December 24, 2012

Desire for safety at any cost will unduly restrict American diplomats

Envoys in the field need to gather information on the ground -- even in the wake of the attack on Benghazi.

By Doyle McManus

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That sounds like a criticism, but the envoys I spoke to said they hoped it wouldn't lead the bureaucracy to overrule diplomats in the field in the future.

"He knew the dangers; he knew the risks," Crocker said at a Middle East Institute meeting last month. "He did not take unnecessary chances."

Congress' intelligence committees are still trying to unravel why the Obama administration said the Benghazi attack began as a spontaneous protest (the answer so far: that's what initial reports said) and why the White House didn't mention al-Qaida's role (answer: the CIA wanted to keep that secret).

The main request from some of our best diplomats is that we stop treating this failure of security as if it were a scandal. After all, they say, it's almost certain to happen again.

"We've had ambassadors killed in the past and we didn't get all hyper," Neumann said. "Sometimes a decision is going to turn out to be wrong. And sometimes you may just be unlucky."

"Yes, we'll lose some; that's a tragedy," Crocker said. "(But) if we're doing our jobs right, we're going to run that risk."

Doyle McManus is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.


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