The Senate Foreign Relations Committee gathered today to cross examine Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the sensitive matters coming out of the surprise attacks by angry insurgents on the US Embassy in Benghazi, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Within a few short days of these attacks, during a politically sensitive period just prior to the elections, the Democratic administration called the attacks “terrorist” and placed the blame, tentatively, on Muslims angry at a film depicting the Prophet Muhammad in an unfavorable light. No mention was made of al-Qaeda, but at every juncture it was affirmed that the investigation was still in early stages. The Republican Party took the stand that the American people were not told the full truth, that some misleading characterizations and misinformation were involved, and that embassy protection was a failure. The administration pointed out then, and still, that certain facts were withheld for reasons of security.
The highly regarded Secretary of State was knowledgeable and firm in her testimony, stating that the administration, including herself, was aware of every aspect of the attacks; not only in Benghazi but throughout the Arab regions. Regarding requests by Stevens and other diplomats for additional security, some of which were denied and not forwarded by embassy personal within that region, she reasserted to both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “I didn’t see those requests. They didn’t come to me.”
Finally under pressure from Republican members, she spoke her feelings: “With all due respect, the fact is that we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?” she gestured for emphasis.
We are at a point in time in America, leader of the free world, wherein foreign policy is of the highest importance. The Muslim world has begun in many quarters: in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Africa, to yearn for the potential of freedom. The repercussions of global events, as people place their lives in jeopardy to seek the blessings of democratic principles, are felt in Russia, even in China. In addition, the world must respond to threats from rogue nations, including Iran and North Korea. Indeed, the coming years will mark a turning point in history, for better or for worse.
Secretary Clinton will be retiring from the Cabinet to be succeeded by Senator John Kerry. Both the Senate and the House Foreign Affairs Committees are seeing a significant change in membership and leadership. Since 1816, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been instrumental in developing and influencing United States foreign policy. They consider, debate, and report to the president on important treaties and legislation. They hold jurisdiction over all diplomatic nominations. They play a major role in shaping US foreign policy in war or peace, and they assist in negotiations.
Senator Kerry, upon moving to the office of secretary of state, will end his tenure as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, turning the podium over to Bob Menendez, a second-term New Jersey Democrat. The 59 year old Cuban American Menendez is expected to move relations with Central and South America into the future. He is in step with the Obama administration on immigration reform. He is expected to work for liberalization of relations with Cuba. although he supports embargos, and sanctions where warranted. In keeping with his New Jersey constituents, he has represented the pro-Israel sector of the Democratic Party. He has urged for a get tough policy toward Iran, and increased sanctions to stop Iranian nuclear proliferation, and to address human rights concerns.
Similiar to that in the Senate, The House Foreign Affairs Committee is responsible for oversight and legislation relating to war powers, treaties, executive agreements, and the deployment and use of United States armed forces, as well as national security developments affecting foreign policy; strategic planning and agreements; peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and enforcement of United Nations or other international sanctions, including arms control and disarmament issues. It is also responsible for overseeing activities and policies of the State, Commerce and Defense Departments and other agencies related to the Arms Export Control Act, and the Foreign Assistance Act, including export and licensing policy for munitions items and technology, dual-use equipment and technology; international law; promotion of democracy; embassy security; and a range of related matters.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) will take over The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee . Royce has said he will focus on the important goal of taking a hard line and implementing strict sanctions on Iran. Royce is seen as less partisan than many in Congress. A member of the committee for 20 years, he is said to be inspired by his father, who aided in the liberation of the Dachau Nazi concentration camp while serving under General George Patton during World War II. Royce has been critical of the Obama administration for “doing too little to push for change in North Korea or to stop Tehran’s nuclear programs,” but he supports and applauds Obama for development of trade agreements with South Korea, and Latin nations, for improving relations with Burma, and for human rights initiatives in Africa. Royce is 61, and has been a member of the congress since 1993.
Interestingly, Menendez and Royce have been a powerful team in the past. In 1997, they joined forces and traveled to Africa to plead with Jonas Savimbi, leader of the Angolan UNITA party, to end a long-running civil war. Their journey and their search for Savimbi made headlines worldwide.
Hopefully we won’t hear much more dialogue on the release or non-release of classified and/or in-progress information relating to the fiery raids in Benghazi. Hopefully, too, we will see new dedication, and new unity within the vital Foreign Relations Committees.
Photos: Reuters, CFR-org, Radio Free Europe