Most of the criticism of President Barack Obama and Sec. of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of the attacks on the Special Mission Compound in Benghazi has focused on the tragic deaths there on Sept. 11, 2012. There is another impact from the Benghazi affair, however, and no media have even mentioned it, not even pundit Bill O’Reilly when he interviewed Obama on Sunday.
The State Dept. has, for a decade, dealt with a critical problem—finding qualified personnel to serve in hardship posts. The Government Accountability Office issued a report in June, 2012, 3 months before the attacks.
GAO investigated foreign service midlevel staffing and hardship gaps in hiring. Despite a hiring increase between 2002-2010, at no point in time did State Dept. hiring levels fall below attrition.
“State increased the size of the Foreign Service by about 17 percent in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, but overseas experience gaps—the percentage of positions that are vacant or filled with upstretch assignments—have not declined since 2008…”
Obama did issue a presidential directive regarding staffing, but it didn’t impact Benghazi. The same report said [boldface added]:
“State officials noted that this distribution of new positions reflects the department’s changing foreign policy priorities. For example, positions were added in Brazil and China in response to presidential directives to expand consular capacity in those countries. According to State officials, the department has also created positions to address emerging diplomatic priorities, such as climate change and global health.”
Via Executive Order 13597, the president ordered money to be spent on infrastructure [boldface added]:
“ State is investing millions of dollars to improve the infrastructure of its consular sections in China and Brazil, and will use the bulk of this investment to add interview windows in consular sections and create space for additional staff. At high-volume visa processing locations in China and Brazil, each new interview window can increase a consular section’s capacity by 30,000 visa applicants per year.”
Besides staffing, the facility in Benghazi was indisputably inadequate. However, absent a presidential directive, money could not be spent for upgrades because the SMC was a temporary facility, a fact noted by the Accountability Review Board report issued by a committee comprising many members Clinton chose. House Democrats who blamed Republicans for lack of funding were either, depending upon one’s politics, deliberately misleading or uninformed.
Because of Benghazi, it will likely be more difficult to recruit capable people to serve in hardship posts where danger or unrest exists, but there is a critical need for such personnel.
Former Sec. of Defense Robert Gates acknowledged difficulties for State in his book Duty. Writing about the need for State to “fill its open positions in Iraq” in 2006, and illustrating just how dire the situation was, Gates said those positions should be filled “with involuntary assignments if necessary.” He also wrote there was “too little coordination and integration of effort on the civilian side of the U.S. war effort.” [pg. 37]
The job duties of a secretary of state are complex, but one duty is specified clearly on the State Dept. website:
“[Sec. of State] Ensures the protection of the U.S. Government to American citizens, property, and interests in foreign countries.”
In the pre-Super Bowl interview, O’Reilly did ask the president about Benghazi, but there were no questions about the impact of the breach on the SMC beyond deaths, loss of intel, and destruction of U.S. property.
(Filed by Kay B. Day/Feb. 3, 2014)