Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Benghazi and the “conditioning of managers to favor restricting the use of resources as a general orientation” by Ambassador Robert Gosende

Benghazi and the “conditioning of managers to favor restricting the use of resources as a general orientation.”
Ambassador Robert Gosende

The U.S. Senate’s FY 15 budget allocation for State Department Foreign operations programs, released this week, includes a seven percent cut in base funding from current levels. The US Global Leadership Coalition expressed “deep concern” about this development. Congressional Quarterly said, “Usually advocates of maintaining or expanding foreign policy spending have to watch out for the GOP-controlled House rather than the Democrat-controlled Senate.”

But this debate this year really only continues the now decades-long, bi-partisan Congressional history of underfunding the U.S. Department of State while increasing Department of Defense appropriations exponentially. This policy has led to what might be called a culture of penury within State’s management over the past twenty years – a situation in which senior State Department managers are forced to think constantly about budget priorities, even for security, which leads to the setting of priorities which are potentially disastrous.

The underfunding of security needs in Libya which led to the death of our Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his colleagues in 2012 on the anniversary of 9-11, is the case currently in point as the House prepares for another highly partisan review of what happened in Benghazi. Ambassador Stevens had been asking for increased security support for months. He knew, better than anyone, just how dangerous diplomatic operations were in post-Gaddafi Libya where, for example, security assistance had been sought in Benghazi from a regional warlord. But State’s response proved to be too little too late.

Ambassador Prudence Bushnell, our emissary to Kenya in August of 1998 where 212 people were killed when a truck bomb exploded under our Embassy in downtown Nairobi, had been pleading with the State Department for two years for permission to move our Embassy out of Nairobi’s central business district. But the response to Ambassador Bushnell’s repeated requests were negative.

When I served as President Clinton’s Special Envoy for Somalia in 1993 as the U.S.-led United Task Force prepared to leave Mogadishu, we engaged in a spirited debate about what security support the U.S. Liaison Office would need after the U.S. Marine-led intervention force departed. State never definitively answered what support the USLO would be provided but Lt. Gen. Robert B. Johnston, the UNITAF Commander suggested that what the USLO would need after he and his troops departed was a FAST team, a Fleet Area Security Team of some 70 highly trained and equipped enlisted men and officers, who would provide 24 hour security support to the USLO. This decision was our salvation in Mogadishu. State agreed to pay for this expensive FAST team but only because of the support from UNITAF Commander Johnston.

Amazingly, nearly twenty years later, during the Benghazi tragedy, some of the same people who had been in place in 1993 and in 1998 were again in place on State’s 7th floor, where its senior managers have their offices, still refusing reasonable, albeit expensive, security support. State’s Benghazi Accountability Review Board (ARC) says, correctly, that chronic budgetary shortfalls have resulted in “conditioning a few Department managers to favor restricting the use of resources as a general orientation.” However the Benghazi ARB also concluded that blame for that tragic event was correctly found to be at the Assistant Secretary level, “where that rubber hits the road” in decision-making at State.

But this is not at all credible. It is simply not possible for any serving state senior manager not to be aware of State’s decades-long, chronic underfunding and the impact of that financial shortfall on security. State senior managers, both career officers and political appointees, were aware but they were unwilling to do the one thing that might have gotten the attention they needed: resign.

The U.S. Department of State is now overwhelmingly “conditioned to favor restricting the use of resources as a general orientation.” And this conditioning affects not only security decision-making in our foreign affairs. It permeates every aspect of how we currently conduct those affairs.

In the Benghazi case accountability should have gone to the 7th floor at State. And from there it should been taken straight back to the Congress by the Secretary. The ultimate blame for Benghazi lies in underfunding and for that the Congress has to accept full responsibility. State has repeatedly and accurately expressed its security needs in Congressional budget submissions. It is impossible to provide even minimally adequate security in the all-too-many dangerous places in which our diplomats now work without money. Had Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues been accompanied by a FAST in Benghazi, they would have been immensely more safe. But that FAST support would have been expensive.

--Gosende image from


Posted with the Ambassador's kind permission on 5/27/2014.

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