By Scott Stearns – STATE DEPARTMENT — September 11 is the first anniversary of the attack on the U.S. mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
The attack on the U.S. mission set-off a political firestorm as Republican lawmakers asked why the Obama administration was slow to call this terrorism.
Then-Secretary-of-State Hillary Clinton told critics it didn’t matter.
“The fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they would go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?” she asked.
A year later, President Obama’s handling of the Benghazi attack still appears to make a difference to some in Congress as Secretary of State John Kerry leads the administration’s push for authorization to attack Syria.
“The same administration that was seemingly so quick to involve the U.S. in Syria now was reluctant to use the same resources at its disposal to attempt to rescue the four brave Americans that fought for their lives in Benghazi,” noted Republican Congressman Jeff Duncan. “Mr. Kerry, you have never been one that’s advocated for anything other than caution when involving U.S. forces in past conflicts.”
Kerry said comparisons between Syria and Benghazi are political.
“When I was in the United States Senate, I supported military action in any number of occasions including Grenada, Panama, I can run a list of them. And I am not going to sit here and be told by you that I don’t have a sense of what the judgment is with respect to this. We’re talking about people being killed by gas, and you want to go talk about Benghazi,” Kerry said.
But memories of Benghazi could weaken the president’s push for Congressional authorization, said American University professor Alan Lichtman.
“Benghazi certainly doesn’t help the president. And if the vote really is one or two votes, the influence of Benghazi could be a tip point,” Lichtman said.
Especially compared to the depth of international support for intervening in Libya two years ago, according to Manal Omar at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
“When you look at Libya there was a justifiable argument that you can go in through NATO, there was a multilateral approach, and that the intervention would be fairly quick and short time frame. It was finite. You can control it. That’s very hard to convincingly argue on Syria,” she noted.
The continuing violence in Benghazi shows how little Washington understands, said Lichtman.
“We really didn’t know very much about what was going on in Libya prior to the Benghazi attack,” he said. “We need to learn a lot more about these other cultures and these other countries. For all the tens-of-billions of dollars we spend on intelligence, we don’t seem to be very intelligent about our foreign policy.”
After the Benghazi attack, just four American diplomats were suspended for security lapses. All have since been reassigned to new posts.