Monday’s foreign policy debate between President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney was designed to help voters better understand each man’s vision for America’s role abroad. While I have publicly taken issue with both candidates on aspects of their foreign policies, there is no question that Mr. Romney remains the right choice for Americans on Nov. 6.
However, it is also clear neither candidate adequately addressed the gross intelligence failure in Libya that left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens. Too many important questions remain unanswered concerning Mr. Obama’s entire mishandling of the recent siege of Benghazi.
I would like to take this opportunity to ask the questions Americans want answered.
The first and most pressing question for Mr. Obama remains: Where the hell were the Marines?
Two of the most potentially vulnerable or dangerous American embassies are in Iraq and Libya. In Iraq, we have roughly 17,000 people guarding our ambassador. Not all of them are Marines, but some several hundred are, and they guard our ambassador behind a 10-foot-high walled fortress. In Iraq, we cannot afford to take any unnecessary risks with our diplomats and go to great lengths to ensure that there are plenty of armed personnel between our representatives and any potential threats.
In Libya, there were no uniformed Marines guarding our ambassador. Originally, there was a 16-person security team led by Col. Andrew Wood, who had requested to stay in Libya. In July, Stevens sent memos to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee requesting an “extension of tour of duty (TDY) personnel.” Stevens was referring to Col. Wood’s 16-man team, which was scheduled to leave in August. Stevens requested on Aug. 2 — just six weeks before his murder — to keep security personnel in Libya “through mid-September,” calling the conditions there “unpredictable, volatile and violent.”
Col. Woods has also said that he repeatedly requested to remain in Libya because he felt both the environment and the ambassador were unsafe. Now, after the tragic fact, no one knows what happened to Stevens’ original request.
Why was the security team that both Stevens and Col. Woods requested sent home? Who made this decision?
What happened to the plane, Mr. President? There was supposed to be a DC-3 available to help people get out of Libya or to travel around the country as needed. But that plane was taken away on May 4. On May 8, just four days later, the State Department spent $108,000 on a new electrical charging station to “green up” our embassy in Vienna.
You have to ask: Was this “green” initiative more important than the security of our embassy in Libya? We spent about $1 million on electric cars to make a political statement in Vienna, but we somehow couldn’t find the time or resources to have just one Marine guarding our Libyan embassy, much less a much-needed 16-man personnel team. We spent $100,000 on an electric car-charging station to show Vienna how green we are, but did not keep a plane in Libya that could have been instrumental in transporting our own diplomats to safety.
The president now says the buck stops with him. Fair enough. So, President Obama, again: Where the hell were the Marines? Where was the plane? Saying the buck stops with you sounds good, but you have to follow through.
We’ve seen this kind of government incompetence before.
Once the initial shock and horror of Sept. 11, 2001, began to subside, the finger pointing commenced. Everyone agreed that our intelligence had failed — massively — but no one would claim responsibility for this failure. Reports of possible terrorist attacks had been repeatedly ignored, including the FBI turning down search warrants from their Minnesota branch that could have potentially provided us valuable information.
Still, after the worst terrorist attack in American history, no one was held accountable.
In 2001, 3,000 innocent people lost their lives — but not one government bureaucrat lost his job.
The siege of our embassy and the murder of our diplomats in Benghazi should never have happened. But these events did happen, and this administration continues to be reluctant to give us answers and provide accountability.
As a member of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, I am calling for hearings and a full investigation into what really happened in Benghazi, how our intelligence failed and how, ultimately, we failed to protect our own people.
What happened in Libya was inexcusable. I’m tired of hearing too many government officials make too many excuses. Those responsible must be held accountable and those at fault should be fired.
The president now says, “The buck stops here.” It’s time for him to prove it, and if he won’t, it is time for Congress to do its job and get to the bottom of it.
Sen. Rand Paul is a Kentucky Republican.