Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) on Wednesday to respond to questions surround the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Clinton, who will resign her post as the nation’s top diplomat to the current chair of the SFRC, John Kerry, will face questions from lawmakers on what is without question the biggest national security debacle of the first Obama administration.
The hearing will focus on “lessons learned” in the aftermath of the attack but many critics of the administration’s response to the attack will demand answers to what Senator James Inhofe has called “the biggest cover up in history.”
The White House response to the attacks, which critics say was falsely linked to an anti-Muslim video that sent angry demonstrators to the streets of Cairo, will be subject to scrutiny by lawmakers. Clinton is not likely to add any new information to the story of the Administration’s response, repeated ad nauseam during the presidential debates, that they did in fact call the attack on the embassy an act of terror.
The real questions at the hearing will center on issues of security, particularly in light of the escalation of violence in Mali and Algeria which analysts say is directly linked to the overthrow of Gaddafi and the subsequent rise of armed militias. Among the chief criticisms of the security and intelligence failures that led to the attack in Benghazi that left four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens dead, is that the Obama administration’s singular focus on Al Qaeda led them to ignore Islamist militias such as Ansar al-Sharia. Eli Lake explains that the group, one of many suspected to have played a role in the attack, was not a priority for the CIA. Today, fallout from the overthrow of Gaddafi is sweeping across the continent and the security vacuum has proven to be a serious danger.
On Wednesday, Clinton will face important questions about the nature of the attack and the administration’s response but the most crucial questions that must be addressed are related to the resources devoted to securing a region that where the threat of terrorism takes a different form. Among the questions that should be put to Clinton are:
1. What is the relationship between the current violence in Mali and Algeria and the situation in Libya? How should the coming administration address the security situation in the region?
2. Was the Benghazi attack an intelligence failure or a security failure? There were signs that while the attack was not explicitly forewarned against, officials were aware that the level of security at the embassy compound was inadequate to repel a coordinated armed attack. Furthermore, the Libya government warned of possible violence by Islamist militant groups.
3. Were there credible warnings of the attack or the threat of violence and did the Administration fail to heed these warnings?
4. After the attack, you requested $1.3 billion to beef up security in Libya for the State Department, and that money was diverted from the Iraq budget. Why was Libya not a priority prior to the attack despite the tenuous security situation?
5. Lastly, do you feel that the security response to the attack was appropriate? Were there other measures that you would take? There has been criticism that while the CIA sent a small force from Tripoli to secure the embassy, the military itself failed to act. Critics have asked whether the military could have sent forces of its own.