A Matter of Honor -- Secretary Clinton's Benghazi Testimony

01/13/2013 05:53 pm ET | Updated Mar 15, 2013

Hillary Clinton and I are reasonably close in age, from the same hometown (Chicago), and even born in the same hospital. Yet, having been demoralized by watching my own father's Democratic Party efforts in behalf or JFK and RFK fall to assassins, I wandered into Reagan territory in the 1980s and the likelihood of my being asked to serve in her Department of State thereafter was probably seen by political pundits as about as likely as Ken Starr being tapped to direct the Clinton presidential library. 2013-01-13-hillary.jpgWhile some who worked for the Secretary could not bring themselves to accept the idea of a scholarly or academic mind being drawn to different views at different times, I always felt the Secretary had the same high expectations for me as for her closest aide and confidant.

Barack Obama in 2008 (and again in 2012) reignited the idealism of the Kennedys and reacquainted many, including myself, with the importance of grasping government as community. I was privileged to serve among her chiefs of mission as she arrived at Foggy Bottom, and now as she takes a well-deserved respite, it is her example and the memory of a friend, the late Ambassador Chris Stevens, that has prompted me to contemplate foreign service again. The diplomatic foundations of Chris Stevens in Libya are too crucial to abandon, and having gained a true appreciation for the Libyan people during my service in Malta, I am pleased that my interest in following Chris in this assignment is being weighed seriously. Despite the well-known risks, I am certain there are legions similarly interested.

What I experienced, and what draws people not just of different political histories to Mrs. Clinton, but people of vastly different cultures and faiths and traditions is her depth of commitment to a single principle: equality. Millennia of philosophers have debated which leads: freedom or equality; Mrs. Clinton has firmly established to my satisfaction that there is no true freedom, where artificial boundaries divide on the basis of gender, race, religion, nationality or sexual orientation. Moreover she has demonstrated how human right can truly be secured only when artificial discrimination gives way not to the evisceration of difference, but its celebration.

Much repair was needed to American foreign policy when Barack Obama proclaimed in his first inaugural in 2009:

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

Eloquence cannot be the total measure of a president or a Secretary of State, but no objective assessment of the long days of person to person diplomacy of Hillary Clinton can fail to perceive how that hard work has given truth to what only a few years ago was high presidential aspiration.

A day or so after the second inaugural is spoken on January 21 next, Mrs. Clinton will face a battery of questions related to Benghazi, and the lives of Ambassador Stevens and three others that were lost in the 9/11/2012 terror attack on our consulate.

Don't look for Mrs. Clinton to do anything other than give candid response, and to assume as the head of the Department, responsibility for what took place. That is the nature of a states-person, but let me suggest that it is not a full application of the principle of equality that the Secretary has given to all others and that she herself now deserves.

In particular, the Accountability Review Board report should not be forgotten: the security shortcomings in Benghazi were institutionally driven by inadequate deference to embassy --Tripoli's assessment of the strengthening, but still tentative, capability of the host government to fulfill the security promises of the Vienna convention and by intelligence demonstrating how Benghazi was both demonstrably pro-U.S., (thanks largely to the effectiveness of Chris Stevens), but also because of the President's success in capturing or eliminating bin Laden as well as several high ranking al Qaeda plotters who were of Libyan origin, a likely spot for terror's revenge.

Mrs. Clinton did much to inspire greater respect for judgment informed by in-context, embassy reporting over the sometimes far less timely and resistant to change assessments of the Department's bureaus. While large organizations like State do not change overnight, the quadrennial budget review process established by the Secretary also draws out the comparative advantage of diplomatic effort over impulsive military occupation or involvement.

There is yet another way Mrs. Clinton's fresh perspectives should continue to bear fruit: namely, the lessening of unproductive, organizational jealousy such as that between the EUR (European bureau) and NEA (Near Eastern Asia bureau). These bureaus have geo-political overlap and seeing that will not obscure that there can be more than one way to conduct diplomacy in high risk areas. Neither the standard embassy organization chart nor even location should be thought free from reform or modification. In this respect, while the additional Marine and Diplomatic Security personnel in Libya are welcome, our soldiers should not be expected to rectify what Libyan leaders freely concede remains right this moment a significant law enforcement deficiency. The U.S. NATO and others are assisting with training, but strategic planning prompted by Mrs. Clinton suggests that another response to high risk is to avoid by moving what are really regional operations to nearby low risk countries. Thus, as early as 2010, Mrs. Clinton's broader and more flexible organizational modeling allowed us in Malta (the closest European nation to Libya) to write of the importance of "the preparation of a military strategic plan fostering early, rapid and when necessary robust intervention requiring less redundancy among the Mediterranean nations, more advanced planning, and the development of diplomatic capability. [Relocating functions in the face of high risk elsewhere can be accomplished without fanfare] and ensure that structures are in place for the sharing of intelligence and threat assessment information." (Mission Strategic Plan 2012 drafted in 2010).

Mrs. Clinton has set in motion an unequivocal commitment to fulfilling immediate security needs in Libya, and because she assumes so much responsibility, the Secretary will likely not raise the Defense Department's needed answer to the following question:

Given the previous attacks on Embassy-Tripoli (substantially damaged in May 2011); the attempted assassination of the British ambassador, and the proclaimed fundamentalist aim of revenge, why were military units and assets in the region either unavailable or no ready to respond in a timely fashion?

Those in uniform command of the region must answer that question, not Mrs. Clinton. It would be a default of the principle of equality in the extreme not to ask it of Pentagon officials, past and present. Senators McCain and Graham have not been shy about challenging military judgment they found wanting in the past. While others in the Republican Party may find it tempting to diminish the exemplary service of Secretary Clinton as the first volley of campaign 2016, it is a temptation that will be as unfair to the Secretary's extraordinary diplomatic service as it is dishonoring of the lives of Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glenn Doherty and Ty Woods.

The triumph of human right over terror -- as a U.S. aspiration -- must always be understood as a team effort, involving the smart, coordinated placement of assets and personnel. Mrs. Clinton did her part, and now DOD must do theirs. For diplomacy is in pursuit not of the uneasy peace of appeasement, but equal application of principle, for as President Obama also reminded those in the world who do us harm.

We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.