Diplomacy and/or weaponry

Since the debates are about spectacle rather than actual discussion, and the only candidates invited to them aren’t separated by much, especially on foreign policy, there are inevitably a lot of things that slip through the cracks. Even though the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya is being used to score points by the Romney campaign, as part of the ludicrous charge that the Obama administration is a bunch of candy-assed hippies when it comes to the rest of the world, detail is sorely lacking.

Until now:

The Benghazi attacks, in which the United States ambassador and three other Americans were killed, come at the end of a 10-year period in which the State Department — sending its employees into a lengthening list of war zones and volatile regions — has regularly ratcheted up security for its diplomats. The aggressive measures used by private contractors eventually led to shootings in Afghanistan and Iraq that provoked protests, including an episode involving guards from an American security company, Blackwater, that left at least 17 Iraqis dead in Baghdad’s Nisour Square.

The ghosts of that shooting clearly hung over Benghazi. Earlier this year, the new Libyan government had expressly barred Blackwater-style armed contractors from flooding into the country. “The Libyans were not keen to have boots on the ground,” one senior State Department official said.

That forced the State Department to rely largely on its own diplomatic security arm, which officials have said lacks the resources to provide adequate protection in war zones. (emphasis mine)

So, more wars, more war zones for diplomats and their staff to be in, more “private” contractors to ostensibly protect them…and harass the locals, or worse. Libya, having seen what this means, exercised a rare bit of something resembling democracy: the Libyan public didn’t like the idea of a bunch of U.S. hired guns all over the place, and the Libyan government actually told the contractors to stay away. Call it a hunch, but I suspect the still fresh images of their last ruler being introduced to lead served as incentive there.

From the sounds of it, State Department officials were to an extent afraid the effect of the ratchet towards hiding behind ever larger armaments would have on their job. Even in the most cynical light of what that job is that makes sense — after all, if it’s so dangerous that you need ‘roided up soldiers of fortune waving automatic weapons in the locals’ faces every two seconds to live, why are you even there? The intimidation factor lays plain a domination that is detrimental even if not concerned about appearance.

Only the American Embassies in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are exempted from awarding security contracts to the lowest bidder. Dangerous posts are allowed to consider “best value” contracting instead, according to a State Department inspector general’s report in February.

That’s odd, to say the least. How do you determine “best value” for something like this? The variables include things that are hard to factor into a price (the “market” for military contractors being exclusive in terms of buyers & narrow far as credible sellers go), leaving just as much likelihood of someone overcharging for inadequacy as of getting a decent deal. Even if that “best value” tactic were allowed in Libya it isn’t cut & dried that the attack would’ve been fended off.

[…] Given the Libyan edict banning the contractors, the Obama administration was eager to reduce the American footprint there. After initially soliciting bids from major security companies for work in Libya, State Department officials never followed through.

“We went in to make a pitch, and nothing happened,” said the security firm official. He said the State Department could have found a way around the Libyans’ objections if it had wanted to.

Libyans see what happens elsewhere with such contractors & say “no”. Contractor says “screw them!”. Gee, no wonder things like what happened in Iraq occur…

Instead, the department relied on a small British company to provide several unarmed Libyan guards for security at the mission in Benghazi. For the personal protection of the diplomats, the department largely depended on its Diplomatic Security Service.

…ok, they could’ve done better than that. Obviously it’s a bit easier to give a low estimate if you don’t buy any weapons. There’s a right way to do anything.

The tensions between the State officials wanting to maintain flexibility & the needs for increasingly intrusive security measures itself gives a signal. That signal is a familiar one, long ignored: a questionable to say the least endeavor, stretched to the breaking point, costing lives both domestic and foreign. Is it really worth the bother? What are they dying for?

(Source of above pic)


About b-psycho

Left-libertarian blogger & occasional musician.
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3 Responses to Diplomacy and/or weaponry

  1. Todd S. says:

    Of course, communications from the ambassador revealed that such an attack as the one that took his life had been expected for quite some time. And obviously they still did nothing to prevent it. I’m sure they didn’t expect the ambassador to get killed, but they cynic in me feels they wanted an attack to happen to generate an excuse to take some further military action there. Their plans just got a bit screwed up when the public reacted with horror instead of rage.

  2. Todd S. says:

    On a related note, I saw Greenwald’s latest column after I posted that first comment. Point #2 therein addresses the Libya situation quite succinctly.


  3. B Psycho says:

    Read the article Glenn mentions, and if it’s accurate that Libyan civilians are blaming the militias for the attack, this is taking a turn even I didn’t expect.

    As for the reaction not being more bloodthirsty, I think there’s a sense of being drained after all this time of nonstop war. What is there to call to attack when you’re seemingly attacking everything already?

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