How bureaucrats apportion blame

The State Department released its “independent internal” (note the oxymoron) report on why Ambassador Stevens and three others were left to be killed in Benghazi. It is a study in how bureaucracies cover themselves after a major failure.

This brought about a deep sense of the importance of husbanding resources to meet the highest priorities, laudable in the extreme in any government department.   But it has also had the effect of conditioning a few State Department managers to favor restricting the use of resources as a general orientation.” What this actually means is that the desk jockeys in Foggy Bottom were rewarded for cutting back on resources that were needed by diplomats on the front line. And they call it “laudable in the extreme”!

One overall conclusion in this report is that Congress must do its part to meet this challenge and provide necessary resources to the State Department to address security risks and meet mission imperatives.” It’s Congress’s fault!

The Board concluded that there was no protest prior to the attacks...” Somehow, the Board failed to find out how Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice came up with the fiction about the video bring the prime mover.

Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department...” Look how the squid squirts ink, hiding those individuals culpable behind a “systemic” screen.

Embassy Tripoli did not demonstrate strong and sustained advocacy with Washington for increased security for Special Mission Benghazi.” Oh, my. It’s Ambassador Stevens’ fault! (This is a classic bureaucratic dodge: blame someone who cannot defend himself, will escape any punishment from the finding, and will not object to bring blamed. For instance, when an airplane crashes and the pilot dies, one can count on “pilot error” being a major contributing factor. )

Special Mission Benghazi’s uncertain future after 2012 and its “non-status” as a temporary, residential facility made allocation of resources for security and personnel more difficult…” Once the bureaucracy decided not to care about the mission in Benghazi, it stopped carrying about the mission in Benghazi. Because of its “non-status”, it is the Mission’s fault!

In the weeks and months leading up to the attacks, the response from post, Embassy Tripoli, and Washington to a deteriorating security situation was inadequate.” Again, multiplying the number of players obscures the locus of culpability. One could also, equally truthfully, say that the response from post, embassy, Santa Claus the Tooth Fairy and Washington was inadequate. Because the response from Washington was inadequate. Note also the use of the third person singular: the response… was inadequate”. Was there a single unified response from the three actors? No. But this grammatical trick makes it seem like: it’s everyone’s fault!

At the same time, the SMC’s dependence on the armed but poorly skilled Libyan February 17 Martyrs’ Brigade (February 17) militia members and unarmed, locally contracted Blue Mountain Libya (BML) guards for security support was misplaced…  At the time of Ambassador Stevens’ visit, February 17 militia members had stopped accompanying Special Mission vehicle movements in protest over salary and working hours.” The guards with guns were unskilled, and they were on strike anyway. It’s the guards’ fault!

The Board found that Ambassador Stevens made the decision to travel to Benghazi independently of Washington…” Did we mention that it’s Ambassador Stevens’ fault?

The Ambassador did not see a direct threat of an attack of this nature and scale on the U.S. Mission in the overall negative trendline of security incidents from spring to summer 2012.” That’s Ambassador Stevens. Again.

His status as the leading U.S. government advocate on Libya policy, and his expertise on Benghazi in particular, caused Washington to give unusual deference to his judgments.” Can you believe we trusted this guy?! He really put on over on us, let me tell you. But, hey, how can we be blamed for his lousy judgment?

Communication, cooperation, and coordination among Washington, Tripoli, and Benghazi functioned collegially at the working-level but were constrained by a lack of transparency, responsiveness, and leadership at the senior levels.  Among various Department bureaus and personnel in the field, there appeared to be very real confusion over who, ultimately, was responsible and empowered to make decisions based on both policy and security considerations.” We all got along just great at that conference in Maui. Good times. Unfortunately, when we got back to the office, some of us, not sure exactly who, resumed lying to the rest of us. And that trust-building exercise was supposed to take care of that! Also, we never did quite figure out who was responsible for which job, but we did have that on the list of “things to do” for when we got back. (note to selves: put “find things to do list” on the things to do list.)

“The Board’s inquiry found little evidence that the armed February 17 guards offered any meaningful defense of the SMC, or succeeded in summoning a February 17 militia presence to assist expeditiously.   The Board found the Libyan government’s response to be profoundly lacking.” The guards were on strike! It’s the Libyan government’s fault!

The Board found that intelligence provided no immediate, specific tactical warning of the September 11 attacks.”  The clustering of adjectives makes it possible to cause the facts to disappear. This is a three-part Venn diagram: the intelligence has to meet all criteria in order to count. If one sufficiently narrows the definition, nothing will fit. And then one can say: it’s the CIA fault!

The Board found that certain senior State Department officials within two bureaus demonstrated a lack of proactive leadership and management ability in their responses to security concerns posed by Special Mission Benghazi, given the deteriorating threat environment and the lack of reliable host government protection.  However, the Board did not find reasonable cause to determine that any individual U.S. government employee breached his or her duty.” That was a close one! For a minute there, we thought someone might have done something that would force us to do something, but it didn’t rise to the level of a breach of duty. So, of all the people at fault, we can say for sure: not the desk jockeys!

Worth noting: the Secretary of State is mentioned only as the one who convened the review board. Apparently, she is a very hands-off manager, since she never appears in any of the actual action.


2 thoughts on “How bureaucrats apportion blame

  1. I am willing to believe that the Obama administration is fully to blame for Benghazi. I would counter it, though, that the Bush administration failed to find weapons of mass destruction despite the costly war. The Republicans have not shown themselves to be more adept at foreign issues than Democrats.

  2. Well, yes, but remember that Hussein conducted a major disinformation campaign to convince the world that he had WMD, so he would be left alone. Be careful what you wish for.
    And by the way, we don’t know for sure that he didn’t have them. Assad may be about to use some of them.

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