Embassy Row: Thin ice

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The chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee was shocked when a top State Department official called the attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya “unprecedented.”

“How can anyone consider such an attack unprecedented?” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen asked Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a letter this week calling for a “full and immediate” review of U.S. diplomatic security.

The Florida Republican was reacting to testimony last week from Patrick F. Kennedy, the undersecretary of state for management, who appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at a hearing on the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, which killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Mr. Kennedy told the committee that the State Department “regularly assesses” risks to U.S. diplomatic missions. Critics have charged that the department ignored warnings from Stevens and other diplomats that Americans were in danger at the poorly defended diplomatic mission in Libya’s restive second city, where armed militias linked to al Qaeda terrorists operate.

“The assault that occurred on the evening of September 11 was an unprecedented attack by dozens of heavily armed men,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Mrs. Lehtinen was astonished by his remarks.

“The persistent threat from Islamist extremists determined to do harm to frontline U.S. posts, particularly around the 9/11 anniversary, cannot be news to anyone after repeated acts of violence against our missions abroad,” she said in her letter to Mrs. Clinton.

Mrs. Lehtinen cited attacks on U.S. embassies in Iran in 1979, in Lebanon in 1983, and in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

“Recent news reports indicate that [Mr.] Stevens had expressed concern about security threats in Benghazi, as attacks on Western targets increased and as his name along with those of certain Western European ambassadors, appeared on an al Qaeda hit list. In the face of these threats, the requests for added security by the regional security officer responsible for Benghazi were ignored,” she said.

Mrs. Lehtinen noted that Eric Nordstrom, a regional security officer in Libya, repeatedly had complained that his urgent appeals for more guards were rejected. “As [Mr.] Nordstrom so aptly asked: ‘How thin does the ice have to get before someone falls through?’” she wrote.

Mrs. Lehtinen released her letter Monday, the same day that Mrs. Clinton said she took responsibility for the debacle in Libya.

Tunisia’s obligation

The U.S. ambassador to Tunisia this week reminded the government of the North African nation where the Arab Spring began that it is responsible for tracking down the “group of violent extremists” that stormed the American Embassy in Tunis last month, as he also urged Tunisians “speak out” against terrorism.

“The Tunisian government has an obligation to provide security for its citizens and its guests, and to bring the perpetrators and masterminds of this attack to justice,” Ambassador Jacob Walles said in a statement posted on the embassy’s website.

The Sept. 14 mob assault on the embassy in Tunis was overshadowed by the lethal terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, three days earlier.

The Tunisian mob, supposedly enraged by an American-made Internet film that insulted Islam, stormed the embassy compound, burned more than 100 vehicles and “inflicted millions of dollars in damage,” Mr. Walles said.

The ambassador noted that many Tunisians have sent him messages condemning the attack and expressing support for the United States.

“It is truly the voices of those Tunisians who offered their unequivocal denunciation of violence and their strong support for moderation, peace and tolerance who will make it known to the world that the events of Sept. 14 do not represent the values of the people of Tunisia.,” Mr. Walles said.

Anti-government protests that soon swept much of the Arab world broke out first in Tunisia in December 2010. In less than a month, the demonstrations grew so large that President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali resigned and fled the country.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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