Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) serves as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a role he inherited as the “scandal” over the Obama administration’s response to the attack in Benghazi, Libya was reaching one of its many peaks in January. Today on the Senate floor, Menendez castigated his colleagues who believed that the Senate had not done enough to investigate Benghazi, reminding them that there have been 11 hearings in Congress on the matter since September. “We have fully vetted this issue,” Menendez said.
The focus “should not be to score political points at the expense of the families of the four victims,” he went on to say. “It should be on doing all we can to protect our personnel serving overseas and provide the necessary oversight and legislative authority to carry out the administrative review board’s recommendations.” With that in mind, Menendez introduced the Embassy Security and Personnel Protection Act of 2013, a bill he hoped would be “able to count on the support of all of our colleagues to enact this crucial, time-sensitive legislation without delay, without obstruction, without political grandstanding.”
The bill would provide further funding to the Capital Security Cost-Sharing Program, first instituted in 1998 to boost security to “high-risk, high-threat” diplomatic posts and has since been chronically underfunded. Under the new legislation, the program would be able to build far more than the two to three facilities a year for the two dozen posts that fall into the high-risk, high-threat category. It would also provide funding for implementing a shift in the mission of Marine Corps security guards posted at U.S. embassies to protect staffers as well as classified assets. The bill would also require the State Department to provide verification to Congress of it fully putting into place its Accountability Review Board (ARB) on Benghazi’s recommendations for improvement.
Diplomatic security has been given a short-shrift in the aftermath of Benghazi. During her appearance before the Senate in January, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attempted to persuade Congress to shift $1.3 billion in funding bookmarked for warfighting in Iraq towards providing for greater diplomatic security. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) shepherded legislation through the Senate fulfilling Clinton’s request, but the bill died in the House. Since then, most of the conversation surrounding Benghazi has focused almost exclusively on the Obama administration’ss supposed cover-up, no matter how many documents are released debunking the claim.
“I am intent on making sure that we do everything we can to prevent another tragedy like this from happening,” President Obama said about Benghazi at a press conference earlier today alongside Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “But that means we owe it to them and all who serve to do everything in our power to protect our personnel serving overseas.” Obama also called on Congress to implement the ARB’s suggestions and to “work with us to support and fully fund our budget requests to improve the security of our embassies around the world.”
CAP experts also agree that the real scandal of Benghazi is that more hasn’t been done to discuss improvements diplomatic security in the weeks and months after the attack. In ignoring the actual security risks that diplomats face, Brian Katulis and Peter Juul warn that as a result of the political turmoil over Benghazi, “the default policy may be to retrench behind the walls of so-called fortress embassies, take few if any risks with nonmilitary personnel, and surrender potential American influence on the ground in dangerous parts of the world.”