Secretary of State Clinton: 'Perfect security' not possible for US diplomats

The United States cannot guarantee “perfect security” for its diplomats and still expect them to do their jobs, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday.

“We will never prevent every act of violence or terrorism, or achieve perfect security,” Clinton said. “Our people cannot live in bunkers and do their jobs.”

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“But it is our solemn responsibility to constantly improve to reduce the risks our people face, and make sure they have the resources they need to do those jobs we expect from them.”

Her comments come as President Obama is under attack less than a month before the election over his administration's handling of events in Libya, where Ambassador Christoper Stevens and three other Americans were killed last month. Republicans over the past few days have latched onto the State Department's acknowledgment that it turned down the U.S. mission's requests for more security shortly before the Sept. 11 attack.

Vice President Biden denied knowing about the embassy's requests during Thursday night's debate with Mitt Romney's running mate Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). After Republicans pounced — former presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich said Biden's remarks would “haunt” Obama until the election — the White House clarified Friday that Biden meant the request had never made its way all the way up to him and Obama.

Clinton made the remarks during an upbeat keynote speech at a Center for Strategic and International Studies conference on “the Maghreb in transition.” She said the Middle East, and particularly North Africa, are on a path to democracy and a better future despite the wave of anti-American violence across the region that culminated with the death of four Americans last month.

She said the response from newly elected governments and most people in the street “supports rather than discredits the promise of the Arab Spring.” 

“Throughout all of this we must not only focus on the headlines. We have to keep in mind the trend lines,” Clinton said. “It is important to look at the full picture, to weigh the violent acts of a small number of extremists against the aspirations and actions of the region's people and governments. That broader view supports rather than discredits the promise of the Arab revolutions.”

Support for democratic transitions in the Middle East, she said, is “not a matter of idealism — it is a strategic necessity. We will not return to the false choice between freedom and stability.”

“One should expect setbacks along the way,” she said. “But going back to the way things were before December 2010 isn't just undesirable – it is impossible.” 

Clinton took an indirect dig at the Romney campaign and congressional Republicans who have attacked the administration's shifting account of the attack in Benghazi, saying “we cannot sacrifice accuracy to speed.”

And she again urged Congress to pass the administration's request for a $770 million incentive fund to help democratic transitions in the Middle East and North Africa.

“I again urge Congress to move forward on this priority,” she said.