In retrospect, I could have picked a better month than September to tour the Middle East. Then again, when your business is to dig wider moats around our Fortress Embassies, you need to go where the work is.
The question of what really happened in Benghazi (and there is a good summary of the knowns and unknowns here, by Domani Spero) will get unpacked in due time by the Accountability Review Board, I'm sure. But what happened everywhere else is already perfectly clear.
The mob attacks in Tunis, Khartoum, Sanaa, Cairo, Chennai, Jakarta, Islamabad, Lahore, and of course Karachi - my favorite! - followed the same old pattern. Where the host government fulfilled its obligation to protect the integrity of diplomatic premises, the mobs were kept back. Where the host government did not do so, our missions had to rely on physical barriers - their walls, doors and windows - to keep the mobs outside.
Physical barriers themselves are not absolute protection, of course, but are there just to delay the attackers until the host government acts, if it ever does.You cannot keep people out of embassy compounds for long if the local authorities don't show up. However, you can keep people out of your embassy office building for a good long time, maybe even long enough for them to give up and leave, if the building was built for that purpose.
By a stroke of good luck, the most serious attacks occurred at embassies that had been constructed in the last ten years and therefore met current security standards (see the list of completed projects here, on the Office of Overseas Buildings Operations website), or at ones that were built during the old 'Inman' program in the 1980s. In either case, those buildings were designed and built at great cost to resist exactly the kind of attacks that occurred.
Good ol' Fortress Embassies! What they lack in aesthetics they make up for in their ability to wear down the typical rioter.
|How many more times do I have to hit this damn window?|
I'll be very interested in seeing how the Accountability Review Board plays out, and, in particular, whether it recommends continuing the stream of capitol construction money that Congress has provided to OBO every year since it was recommended by the last big ARB in 1999, the one on the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam (read its report here).
That investment in new, secure, embassy buildings paid off very big for those USG employees who were inside the safe havens in Tunis, Khartoum, and Sanaa last week.