An independent inquiry into the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, has finally provided some real facts and expert assessments about that tragic night.
It offers this country a better chance of understanding what went wrong and what correctives are needed than the reckless Republican mudslinging that for weeks dominated public discourse in the aftermath of the calamity.
The findings carry weight because the inquiry panel, although appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, was led by two respected former U.S. officials — Thomas Pickering, a former deputy secretary of state who was ambassador to multiple countries; and Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The report's judgments about the attacks at the Benghazi consulate and a nearby CIA annex were unsparing, and the fallout was swift. On Wednesday, four State Department officials were removed from their positions, including Eric Boswell, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security.
The report slams the "systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels" in the State Department's bureaus of diplomatic security and Near East affairs that resulted in a "security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place."
It said the bureaus failed to share responsibility for coordinating and planning adequate security. It faults officials in Washington for ignoring requests from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli for more guards and upgrades to the Benghazi consulate and also says embassy leaders in Tripoli "did not single out a special need for increased security" there.
One problem was that the consulate compound, in a city that is a center of militant activity, was considered temporary and officials were reluctant to commit scarce funds to security improvements for a temporary location.
Another problem was that the mission was often staffed with less experienced security officers on short-term assignments who didn't really know the country or the language. The Americans relied too much on untested local militias to guard the compound, and they also misread the deteriorating situation even if there were no specific threats, the report added.
Clinton accepted all of the panel's 29 recommendations and has already begun to make changes. The trick will be enhancing security for diplomats while not confining them so much that they cannot do their jobs.
Two of her top lieutenants are scheduled to testify on the report to Congress on Thursday because she has been ill. But, as the secretary, she should also make herself available for public questioning as soon as possible.
If congressional Republicans are truly interested in protecting American diplomats abroad, they should support increased financing for improved security, without forcing the State Department to divert money from an underfinanced budget that has been earmarked for other uses.
Clinton is seeking to transfer $1.3 billion slated for Iraq-related expenses to put $553 million into additional Marine security guards worldwide, $130 million for diplomatic security personnel and $691 million for improved security at overseas facilities.
Even if the State Department makes the needed reforms, it will not be able to carry them out without a commitment of new money to the project.