarizing all foreign policy is a good idea remains a central plank of one major party. Romney-Ryan have made it clear that they want to reduce foreign aid and state department funding in general in favor of greater military expenditures. Congressman Ryan’s discretionary budget plan calls for reducing State and USAID’s overall funding by about 40% by 2014 while boosting military spending by 14% over the Obama Administration’s baseline.
A more holistic foreign policy approach, and a lessening of the emphasis placed on hard power is what the US needs more than ever.
As I’m seeing a fair amount of quibbling with whether or not the Administration was deliberately steering it towards a statement about the videos, I’m going to add a couple additional links to flesh out my original thesis.
I think Marc Lynch does the best overall job of asking the questions that need to be raised regarding the actual incidents and attacks. Specifically about the influence of Salafist groups in post-Spring countries as well as the general reaction (and capability of security forces) in host governments. He also has a sharp point to make about the hue and cry about whether or not the Administration’s narrative was intentionally misleading or whether it was simply fog of war.
For those who want to parse it for themselves, Glenn Kessler has a timeline of statements. It’s not perfect, and Kessler has an agenda in setting journalists up as brave truth-seekers, but it does give a better idea of who said what and when.