December 20, 2012

Benghazi: Lessons Learned Opening Statement by Chairman John Kerry

Washington, DC – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) delivered the following statement at a hearing this morning following the release of the independent Accountability Review Board report earlier this week.  

“Clearly mistakes were made and we learned of those yesterday in very stark terms about the mistakes leading up to the attack. The report makes that very clear and one of the most candid and important observations was the failure by certain leaders to see the forest through the trees. There were clear signs that the security situation in Libya had deteriorated and going forward it is important, and I think it’s important for all of us to think in terms of going forward, that we need to do a better job of ensuring a free and open dialogue among ambassadors, their embassy security personnel and officials in Washington where decisions on security, staffing levels and funding are made.”


The full text of Chairman Kerry’s hearing statement, as delivered, is below:

“As everyone is aware, Secretary Clinton is recovering from a serious virus, and concussion, and given her condition, it was simply not possible for her to appear here today. We all wish her a speedy recovery and in her place we have both deputies from the State Department and I want to thank them for coming in on short notice.

“Let me emphasize this, please, to everybody. All of you who know Hillary know she would rather be here today. I know how deeply she feels the importance of the discussion that we’re having today and I assure you it is not her choice that she is not here today and she looks forward to appearing before the committee in January and I want to make that clear.

“I also want to emphasize that every member of this committee felt the loss of Ambassador Chris Stevens and his team in a very personal way. We knew Chris Stevens well before he came before us for confirmation. He had been a Pearson Fellow for Senator Lugar and the Committee. We knew the depth of his character, of his intelligence and his dedication. His death was a horrible blow in personal terms to the Committee, as well as to the country and his family. It evoked an outpouring of emotion on our Committee from the condolence book in our office in the Capitol to the private gestures of members of this Committee who shared their grief in private ways at Senate 116 signing the condolence books, touching the picture, saying a prayer.

“Equally tragic was the loss of three courageous men whom I had personally never met but whose families I had the chance to greet and hug when the military brought their loved ones’ remains back, one last time, to Andrews Air Force Base. That heartbreaking and solemn ceremony brought home the impact of our nation’s loss. Glen Doherty was a former Navy SEAL. He was also from my home state and I talked a couple of times with his family. Tyrone Woods was a former SEAL, Sean Smith an Air Force veteran, all people for whom service to country was their life. So today we again say thank you to all of them, to the fallen and the families. They all gave to our nation and we are grateful beyond words for their service and their sacrifice.

“From the very beginning of the Benghazi events, every member of this Committee has shared with the President and Secretary Clinton our determination to get all the facts about what happened and why in Benghazi. We submitted many questions to the State Department to be incorporated into this investigation and we are very pleased that they have been. We’ve had a number of classified briefings for our members and yesterday the Committee heard from Ambassador Tom Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen. We heard them deliver a very frank and comprehensive set of findings of the Accountability Review Board.

“Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen are two of America’s most distinguished and capable public servants. Ambassador Pickering has served as an Undersecretary at the State Department and an ambassador to seven countries, among them India, Russia, Israel and other important nations. Admiral Mullen as we know was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I think that their backgrounds, their service to our country showed up starkly in the quality of the Board’s report and I want to thank them for their extraordinary service to our country and I want to thank Secretary Clinton who appointed them, who selected them.

“The report pulls no punches. It tackles head on many of the questions we have been asking. The report makes 29 recommendations in total, five of which are classified. Secretary Clinton has embraced every single one of them. In fact she’s gone above and beyond the Board’s recommendation by taking immediate steps to strengthen security at high-threat posts and request from Congress the authority to reprogram funds to increase diplomatic security spending by $1.3 billion. In Washington, where too often we see the recommendations of blue ribbon panels ignored, delayed or deferred as they were for a long time on even the 9/11 Commission, I think the Secretary’s swift action underscores how determined she is to apply the lessons of Benghazi.

“Clearly mistakes were made and we learned of those yesterday in very stark terms about the mistakes leading up to the attack. The report makes that very clear and one of the most candid and important observations was the failure by certain leaders to see the forest through the trees. There were clear signs that the security situation in Libya had deteriorated and going forward it is important, and I think it’s important for all of us to think in terms of going forward, that we need to do a better job of ensuring a free and open dialogue among ambassadors, their embassy security personnel and officials in Washington where decisions on security, staffing levels and funding are made.

“Now, as we draw the lessons, I want to be crystal clear about something else. Congress also bears some responsibility here. Congress has the power of the purse. We use it for any number of things but it is our responsibility. And for years we have asked our State Department to operate with increasingly lesser resources to conduct essential missions and because of the gridlock and excesses in the Senate and the Congress itself, we have not even been to able to pursue the regular order of authorizing legislation. That must change, and in the next session of the Congress I hope it will.

“As in any government entity, we know that when the budget is cut and money is fungible, you stretch every dollar. So for some time now, overseas resources have been withheld or cut and important foreign policy objectives have, in some cases, been starved.  Consider that last year, we spent approximately $650 billion on our military. By contrast, the international affairs budget is less than one-tenth of the Pentagon’s. Secretary Gates has spoken about this and strongly urged Congress to address that imbalance but we haven’t yet. Admiral Mullen once pointed out: “The more significant the cuts, the longer military operations will take, and the more and more lives are at risk.” So we need to make certain we are not penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to supporting America’s vital overseas interests. Adequately funding America’s foreign policy objectives is not spending—it’s investing in our long term security and more often than not it saves far more expensive expenditures in dollars and lives for the conflicts that we failed to see or avoid. We need to invest in America’s long-term interests in order to do the job of diplomacy in a dangerous world.  And this report makes that crystal clear.

“Since 1985 I’ve had the privilege, as most of you, of making official journeys to one trouble spot or another. I’ve met a lot of our men and women in the Foreign Service as all of you have and we’ve sat and talked about the work they do and the lives that they lead. They spend years learning the languages of a country so they can be on the frontlines of direct diplomacy – “foreign policy outdoors” as my Dad used to call it. When my father served in Berlin after World War II, I remember my mother sometimes looking at the clock nervously in the evening when he was late coming home for dinner in a city where troops guarded the line between east and west and the rubble of war was still very fresh. But my father knew that what he was doing was worth whatever the risk might have been. And so do the Foreign Service personnel that we send all over the world today. They want to be accessible to people on the ground, they need to be accessible to people on the ground when they’re representing our country. They want those people to see and touch the face of America. It’s no understatement that our diplomats are on the frontlines of the world’s most dangerous places. They leave their families behind, they miss holidays at home, they risk their safety to make the world safer and to protect the interests of our country.  They don’t join the Foreign Service to get rich, and sadly many of them, their names are only learned when a tragedy like Benghazi takes place. Our diplomats do not wear a uniform, but they swear the same oath as the men and women of our armed forces and their sacrifice is no less important.  

“So take note, everybody. As we learned yesterday, the Board’s report calls for an investment of $2.3 billion a year over ten years in order to meet the fundamental charge of protecting our personnel overseas. We owe it to them, to our responsibility and to the memory of Chris Stevens and those others who lost their lives to make good on that request, and I make that clear today.

“Some may ask why we’re in Benghazi. The reasons are really central to everything that we want our Foreign Service to do. They’re central to advancing America’s values and furthering our security. We were in Benghazi because that’s where the revolution in Libya began, that’s where the vanguard of the transition is today, that’s where some principal actors in the future of Libya come from. We were there to learn and help Libyans deliver on the promise of their revolution and many of our most important contacts and the future leaders of Libya reside in the volatile east. We had to be on the ground, “outside the wire,” reaching out to those people. That’s the enterprise of U.S. foreign policy today—to help men, women and children around the world share in the vision of democracy and the values of freedom and through it, to bring stability to whole regions of the world and reduce the threats to our nation.

“I believe we all ought to be very proud of what we have achieved in Libya. By taking military action when we did, we liberated a country that had been under the yolk of a dictator for more than 40 years.  We gave the Libyan people a fighting chance for their future and I am convinced that we prevented the slaughter of thousands of innocent lives. The tragic events of the last 9/11/2012 illustrate the magnitude of the challenge ahead. But the thousands of everyday Libyans who marched in outrage against the militias with signs declaring their love for Chris Stevens and for the United States, their gratitude for our country, provide, I think, a measure of hope. That demonstration of affection for America, and for our envoy who gave up his life for those people, summed up exactly why we must not just look inwards and walk away.

“Finally let me just say, what happened in Benghazi really can’t be seen in isolation. There is a truth about diplomacy and Foreign Service that needs to be processed through the Committee and the Congress and the country as we examine the events of Benghazi. We have an expeditionary diplomatic corps, and they do face very real risks everyday day in and day out.

“Bad things have happened before and bad things will happen again, unfortunately, in the future. There will always be a tension between the diplomatic imperative to get “outside the wire” and the security standards that require our diplomats to work behind high walls, concertina wire and full body searches. We do not want to concertina wire America off from the world. Our challenge is to strike a balance between the necessity of the mission, available resources and tolerance for risk.

“We’ve talked about this on this Committee – we’ve had hearings specifically about the design of our embassies, the danger of becoming a “fortress America.” We need to be safe, but we also need to send the right message to the people we’re trying to reach. I distinctly remember feeling and seeing the difficulty of this in Vietnam where villagers would examine us suspiciously, and give us a stare, an unmistakable stare, that raises many more questions than we’re ever able to answer.  In Iraq and Afghanistan I have revisited that stare as you pass through a village with masses of guns and big armored personnel carriers and Humvees and the look of confusion and alienation from average Iraqis and Afghans who just don’t understand why we were rumbling through their streets that way is unmistakable.   I’ll tell you every diplomat worth their salt feels this tension and worries about the misimpression our security footprint can create in the minds of the very people we’re trying to reach—an impression that is starkly revealed on their faces when you’re surrounded by gun toting security personnel.

“So balancing our values and our interests with the risks inherent in 21st century diplomacy is sort of fundamental to the questions raised by the events in Benghazi, by what we’re here to talk about today. To paraphrase Ambassador Ryan Crocker, “We need to be in the business of risk management, not risk avoidance.” So there are costs, but that’s no reason to retrench from the world and it is I think a reason to honor the memory of Ambassador Stevens and the others who were deeply committed to a strong American role in the world, that’s why he was out there.

“So in the end colleagues, we are all Americans first. We can’t lose sight of that fact, particularly in the face of this tragedy. We’re very pleased that Secretary Burns and Secretary Nides have come here today. Secretary Burns recently established the Christopher Stevens Youth Network to honor Chris’ memory by building bridges of understanding and compassion between American youth and their Middle Eastern peers. We look forward to continuing that work with them.”

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