Because it chose this route, as the case of the only Benghazi suspect that has been identified – a Tunisian man named Ali Harzi – has demonstrated, the United States is completely reliant on the cooperation of host countries to detain on our behalf and selectively allow access to suspects.
At its core, this is yet another reflection of President Obama’s schizophrenic counterterrorism policy. The same administration that unapologetically rains down lethal drone strikes on some al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia will not use other counterterrorism resources to identify, locate and detain the terrorists involved in the death of our ambassador in Libya.
Perhaps that is why President Obama so often opts to use lethal drone strikes to kill terrorists, knowing that the U.S. would be unable to get access to interrogate these terror suspects by working through the host government, or because he no longer has a way to detain them in U.S. custody.
In short, the president has tied his own hands, compromised U.S. national security, put the FBI in an impossible position and laid the groundwork for the administration’s inept response in the wake of the terrorist attack in Benghazi.
When Tunisia refused to allow the FBI access to Harzi for more than five weeks, the administration took no public steps to use diplomatic tools, like U.S. foreign assistance, to pressure the Tunisians to make Harzi available. In fact, the FBI only gained access after members of Congress threatened to cut off Tunisia’s foreign aid if they continued to obstruct the investigation.
I was one of those members of Congress. In December, I called for the State Department to cut off all funding to Tunisia. In response, the USAID wrote to me saying that Tunisian officials were cooperating fully with State Department officials. Just weeks later, Harzi was unexpectedly released from custody, against U.S. wishes.
I wrote USAID again, pointing out what should be obvious — the Tunisian government did not cooperate. The Tunisian government never seriously thought the aid, precious taxpayer money, was in jeopardy. The Tunisian government has not faced a single consequence for undermining U.S. national security.
Sadly, the failure to respond appropriately to the Benghazi attack will undoubtedly encourage our enemies. Rather than demonstrating that there will be no quarter, no respite and no safe haven for a terrorist who threatens American officials abroad, the message the administration has sent is that there is no apparent consequence for these actions.
Across North Africa, as the “Arab Spring” has become an “Arab Winter,” we are witnessing the potential formation of the next front in the War on Terror, but we increasingly have an administration that no longer considers it a war worth fighting – no matter the cost to American power or the safety of our people abroad.
While some have described the Obama Doctrine as leading from behind, it is increasingly clear that the Obama Doctrine means not leading at all.
And yet while most of the responsibility falls on the president and his administration, the Congress and the media share some blame for failing to adequately investigate and bring attention to the issue.
Where has the Congress been in investigating both the circumstances of the attack and the administration’s response over the last four months?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s six hours of testimony hardly yielded more answers.
The liberal media by and large focused on offensively irrelevant aspects of Clinton’s testimony. As the Washington Post reported, “Wearing an emerald green jacket and geek girl glasses, Hillary engrossed her fans, who love her when she talks tough (and lawyerly). It was, at its core, terrific political theater.”
At least in Secretary Panetta’s testimony we learned that the president was consulted. But just one time? One time: A U.S. embassy is under attack, and the president of the United States is consulted only one time?
It is for these reasons that a House Select Committee on the Terrorist Attack in Benghazi is needed more than ever. We owe it to the families of the victims and the American people to fully investigate this terrorist attack.
Much like the committees that were established to examine Watergate and the Iran Contra scandals of the 1970s, a select committee is essential to combine the myriad existing investigations into a single, comprehensive and exhaustive review. My legislation, H. Res. 36, is vital to bringing these terrorists to justice and prevent future attacks.
Wolf serves on the House Appropriatons Committee.