WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has promised to beef up security at U.S. embassies and diplomatic missions after a panel investigating the killing of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens criticized what it called "systemic failures." But a former American diplomat warns that more security may damage America's foreign relations.
After the September 11 attack in Benghazi, Clinton convened an Accountability Review Board to investigate. The panel's vice chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen, presented the findings on December 18.
"The board found that the security posture at the special mission compound was inadequate for the threat environment in Benghazi and in fact grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place that night," he said.
Clinton has accepted all 29 of the report's recommendations. Senator John Kerry, Clinton's nominated successor, praised her decisions at a congressional hearing.
"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," he said.
U.S. embassies attract not only protests like this one last year in Bangkok, but also terrorist attacks.
Daniel Serwer has worked at several U.S. posts including Baghdad and is now a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
He says embassies that look like fortresses often become symbols of resentment. "I really think that diplomacy cannot be done from behind 20-foot high walls," he said.
Serwer acknowledges that Ambassador Stevens had good reason for staying inside the Benghazi compound.
"But in terms just of risk, he would have been a lot safer on the street, where 99 out of 100 Libyans would welcome him with open arms, than he was in that safe haven," he said.
But even Serwer concedes that his argument is difficult to make after the ambassador's killing. And with the Obama administration on the defensive over the attack, U.S. embassies will most likely continue being the fortress-like structures they already are.