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Benghazi report pulls no punches on findings

Dec 20, 2012 - By The San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News

Independent investigators pulled no punches in their report on the security breach in Benghazi that left Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead in September. The specific mistakes and general cluelessness of the State Department that left the mission vulnerable form a devastating critique of institutional failure.

Apparently, there is no refuting the findings. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton accepted all the recommendations for change and has begun many of them. Three State Department officials resigned Wednesday at the assistant secretary level, which is where the investigation led by former Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering fixed the blame for, among other things, taking too lightly the pleas for greater security at the mission.

This is the investigation and the report that counts. Congressional hand-wringing over what was said by President Barack Obama, United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and others in the days immediately after the attack is all politics, particularly pointless now that the election is over. But the serious lapses in Libya that cost U.S. lives are a very real problem with implications for other missions in volatile parts of the world. They no doubt contributed to the murky information the president and others had in the days that followed. They weren't making things up; they were taking their cues from the CIA and from State, which, we now know, had an inadequate understanding of the situation.

Congressional budget cuts could have played a role in the department's security-on-the-cheap attitude. Pickering said investigators found a culture of "husbanding resources" that made front-line decision-makers reluctant to suggest increased spending. Clinton and her top deputies share responsibility for that culture, if not specific decisions.

Clinton announced long ago that she would leave her post at the end of Obama's first term, and the fallout from Benghazi has killed Rice's bid for the post. Clinton has done an excellent job overall, but what happened at Benghazi will go down as a black mark on her tenure.

The timing of the Benghazi report on the eve of the fiscal cliff deadline is fortuitous. It's a reminder that government has to spend money on certain things to keep the economy growing, hold the nation together and take care of the people who serve it, from war veterans to diplomats --fine people such as Christopher Stevens --in dangerous places.

In the defense budget, as in most spending categories, there are limits to what we can quickly cut and still keep this the kind of nation we want it to be. Conservatives generally would say "husbanding resources" instead of having a bias toward action is a good thing. But as negotiations near the brink, don't just think about the deficit. Think about Benghazi.

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