The Benghazi tragedy did not just happen in a vacuum; Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Turks, Italians and Germans have been ravaging that benighted country for millennia. From the world's poorest country with $49 annual per capita income and no sense of national identity at independence in 1951, Libya moved to producing 3 million bpd of light sweet crude by the mid-60s. In September 1969, time froze for over four decades under Moammar Gadhafi. Since his downfall, age old tribal enmities have resurfaced in Cyrenaica, of which Benghazi is capital, with violence almost daily in many cities. Combine this with reverberations of the Arab Spring across the region and the then wave of ongoing anti-American demonstrations in virtually every Muslim country over a film trailer insulting the Prophet Mohammad, and it is in no way surprising that violence would occur on 9/11 in Benghazi or that in a chaotic situation it would initially be linked to the film protests.
It is the perfervid U.S. campaign atmosphere and its aftermath that distorts our lens. In fact, there should be little surprise that Libya's government could not guarantee the security of USG premises or mount a proper investigation, that the heavily armed Ansar-al-Sharia militia chose 9/11 to mount its attack or that the details of its contacts, if any, with the shadowy al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) remain elusive. The questions to ask, beyond finger-pointing and cover-ups, are therefore:
- How, as a special CIA listening post for radical militias and al Qaida not yet re-designated as a consulate, the large Agency cohort in Benghazi was totally blind-sided by the 9/11 attack?
- What circumstances could justify Amb. Stevens' travel into a completely unprotectable situation on 9/11?
- Given requests for additional security resources from posts throughout the region, including Libya, and worldwide, how under continuing resolutions could the Congress justify cutting from the President's proposed budget the two major security accounts for the State Department, Embassy Security and the World Security Protection (WSP) program, by significant amounts in each of the past three fiscal years? It should be noted that a third, three-month rotation for a 16-person U.S. Army security team in Libya was turned down in mid-August, just weeks before the tragedy, because of the high cost of reimbursement to the Pentagon.
- Finally, so that this is not just a rhetorical exercise and that we learn from the loss of four American lives, what will be the impact of this sad episode on the future operations of U.S. embassies and consulates, given that the presence of American diplomats on the ground is more important today than ever and that it would be prohibitive and probably impossible to safeguard our 285 worldwide installations against an Ansar al Sharia-style assault?
Jackson is a former Foreign Service Officer and State Dept. drector for Egypt and North Africa and president emeritus of Anatolia College.