Diplo­matic se­cu­rity chal­lenges re­main for Trump White House

Keep­ing diplo­mats safe a costly busi­ness

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

WASH­ING­TON: Don­ald Trump ham­mered ri­val Hil­lary Clin­ton dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign for fail­ing to pre­vent the at­tack on the US mis­sion in Beng­hazi, Libya, when she was sec­re­tary of state. Soon he’ll be the one re­spon­si­ble for pro­tect­ing Amer­ica’s diplo­mats, but he’s of­fered vir­tu­ally no insight into how he’ll do that. Af­ter the 2012 Beng­hazi at­tack, Congress boosted spend­ing on se­cu­rity to pro­tect the tens of thou­sands of Amer­i­cans and for­eign staff that make up the US diplo­matic ser­vice. Se­cu­rity ex­perts and ca­reer diplo­mats say there have been im­prove­ments, but that sig­nif­i­cant short­falls re­main.

Last week’s as­sas­si­na­tion of Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to Turkey, An­drei Karlov, was a chill­ing re­minder that diplo­mats are in­creas­ingly ex­posed to threats, even in coun­tries that are typ­i­cally not re­garded as hard­ship posts. The as­sas­sin shouted, “Don’t for­get Aleppo,” ap­par­ently re­fer­ring to Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary en­gage­ment in Syria. It’s not clear whether hav­ing a brashly out­spo­ken fig­ure like Trump in the White House will com­pound diplo­matic se­cu­rity chal­lenges. The for­eign pol­icy of Trump and his pick for sec­re­tary of state, Rex Tiller­son, re­mains some­what of an enigma.

The Trump tran­si­tion team didn’t re­spond to ques­tions about how his ad­min­is­tra­tion will ad­dress diplo­matic se­cu­rity is­sues. Keep­ing diplo­mats safe is a costly busi­ness. In the last bud­get year, Congress ap­proved $3.39 bil­lion for the Diplo­matic Se­cu­rity Bureau’s func­tions around the world. That ac­counts for about 7 per­cent of the State Depart­ment’s over­all bud­get. Diplo­matic se­cu­rity has also be­come highly con­tentious since the killings of Am­bas­sador Christo­pher Stevens and three other Amer­i­cans at Beng­hazi.

The Repub­li­can-led House Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Beng­hazi con­cluded in June that there were lethal mis­takes by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, though it found no “smok­ing gun” point­ing to wrong­do­ing by Clin­ton. The com­mit­tee in­cluded Rep Mike Pom­peo, Trump’s pick to head the CIA. Another mem­ber of the com­mit­tee, Rep Jim Jor­dan, crit­i­cized the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for re­fus­ing to cre­ate the po­si­tion of un­der­sec­re­tary for diplo­matic se­cu­rity. He called it the most im­por­tant change “to en­hance diplo­matic se­cu­rity”. He claimed com­mit­tee Democrats “stonewalled and played games while we searched for the truth”.

Los­ing in­ter­est

The top Demo­crat on the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, Rep Adam Schiff of Cal­i­for­nia, ac­cused Repub­li­cans of los­ing in­ter­est in diplo­matic se­cu­rity now that the elec­tion is over. “Since the is­sue is no longer a use­ful cud­gel against Sec­re­tary Clin­ton, I fear the (Repub­li­can) ma­jor­ity’s com­mit­ment to diplo­matic se­cu­rity will once again fade, and the State Depart­ment could face cuts both to se­cu­rity bud­gets and to core diplo­matic func­tions,” Schiff said.

A 2012 gov­ern­ment in­quiry fol­low­ing the Beng­hazi at­tacks made more than two dozen rec­om­men­da­tions for se­cu­rity im­prove­ments, high­light­ing se­ri­ous lapses in man­age­ment and lead­er­ship that left the con­sulate vul­ner­a­ble. The Bureau of Diplo­matic Se­cu­rity de­clined to an­swer spe­cific ques­tions on the ar­eas where im­prove­ment is still needed, but said that diplo­matic se­cu­rity “con­stantly bal­ances avail­able re­sources to pro­vide a safe and se­cure en­vi­ron­ment for the con­duct of US diplo­macy”.

Se­cu­rity ex­perts and diplo­mats say more can be done within in­di­vid­ual diplo­matic mis­sions to im­prove safety. Mis­sion se­cu­rity chiefs can use more train­ing, and am­bas­sadors and other mis­sion lead­ers should also be given greater author­ity over se­cu­rity mat­ters since they are most fa­mil­iar with con­di­tions on the ground, ex­perts say. Fred Bur­ton, a for­mer diplo­matic se­cu­rity agent, said mis­sion se­cu­rity of­fi­cials “never had that abil­ity to speak for our­selves at th­ese kinds of de­ci­sion-mak­ing meet­ings be­cause you’re pushed down on this flow chart and then you’re left ... with all the chal­lenges of be­ing in a place like Beng­hazi.”

Bur­ton, au­thor of “Un­der Fire: The Un­told Story of the At­tack in Beng­hazi”, said he’s not op­ti­mistic the prob­lem can be fixed un­less Tiller­son is con­firmed “and his de­sire is to re­struc­ture the bu­reau­cracy in­side State”.

Tra­di­tion­ally, host coun­tries have been ob­li­gated by treaty to pro­tect diplo­matic fa­cil­i­ties. But with non­state ac­tors gain­ing ground and ca­pa­ble of desta­bi­liz­ing gov­ern­ments, it’s fall­ing to the US to take all pre­cau­tions to pro­tect its diplo­mats while still giv­ing them the free­dom to do their jobs.

Robert Ford, a for­mer am­bas­sador to Syria, said the most help­ful way Congress and the ad­min­is­tra­tion could ad­vance diplo­matic se­cu­rity is by pro­vid­ing “strong sup­port for lo­cally de­ter­mined se­cu­rity re­source needs”. “Se­cu­rity is­sues can­not re­al­is­ti­cally be mi­cro-man­aged from Wash­ing­ton-based of­fi­cials be­cause only the peo­ple on the ground have an up-to-date sense of con­di­tions and the evo­lu­tion of threats,” he said. —AP

BENG­HAZI, Libya: In this Sept 12, 2012 file photo, glass, de­bris and over­turned fur­ni­ture are strewn in­side a room in the gut­ted US con­sulate af­ter an at­tack that killed four Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing Am­bas­sador Chris Stevens. —AP

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