President Obama’s nominee to be the next ambassador to Libya vowed Tuesday to keep up the hunt for those responsible for the September attacks that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi.
“As the president has committed, the perpetrators must be brought to justice,” Deborah K. Jones told senators during a confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill. “If confirmed, I will work closely with the Libyan government to see that justice is realized.”
The assertion came during a week in which scrutiny has soared among some lawmakers over the administration’s handling of the Benghazi attacks. House Republicans are readying for a highly anticipated hearing Wednesday to press once again why more was not done to halt the attacks, as well as why the administration made conflicting statements in the aftermath of the attacks.
Ms. Jones said much remained to be done in tackling the threat posed by rogue militias operating in the nation since the 2011 ouster of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
“The disarming, demobilizing and integration of the revolutionary brigades and militias whose efforts were so critical to the defeat of Gadhafi’s dictatorship is essential for establishing a national, cohesive security apparatus with clear lines of ‘command and control,’” said Ms. Jones, a veteran foreign service officer who speaks Arabic and served as ambassador to Kuwait from 2008 through 20011.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee appeared likely to confirm Ms. Jones quickly, along with James Knight, who also testified Tuesday as Mr. Obama’s nominee to become ambassador to Chad, Libya’s southern neighbor.
But several lawmakers raised questions about whether the administration may be overly optimistic about the dangers still present in the region.
“It would appear to me that we’ve underestimated the challenges there,” said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the committee’s ranking Republican member.
“I don’t know that we underestimated,” responded Ms. Jones, who stressed that the U.S. government’s ability to support Libya’s government has suffered while the ambassador post has remained vacant since Stevens’ death.
“If we’re not there making the effort, we most certainly will lose out,” she said. “We’ve never won a battle we haven’t showed up for.”
Senators from both parties called for deeper U.S. support for democracy-building efforts in Libya and the region, where Islamic political movements are on the rise and al Qaeda-linked or inspired terrorist groups threaten security.
“We can’t give in to the temptation that our support for the democratic aspirations of people in Libya and elsewhere in the broader Middle East is naive or mistaken,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. “I don’t think we can resign ourselves to the false belief that the Arab Spring is doomed to be defined by the dark fanaticism of terrorists.”
A light moment, meanwhile, came in the hearing when Mr. Corker, noting the hardship of the posting, jokingly asked Ms. Jones what she had “done to cause people to send you to Libya?”
After noting that her daughters had asked why she is to be posted to Libya while her husband serves as a diplomat in Islamabad, Ms. Jones drew laughs in the hearing room by responding, “It’s really just to pay for their college, sir.”