|Which Assistant Secretary is missing from this panel?|
That hearing was everything you would expect from a Congressional show trial on a hot button topic held three weeks before an election.
Charlene Lamb certainly looked like the chosen sacrifice, someone the Department offered up to propitiate the angry Election Year Gods. The composition of the witness panel said as much. There are two links in the DS chain of command between Ms. Lamb and Under Secretary Kennedy, but those guys were nowhere to be seen. That's a bad sign.
If Ms. Lamb is forced to step down, it will be a travesty of accountability. The buck should stop at the top, not the middle. As Director of DS International Programs she has operational responsibility, meaning that she manages the resources she is given. But strategic responsibility lies above her level, with those two invisible presences that seemed to me to hover over the panel.
I bet Ms. Lamb will be treated much more fairly by the Accountability Review Board than she was by the Oversight Committee. Adults such as Ambassador Pickering understand that program managers must choose between competing needs. They've been there themselves, and I expect they'll empathize with her.
Despite the ineptness of Ms. Lamb's phrase about having "the right amount" of security in Benghazi, she isn't necessarily wrong. The big question is whether other diplomatic missions had a greater need for her limited resources at that same time, in the context of everything the U.S. government knew when she made that decision.
The only new information to come out about the attack in Benghazi was released the day before the hearing. The details are astonishing: a company-size military attack with small arms, rockets, and mortars that overwhelmed the five armed Americans and four Libyan militiamen on site; arson to force barricaded people out of the buildings on the compound; DS agents escaping in an armored car under heavy rifle and grenade fire, carrying the wounded and the dead to the temporary safety of the mission's annex. The fighting went on for over six hours without effective host country intervention. Good God.
The Department described the attack as "unprecedented" in force and duration, but that language is too mild. I cannot think of another attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility that was remotely similar, or of any diplomatic facility that would have withstood the same attack under the same circumstances.
There are no feasible security countermeasures that could have been in place in Benghazi that would have prevented that tragedy. If anyone thinks the presence of another DS agent or two, or ten, or the retention of that military security support team, would have had any relevance against indirect fire weapons such as mortars, please tell me how.
That point was made a couple times by RSO Eric Nordstrom, the Committee's most valuable witness, and it is crucial. From his written statement:
"Let me say a word about the evening of September 11th. The ferocity and intensity of the attack was nothing that we had seen in Libya, or that I had seen in my time in the Diplomatic Security Service. Having an extra foot of wall, or an extra-half dozen guards or agents would not have enabled us to respond to that kind of assault."
Whatever requests the Embassy in Tripoli made, and however Washington answered them, would have made little or no difference to how things happened in Benghazi. The fact that our compound was overrun does not by itself mean that the security measures were inadequate. It just isn't that simple. By that logic, Camp Bastion in Afghanistan had even worse security when it was attacked on 14 September, and it had 30,000 military troops compared to Benghazi's dozen or so armed civilians.
That crucial point seemed to get lost in all the Congressional noise over the Administration's inconsistent stories about whether there was or wasn't an angry mob in Benghazi before the assault began.
And speaking of that noise, this guy must be the loudest individual in Washington since Chris Matthews. I can hear his voice even with the video muted, I swear. He needs a media adviser to tell him to dial it down a couple hundred decibels.
Even worse than the noise is his histrionic posturing. He spent one of his five-minute question periods working himself up in a riff about Susan Rice and the White House spokesman that would have embarrassed Elmer Gantry.
Here's hoping the ARB sessions will produce something much more serious than we got from our elected representatives this week.