Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s testimony Wednesday over the Benghazi disaster, where the U.S. envoy to Libya and three other officials were killed in a September attack, is really about the need for more funding to physically strengthen United States embassies.
As a penny-pinching Republican, you might be surprised to learn I think this is a good idea. Having worked with a former Iranian U.S. hostage from 1979 -- the Canadians smuggled him out -- and a lucky U.S. foreign affairs officer who happened to be in a meeting elsewhere when our embassy in Kenya was blown up in 1998, this matter is somewhat personal to me.
And when I think what it was like working at the U.S. House on Sept.11, my feelings grow that much stronger.
There’s a story about then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright touring the ruins of the Kenyan embassy and noticing that the U.S. Marine guard shack’s windows were cracked, but intact, while the embassy’s had blown inward in shards -- like daggers, causing untold injuries. The difference between the two was super-strength Mylar on the windows.
After Sept. 11, when I was a House staffer, I repeatedly nudged (nicely, of course) the Chairman of House Administration (who I knew through previous political work) about the need for Mylar for the House office building windows -- and he got them.
Did the FBI and/or the CIA fall down on the job in Benghazi? I don’t know. I also realize that many of our embassies have been strengthened since 1998. But is it enough? Could more be done?
To those super-fiscally conservative members of Congress, my message is: Yes, more could be done. And it’s worth it. The United States is not Lichtenstein. It’s not even Canada, for that matter. For good or ill, the American presence anywhere has a special, unique resonance.
And we have a duty to protect those people who sign up for hard duty on dangerous assignments. And while I’m on the subject, we have a duty to promote those people who pull duty tours at dangerous places, while their fellow officers keep their feet under their headquarters’ desks at 2201 C Street, NW, D.C.
My suggestion to House Republicans is this: Grill Hillary all you like on the bureaucratic foul-up aspects of the Benghazi disaster, but when the talk turns to physical security improvements, listen closely and keep an open mind.
Joanne Butler is a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a former professional Republican staff member at the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee.