To the editor:
Your Nov. 20 editorial (“Petraeus affair must not distract from Benghazi investigation”) stresses the importance of getting to the bottom of what happened during and after the attack on our consulate in Benghazi that caused the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others. These deaths were truly tragic, but Stevens in particular was a tremendous loss since he had spent much of the time of rebellion against Gadhafi in Benghazi, spoke fluent Arabic, and, certainly more than anyone, knew the players there and the risks of that chaotic situation.
This incident was discussed by Nicholas Burns, professor of diplomacy and international relations at Harvard Kennedy School, at the end of his presentation on the region on Nov. 14. Professor Burns was a career foreign service officer in the Middle East and Africa in our State Department for 27 years beginning during the administration of George H.W. Bush through the three presidents that followed. He made it a point to say that he was professionally nonpartisan. His final position was undersecretary of state for political affairs, the third-ranking official in the department, from 2005 to 2008.
Burns said there was no way reinforcements could have arrived in time to make any difference. As for the nature of the attack, it certainly proved to be a terrorist act, but given that violence in the region in 10 other cities had been sparked by the video, this was not certain at the time. The question was then raised why security at the consulate was not more robust. He noted it is the responsibility of the host country to provide such security and one of the militias had been detailed to do so. Unfortunately, the terrorists overwhelmed them. He did acknowledge that in the past, the U.S. government has supplemented local security when difficult conditions are present, but that practice was terminated by act of Congress at the urging of the Republicans.
Since I believe Burns’ assessment is probably accurate, I suspect Sens. McCain and Graham will not press an investigation to a final conclusion. I expect your newspaper will also drop it if these facts become generally known.
John E. Lawrence Jr.