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The Times
  • Editorial: Putting Benghazi attack in perspective

  • Now that the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi has become a political football, it may be too late to insert facts and perspective into the discussion, but let’s try. Here are a few truths that have been obscured by the political haze:

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  • Now that the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi has become a political football, it may be too late to insert facts and perspective into the discussion, but let’s try. Here are a few truths that have been obscured by the political haze:
    - Libya’s transitional government is weak and does not have police or an army capable of controlling its vast territory. The country is awash in weapons, mostly in the hands of militias the government can’t control.
    - Protecting foreign diplomats is primarily the responsibility of the host country. The Libyan people, if not the Americans playing political football, understand it’s their fault Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
    - A few Marines in dress blues may be sufficient to guard a U.S. embassy in Barbados, but it might take a battalion to adequately protect the embassy in Tripoli and the consulate in Benghazi – and there has been political resistance from the start to putting U.S. “boots on the ground” in Libya.
    - The alternative are security teams of heavily-armed private contractors, who ferry diplomats through dangerous streets in armored convoys.  Their aggressive tactics have sparked protests in Iraq and Afghanistan – and the Libyan government expressly stated it wouldn’t allow Blackwater-style contractors to operate there.
    - There surely were security contractors in Benghazi, along with a CIA contingent inadvertently outed during a House hearing last week. The details are confidential, limiting the administration’s ability to freely discuss the incidents of Sept. 11.
    - Security for diplomats is expensive. After two U.S. embassies in  Africa were bombed in 1998, a multi-billion dollar program was launched, replacing scores of embassies with hardened fortresses, often inconveniently placed outside cities. Security contractors are expensive as well. While House Republicans didn’t specifically cut $300 million from embassy security, as Democrats have alleged, those who favor pinching government pennies shouldn’t assume that every request for more spending should be approved.
    - Diplomats do important work, especially in hotspots like Libya. Stevens was loved by the Libyans for his help in organizing and supporting the opposition to dictator Moammar Gadhafi. You can’t do that work from an underground bunker, and Stevens was among many diplomats who chafed at the restrictions placed on them by security teams.
    None of this excuses any mistakes that were made, either in Benghazi or in the Obama administration’s muddled statements in the days that followed. Though the alleged requests were for additional security in Tripoli, not Benghazi, they should have been heeded. While security and intelligence considerations may have limited what the administration could say about the attacks – we are, after all, in active pursuit of the perpetrators – it’s better to say nothing than give out wrong information.
    Page 2 of 2 - One more point the presidential candidates won’t mention:  The U.S. is still engaged in a war with extremists in North Africa and the Mideast intent on doing us harm.  In the last four years, the U.S. has won many battles in that war, including the killing of Osama bin Laden, without suffering any domestic attacks.
    But we lost a battle in Benghazi, and a heroic ambassador who put his life on the line for his country. That is sad and lessons must be learned. But we should not be surprised that lives were lost in a most violent place at a most chaotic time.
    MetroWest Daily News, Mass.
     

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